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What to do when the ABS warning light turns on

December 12, 2023

Car warning lights play a crucial role in letting drivers know if there are any faults with their vehicle. One of such warning lights is the Anti-lock Brake System (ABS) warning light.

In this blog, we’ll explore what Anti-lock brakes do, how to use them in an emergency and what you need to do if the ABS warning light turns on.

What are Anti-lock brakes?

Anti-lock brakes are a safety feature installed on most vehicles to prevent a car from skidding during braking, especially in slippery conditions. This allows for better vehicle control and decreases stopping distances on both dry and slippery surfaces.

How should you use anti-lock brakes when you need to stop in an emergency

Anti-lock brakes are activated automatically when you press the brake pedal with force.

Ever been in a position where you need to perform an emergency stop? That slight judder you feel when braking is a sign that your Anti-lock brakes are in use. Here are 3 things you should keep in mind when using the Anti-lock brakes:

  1. Apply firm, steady pressure: when you need to perform an emergency stop, you should apply the brake firmly and maintain that pressure. Do not pump the brakes or lift your leg immediately after pressing
  2. Steer around obstacles: one of the significant advantages of the ABS is that it allows you to steer while braking. If there's an obstacle in your path, you should be able to steer around it while maintaining brake pressure
  3. Don't panic if the pedal vibrates: when the ABS is engaged, the brake pedal may vibrate under your foot or you might hear a noise. This is normal, and it's a sign that the ABS is working. Keep holding the brake pedal down firmly

What can cause the ABS warning light to turn on

The ABS warning light, typically represented by the letters 'ABS' inside a circle, is a dashboard warning light related to your vehicle's Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS).

When functioning normally, the ABS light will illuminate when you start your car, but should turn off after a few seconds. This is the system performing a self-check to ensure it is working properly.

cars dashboard showing multiple car warning lights

The Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) light can turn on due to several issues, ranging from minor to more severe. Here are 3 common causes:

  1. Faulty wheel speed sensors: each wheel has a sensor that monitors its speed and sends that information to the ABS. If one or more of these sensors fails, the ABS light may turn on
  2. Low brake fluid level: if your brake fluid level is low, it could trigger the ABS light to turn on. This is a serious problem because a low brake fluid level can affect your ability to stop the car
  3. Faulty ABS fuse: if the fuse that controls the ABS is blown, the system will stop functioning and the ABS light will turn on

Get your Anti-lock Braking System checked by trusted mechanics near you

Is it safe to drive with the ABS warning light on

If the ABS light turns on, it is still safe to drive your car if there aren’t unusual sounds coming from the wheels. This is because your car should still have its normal braking function. However, without the ABS, your wheels can lock up during hard braking, reducing your ability to steer.

If the ABS light and the brake warning light are both on at the same time, it indicates a serious fault with your car’s braking system and your vehicle is no longer safe to drive. You must stop in a safe place immediately.

Image showing brake warning light and ABS warning light on a car's dashboard

What should you do if your Anti-lock brakes (ABS) warning light stays on

Although it may still be safe to drive with the ABS light on, we recommend getting your vehicle checked by a professional mechanic so they can identify the issue that’s causing the light to turn on.

There are a few things you can do yourself before taking your car to a garage. These are:

  1. Check your brake fluid: low brake fluid can sometimes trigger the ABS light. Check your brake fluid level and, if it's low, top it up to the correct level marked on the side of the reservoir
  2. Perform a system reset: sometimes, the ABS light can be triggered by a temporary issue or an error in the system. In such cases, turning off and restarting your vehicle might reset the system and turn off the ABS light. However, if the light comes back on, this suggests an ongoing issue that needs to be addressed
  3. Check the ABS fuse: if the ABS fuse is blown, it could cause the ABS light to come on. You can check your vehicle's manual to find the location of the ABS fuse and how to replace it if necessary
  4. Disconnect and reconnect the battery: disconnecting the battery can reset the vehicle's computer systems, potentially clearing the ABS light. However, this is usually a temporary fix and the light may come back on if there is an underlying issue
banner showing that you can get your ABS warning light checked in Caura

Remember, the Anti-lock Braking System is a critical safety feature of your vehicle. Always prioritise safety and take your vehicle to a professional if you're unsure.

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