Winter Driving and ABS Brakes

red car on a snowy road driving amid forest

The Canadian winter can be a surprisingly warm and cozy time. People know how to keep their spirits up in the cold season by making warm drinks, snuggling up by a fire, and huddling up on the couch to watch ice hockey or binge TV or movies.

Seeking refuge from the cold can be fun, as can facing it head-on in a parka and toque. People have places to be in winter, even when the temperature drops and roads get slick. Commuting around town in a temperature-controlled car is a lot more pleasant than trudging through the slush on foot.

However, you need to be careful when roads get slick and slippery. ABS brakes, or anti-lock brakes, are essential. Let’s take a closer look at how they work, so you appreciate their role in safe winter driving.

What are ABS Brakes?

Every driver knows that pushing the right pedal downwards activates the brakes, but what separates one type of braking system from another is a little less clear. ABS brakes are very common now, but older styles of braking systems without them caused wheels to skid during a stop, which in turn caused the driver to lose control of their vehicle.

To explain how ABS brakes work, it may be helpful to briefly recap how a car’s steering system manages to function. Basically, when a driver turns the steering wheel, their tires have two types of velocity — the forward motion from the tire pushing the car and the cyclical direction of the spinning tire.

Without ABS brakes, braking causes the wheels to stop spinning, but the car may lose control if the forces halting the tires aren’t the same. The trouble is, if the brakes are applied evenly but road conditions cause some tires to slip more than others, the even braking can cause the vehicle to lose control.

Imagine the road is slippery on the car’s left side but not on the right. In such cases, applying even pressure to every wheel will potentially cause the tires to seize or “lock up.” ABS brakes have electronic sensors on each wheel that compensate for these varying centrifugal forces by releasing the brake until the pressure on each wheel is uniform.

When the pressure of the brake applied to each tire takes into account the varying degrees of slippage, the car will remain in control during a stop. In older cars, even pressing the brakes too hard could cause them to seize, which then made it nearly impossible to control.

cars parked on either side of a snowy street

Visit AutoOne Service for dealership-quality auto care for your breaks and every other part of the vehicle, no matter what kind of car you drive. From the most popular Hondas on the road to classic vintage cars and the latest hybrids off the factory assembly line — AutoOne Service can fix anything on any car.

The Right Braking Technique

Before ABS brakes, drivers used to “pump” the brakes when they really needed to stop. You didn’t just push the pedal down hard once. Instead, a driver would do so repeatedly.

In a car with ABS brakes, the driver doesn’t need to pump the brakes on slippery roads because the brakes do that automatically. All you need to do is apply the brakes with firm, even pressure. You’ll probably feel the ABS pulsating under your foot, and a light should flash on the instrument panel to confirm the ABS is working.

About every car made after 2013 comes with ABS brakes, so this is likely something you’ve dealt with already unless your car is quite old.

The Limits of ABS Brakes

ABS brakes prevent cars from sliding or slipping during a stop and help cars stop much sooner than they would otherwise. If you’re driving and you suddenly see an obstacle in the road to avoid, you either need to stop before it or use the brakes to slow you down in a controlled way so you can side-step it.

ABS brakes help you do both. However, no matter how much Canadian cities plow streets, ice or black ice could be anywhere. You won’t have to brake as hard if you’re driving slower and cautiously!

You’re much safer having ABS brakes than not having them, but nothing replaces slow and cautious driving in winter. Usually, there’s a sharp increase in accidents at the very start of winter before people adjust their seasonal driving habits and change their all-season tires for snow tires.

ABS brakes are not a replacement for having winter tires and exercising caution on the road.

All Repairs Under One Roof

AutoOne Service offers ABS brake service and every other type of car repair you could want! We offer a full range of tire services, so you can ready your vehicle for slippery winter conditions.

ABS brakes work in tandem with a power-steering system, so it’s crucial yours works up to specification before the winter. A problem with the steering can damage the vehicle and pose dangers on the road. If your steering is slow, stiff, or groaning, visit AutoOne Service for comprehensive repairs immediately.

Not every driver knows exactly what’s going on under the hood, but we all know how a car should feel when it’s driving properly. If you have any doubts or reservations, don’t hesitate to call us!

You can also schedule an appointment on our website by simply listing the vehicle’s make, describing what’s wrong, and leaving some basic contact information. Note whether you want to wait on-site for the repair or if you’ll be leaving your car overnight.

Driving on Canadian roads during winter isn’t always fun. The roads can be slippery, it gets darker sooner, and the piles of plowed snow narrow the roads, worsening traffic. Thankfully, technology like ABS brakes has made our winter commutes considerably safer. Hopefully, you appreciate this technology a little more! If you visit AutoOne Service for vehicle maintenance to keep your ABS brakes in tip-top shape and remember the other winter driving tips, you’ll arrive safely this season.