ABS Light Comes On When Braking – What to Do?

You glance at your vehicle's dashboard and notice that the ABS (anti-lock braking system) light is glowing. What do you do?  First, don't panic.  There is a reason and a solution. We have done the research and have answers to help you solve your safety issue. 

There are many possible reasons why your ABS light is on. Some are minor with simple fixes, while others indicate serious problems that may require professional services. When your ABS light is on, possibilities to check out include:

  • Low brake fluid
  • Blown fuse
  • Wheel sensors irregularities
  • Malfunctioning ABS module
  • Worn hydraulic pump
  • The system has been switched off

Today's vehicles are equipped with an Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) safety mechanism. This helps the driver remain in control of the vehicle in situations where the brakes are applied suddenly. Without ABS, a vehicle's brakes could lock up and cause the vehicle to skid.

Do you have more questions on what to do when your ABS light comes on? Not to worry, we'll discuss the potential issues in more detail below. We'll also cover some other important questions that may arise as you handle your ABS light, so be sure to keep reading. 

ABS light. Car dashboard in closeup, ABS Light Comes On When Braking - What to Do?

What can cause the ABS light to come on?

It's scary to think that your vehicle has a potential issue with the ABS but remember, the warning light is just that, a warning that you need to service your car somehow. Most safety mechanisms are set to alert you before a major issue occurs. However, do not ignore the warning and think that you have plenty of time. 

It's best to address problems as soon as they arise. Otherwise, you might cost yourself more money and headache in the long run. If you're mechanically inclined, you may resolve any issues yourself. More serious problems may require you to seek professional services. Let's look at a few of the common reasons that a vehicle's ABS light comes on. 

When you start your vehicle, the lights on the dashboard come to life. However, your ABS light may linger a bit longer than others because your electronics system runs a diagnostic check on the ABS. Once it determines that all is well, the light will go out. Below are few reasons that your ABS light might stay lit after starting your vehicle or come on while driving. 

Low Brake Fluid

The braking system is hydraulic and relies on braking fluid to operate correctly. Brake fluid helps to maintain pressure, prevents corrosion, and handles the high heat generated by the friction of the brake pads. When the brake fluid levels get too low,  the ABS light will come on. First, make sure there are no leaks.  Then, pop the hood, locate the reservoir marked for brake fluid and refill it. When the proper fluid levels are detected, the ABS light will go off. 

Keeping brake fluid on hand is a good idea. 

Check out the top-rated ATE brake fluid on Amazon.

Blown Fuse

A blown fuse or relay will create a malfunction in the ABS because signal transmission is interrupted.  This will cause the ABS light to come on.

First, locate the fuse box under the hood. Most vehicles have a diagram on the fuse box lid to identify each fuse and its function. Then, using a fuse tester, you can test the fuse to see if this is the problem.  If so, fuse replacement is a relatively simple process. You only need a few tools like a fuse remover, needlenose pliers, a screwdriver set, a relay puller, and the correct replacement fuse.  Your driver's manual will tell you which one you need. 

When working on fuses, try this Multifunction Fuse Tester and Puller to make the job much easier.  

Find it on Amazon. 

Wheel Sensors

Vehicles equipped with ABS systems have sensors located on each wheel that monitor the speed and rotation of the tires. This information is reported back to the computerized module, which activates the traction control to make adjustments to maintain stability. 

Sensors can get dirty or damaged, which can transmit inaccurate information back to the computer.  This can generate an error code and activate the ABS light. Therefore, dirty sensors need to be cleaned, and damaged sensors need to be replaced for the ABS to work properly.  

Bad ABS Module

The ABS module is the brain or the computer component of the ABS.  Over time, corrosion can build up, causing the module to malfunction.  Signs that your ABS module is malfunctioning include, lit ABS light, locked brakes, unresponsive brake pedal, increased pedal effort, and speedometer failure.

If your ABS light is on and your vehicle is experiencing any of these issues, you need to contact a professional for a diagnostic scan and repair.  

Worn Hydraulic Pump

As we've mentioned,  brake fluid is vital to the proper functioning of the ABS, but the hydraulic pump is the mechanism that makes the magic happen.  Once the wheel sensors provide feedback to the ABS, the hydraulic pump kicks in to activate the brakes to avoid skidding or losing traction. 

If your hydraulic pump has gone bad, that could mean a costly repair done by a  professional mechanic.  However, if you are a DIYer, you can replace your hydraulic pump yourself, but this is not a  job for a novice.  It is a complex task that requires skill, knowledge, and attention to detail.  

ABS System is Turned Off

Some vehicles have the option to turn off the traction control and ABS.  If so, there will be a button or switch on the vehicle's control panel.  When the ABS is off, the indicator light will illuminate as a warning.  If this is the issue, flip the switch back on. The light should go off. 

Can I drive with the ABS light on?

ABS logo, ABS Light, dashboard

You can drive with your ABS light on, but it should only be for a short distance to safety.  Then you should immediately determine the cause of the warning light before driving your vehicle again. It's important to understand that your vehicle will still stop while the ABS light is on but with decreased reaction time. 

This means you may not be able to stop quickly like needed in an emergency. It also means that your brakes could lock up, causing you to lose the ability to control your front tires.

Consider using a DIY scanner tool to diagnose the error codes on your vehicle.  You plug into the port on your vehicle, and it will run a quick diagnostic scan.  Once you have identified the issue and serviced the car, the scanner tool can clean the codes and turn off the indicator light. 

You can find this top-rated Diagnostic Scan Tool on Amazon. 

If your ABS light and your braking system light are both on, do not drive the vehicle.  This signals that there is a problem with your brakes that may keep you from stopping the vehicle. In this situation, you will need to go ahead and call for a tow truck. 

Can worn brake pads cause ABS light to come on?

Worn brake pads are cause for concern but usually not the main reason your ABS  light comes on.  The brakes and the ABS work together, but they are separate systems.  Therefore, worn brake pads do not directly affect the functioning of the ABS.  However, worn brake pads can make it difficult for the ABS to control the wheel speed, triggering an ABS problem and the warning light. 

This can occur because of metal shaving from worn pads damaging the wheel sensors or increased use of brake fluid due to worn pads.  

Can low brake fluid cause ABS light to come on?

Low brake fluid is one of the top reasons that ABS light comes on.  It should be one of the first things you check because it's the easiest to fix. Just refill the reservoir found under the hood.  Brake fluid is very important to the braking system. If it's too low, trouble is ahead. 

How do I turn my ABS light off?

When you notice your ABS light, the first thing to do is turn off your engine, wait a few moments, and restart the vehicle.  This causes the vehicle's computer system to run a diagnostic check on the vehicle.  This simple system reset may solve the problem.  If not, you need to determine the cause of the indicator light. 

Once the problem is solved, the indicator light should turn off after the vehicle is turned off and restarted.  If you used a scanner tool to identify the error codes, you could also use it to turn off the indicator light.  However, be aware that the light will continue to come back on until the problem is resolved. 


ABS light. Car dashboard in closeup, ABS Light Comes On When Braking - What to Do?

ABS warning lights come on for many reasons.  Some are serious, while others require simple maintenance.  Regardless, investigate the cause of the warning light promptly to avoid accidents or damage to the ABS. 

To read more about braking systems, check out 10 Types of Vehicle Brakes and Braking Systems to Know. 

To read more about safety issues with brakes, check out, What Causes Brakes to Lock up While Driving.

Also, consider reading, Driving With Grinding Brakes, Is It Safe?

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