Anti-Lock Braking Systems (ABS) are designed to maintain driver control and stability of the car during emergency braking. Locked wheels will slow a car down but will not provide steering ability. ABS allows maximum braking to be applied while retaining the ability to 'steer out of trouble'
The theory behind anti-lock brakes is simple. A skidding wheel (where the tire contact patch is sliding relative to the road) has less traction than a non-skidding wheel. By keeping the wheels from skidding while you slow down, anti-lock brakes benefit you in two ways: You'll stop faster, and you'll be able to steer while you stop.
An ABS system monitors four wheel speed sensors to evaluate wheel slippage. Slip can be determined by calculating the ratio of wheel speed to vehicle speed, which is continuously calculated from the four individual wheel speeds. During a braking event, the function of the control system is to maintain maximum possible wheel grip on the road - without the wheel locking - by adjusting the hydraulic fluid pressure to each brake by way of electronically controlled solenoid valves.
The brakes of vehicle not equipped with ABS will almost immediately lock the wheels, when the driver suddenly applies the brake. In this case the vehicle slides rather than rolls to a stop. The skidding and lack of control was caused by the locking of wheels. The release and reapply of the brake pedal will avoid the locking of the wheels which in turn avoid the skidding. This is exactly what an antilock braking system does.
When the brake pedal is pumped or pulsed the pressure is quickly applied and released at the wheels. This is called pressure modulation. Pressure modulation works to prevent the wheel locking. ABS can modulate the pressure to the brake as often as 15 times per seconds. By modulating the pressure to the brakes the friction between the tires and the road is maintained and the vehicle is able to come to the controllable stop.
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