It’s an undeniable fact that the cars of today are infinitely safer than those from years past. With more robust chassis’, larger wheels and built-in lane management systems, cars are much easier to control, and offer even greater chances of survival in the event of a crash.

Hopefully, it never comes to that; however, if you do find yourself losing control, it helps to have a braking mechanism you can depend on. Developed extensively over the past 20 years, anti-lock brakes have significantly improved our ability to slow down and avoid skids.

In this piece, we explain the ins and outs of anti-lock brakes, including how they work, why they exist, and when to use them.

What does ABS mean?

ABS is an acronym for ‘anti-locking brake system’. Until their invention, car brakes operated on a rather simplistic open/closed system. This meant that brake pressure was applied gradually by the driver.

 We all drive differently, so braking habits differentiate between drivers. If a driver brakes aggressively without ABS, the braking system is applied in one go, resulting in slipping, skidding, and damaged brakes.

How does ABS work?

While there are numerous implementations of ABS, we’ll use one of the simplest mechanisms to explain its basic operation.

 Cars with ABS utilise speed sensors found within wheel hubs. These sensors report the approximate number of rotations that a wheel is undergoing per second, which helps arrive at an estimated travelling speed.

 This sensor is then linked back to the braking mechanism. When the driver applies braking pressure, the ABS system detects the point at which the wheels are about to lock. If a lock is about to happen, ABS gently reduces the braking pressure and instead applies it in a continual, gradual manner.

How should you use Anti-Lock Brakes in an emergency?

In normal driving conditions, it’s unlikely that you’ll experience the effects of ABS. ABS is generally only needed for sudden, sharp braking pressure; the likes of which is only really felt in emergency situations such as stopping for unexpected road accidents.

One time where you may have felt the effects of ABS is during an emergency stop procedure on a driving test. If you felt a slight vibration towards the end of the manoeuvre, that’ll be the ABS kicking in. For the uninitiated, this can feel concerning, but it’s really nothing to worry about.

This question usually crops up on the driving theory test, with four answers available to pick from:

  • Brake promptly and firmly until you’ve stopped.
  • Brake normally but grip the steering wheel tightly.
  • Apply the parking brake to reduce the stopping distance.
  • Keep pumping the footbrake to prevent skidding.

The answer of course being option one to brake promptly until the car stops. There’s no need to apply extra pressure to the steering wheel, apply the parking brake or pump your foot on the pedal. ABS should handle all this automatically.

Does my car have ABS?

Most cars produced from 2004 onwards will come with ABS as standard. An easy way of figuring out if your car has the mechanism is to check the warning lights on the dashboard. If there’s a circular light outline with the letters ABS printed within, your car has ABS.

Another way of checking is to consult your car’s manual. This will have instructions to help you enable ABS and provide more backstory on how the system is implemented within your car.

Find safe, used cars at

If your current motor doesn’t have ABS, you’re seriously missing out. Thankfully, we have thousands of modern, used cars  equipped with ABS at What’s better, we only partner with  trusted dealerships across the UK.

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