What does the ABS Light On a Car Mean?

The dashboard of your vehicle has a lot of different warning lights available. These lights are meant to indicate whenever a particular problem exists in the vehicle. The engine control unit is the central computer which tracks these problems and then warns you about them by activating the necessary warning lights on the dashboard.

Working Principle

When you see the ABS light illuminate on your vehicle’s dashboard, it means there is a problem with your anti-lock braking system. It could be that your anti-lock brakes are not working properly or that there is an on-going issue with them. Either way, this is a warning that you will want to take seriously and not ignore. Your anti-lock brakes can save your life if you’re in a situation where you need to brake quickly. But if your anti-lock brakes are malfunctioning, then the wheels may lock up as you step on the brake pedal. This would not be a good situation.

To make matters worse, a malfunctioning anti-lock braking system may automatically cause your vehicle’s traction and stability control features to deactivate. Since the speed sensors in your wheels work with these controls and the anti-lock braking system, a malfunction in one of them will cause the other to deactivate for safety reasons. You’ll need to fix whatever the problem is with your anti-lock brakes before those controls are reactivated again.

The ABS light will appear as either an orange, yellow, or amber color. When you first start your vehicle, the ABS light should illuminate for a moment as part of a standard system check. After a few seconds, the light will deactivate if there is no problem with your anti-lock braking system. If the light stays on, then it means there is a problem with this system.

The Main Problem

As previously indicated, there is a speed sensor attached to each wheel of the vehicle. Speed sensors measure the speed of the wheels’ rotation and send the information to the engine control unit. If the unit detects that one wheel is rotating at a different speed than the other wheels while the brakes are applied, then it will activate the ABS light because it means the wheel is locking up. The result of a locked-up wheel is an inability to steer properly and lots of skidding.

Normally, the anti-lock braking system would prevent this lock up of the wheel by pumping it with brakes. This would cause it to spin as fast as the other wheels, resulting in no lock up. But if this does not happen, then it clearly means the anti-lock brakes don’t work. Whenever the engine control unit detects unusual activity like this in the braking system, it will immediately warn you there is a problem. That is why the ABS light comes on if the wheel rotation speeds are not the same.


Of course, a bad braking system is the worst-case scenario. There may be smaller issues with some of its correlated components. For instance, one of the speed sensors may have gotten damaged during the course of driving. This is not the system’s fault, so you would just need to replace the sensor to resolve the ABS lighting issue.

But if it is the system’s fault, then you should look for things like blown out fuses, damaged wires, or a bad ABS controller. There are wires which link the ABS controller to the speed sensors. If one of the wires were to get damaged or worn out, then it will cause a problem in the entire system. Another reason for the ABS light to come on.

Last Words

Don’t panic when you see the ABS light activate. The problem may be simple and affordable to resolve. Just take your vehicle to the mechanic and have them investigate the issue immediately. This is the safest thing to do.

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