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What is “ABS” in the auto world?

September 25, 2013
By Larry DeHays , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

The clue to the crossword puzzle was: "4-wheel drive feature." The answer was "ABS," which is right to solve the puzzle, but incorrect in fact.

The ABS feature is available on 2-wheel drive vehicles also. Don't you just hate it when crossword clues infringe on your area of expertise, and you miss it because you over-think it? Me too. I like New York Times crosswords. I do Mondays quickly, Tuesdays slowly, Wednesdays even slower, Thursdays seldom finish, and I usually can't even start Fridays. Either they get harder as the week progresses, or I get more mentally fatigued. I always do them in ink. Then, if I change my mind, I scribble over it and noone can tell if I had it right or not. It's a contest between me and the smart butt who writes those things. How does he know what is going to be hard for me? Jerk.

Anyway, what is ABS? It's anti-lock brake system. It's now installed on almost every vehicle made, and it saves lives and gets you insurance discounts if you have it. What it does, is it prevents you from locking up your wheels if you stand on the brake pedal. It will allow the tires to rotate a little by pulsing the brakes on and off quickly while you apply steady pressure to the pedal. If the tires were not allowed to rotate, you would have no steering control. The tires must turn in order to steer the car. If they don't turn, it's like having big pencil erasers skating along the road. No directional control.

Many pick-up trucks in the 1990s had ABS only on the rear wheels. That's because if the rear wheels lock up and the front don't, the truck will swap ends. It will spin around quickly with the rear-end leading. That's how they do those fast 180-degree turns in the movies. They lock up the rear wheels with the parking brake, which only works the rear brakes, and the vehicle spins. Anti-lock doesn't stop you quicker, it simply lets you steer while you are panic braking.

Remember when you could slam on the brakes and make skid marks on the pavement with a great squealing noise? Well maybe you never drove like I did, but anyhow, you can't do it if you have antilock brakes on all four wheels. The brake pedal will pulse quickly under your foot, and the tires should not squeal if the system is working. If you only have 2-wheel antilock, the other two wheels can lock up. I once went to look at a new truck my dad wanted to buy. We took it for a drive, and there was a terrible thumping noise and vibration on the highway. We found serious flat spots on each front tire. The tread had been ground down almost to the steel belt, in only one place on each tire. Someone had taken this thing for a test run and panic-braked from 90 miles per hour or so. The antilock on the rear had rotated the rear tires, but the front had locked up, grinding giant flat spots on the tires. He bought the truck, after they put new tires on the front of it.

You can test your own antilock brakes by finding a safe spot on a dirt road, or on grass, and going no more than 20 miles per hour, stand on the brakes. If it is working, you will not leave serious skid marks, and you will feel the pedal pulsing. Be sure to secure everything in the car first. Take the drink out of the cup holder, and be alone in the car. Riders will try to have you committed if you do it with them in the car, unless they're under age 20. It won't hurt the car; it's designed to take it. If your ABS light has been on for a while, this will probably not work. You will lock up the wheels and spin around like a whirling dervish and probably hit a tree. Don't say I told you to do it. I deny everything.

Especially if you did it in your neighbor's lawn.



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