Solving Brake Problems
I’m not going to get into these systems too deep here, but I will try to address some of the common questions I get about ABS/TCS. ABS stands for Antilock Brake System. TCS stands for Traction Control System. I list these together because they involve many of the same parts and are closely related systems.
ABS came about to help maintain steering control during the event of a panic stop. It also aids in stopping distance in many situations. The system uses wheel speed sensors at each wheel or sometimes inside an axle assembly. These speed sensors detect when a wheel has locked up and is skidding. It tells the computer this is happening and the computer commands the ABS unit to go into ABS mode. When active, the ABS will modulate brake pressure to the wheels and prevent them from locking up or skidding. When your ABS system has a problem, it often sets a code and illuminates a light on the dash. You pull these codes in the same way you would pull codes for a check engine light. These codes correspond to different failures in the system. Like check engine light codes, the code is just there as a guide to help focus your diagnosis; these codes should not be interpreted as a diagnosis.
ABS codes might not be accessible with some scan tools. You might need a special scan tool to pull ABS/TCS codes. In addition, ABS/TCS codes are specific to the manufacturer, unlike check engine light codes. For this reason, I’m only going to talk about these systems in general terms. For more specific information, consult your vehicle’s service manual. Here area few common questions about ABS:
- Do you need a scan tool to bleed ABS systems?
- In some cases, yes. Consult the service manual for your vehicle to find out if this is the case for you.
- If the ABS fails, will my brakes fail too?
- Not normally. The ABS system is designed to still allow the base braking system to operate normally if it fails. If your ABS light is on, your base braking system should still function fine; you just won’t have any ABS in the event of a panic stop.
- Can an ABS/TCS failure cause a performance problem?
- Yes. The ABS/TCS system is tied into the engine management system. In some cases, the TCS can control the throttle and apply the brakes, which can compromise performance.
Once again, consult the service manual for your vehicle on the specifics for your vehicle and what the codes mean.
Sometimes when doing brake work, you might have a difficult time removing the wheels. If this happens, here are a couple of tricks that might help you.
- First, install one of the lug nuts by just a few threads. You’re just looking to use it as an anchor so that the wheel doesn’t come flying off. Then, try to karate kick the back of the wheel to try and break it loose.
- If this doesn’t work, I switch to a hammer. I only like to hit the tire when I do this; if you hit the rim, you can damage it.
- If this doesn’t work, place a 2×4 on the back of the rim and hit it with a hammer. Hard. The bigger the hammer the better by the way.
- If this doesn’t work, it’s time to get serious. Lower the vehicle back down and install all the lug nuts finger-tight, then take the vehicle for a drive. Don’t go out on the highway; a local parking lot is best. Swerve the vehicle from side to side till you hear a pop. That usually means the wheel has come loose. Only do this with one wheel at a time, and be sure to do it in an area where you won’t interfere with other traffic. Here’s a video.
Sometimes you purchase a vehicle that has wheel locks but the former owner forgot to give you the key to remove them. Sometimes you lost the key. Either way, you’re going to have to remove the wheel locks before you can remove the wheel. Several companies make a special socket set for doing this very thing.
The sets are often expensive, and for a one-time use it doesn’t make much sense to buy one. I have had luck hammering an old socket onto the outside of a wheel lock and breaking it loose with a breaker bar. This might not always work, but it’s worked several times for me in the past. Here’s a video on the process.
I get asked about this a LOT. In my opinion there’s not much to be gained by doing this. Sure it makes your wheels look cooler but the fact is that it doesn’t do much to help your braking. Rear brakes only do about 20% of the work as it is, switching them over to discs isn’t going to change that. About the only thing it does change is your credit card balance. I like drum brakes. You can adjust them to get a better pedal feel. You can’t do that with disc brakes. In fact, you might end up with a mushy pedal if you do the conversion. Personally, I think you should stick with the drum brakes. If you want a vehicle with rear disc brakes, buy a vehicle with rear disc brakes. I often say, “Don’t make a slow car fast. Buy a fast car and make it faster.” Otherwise, you’re wasting your time and money in my opinion. If you really want your brakes to feel better, and work better, get yourself a set of steel braided brake lines. Install these and you’ll be amazed at the result. It’s also much cheaper and easier than converting to disc.
I hope this information was useful to you. If you didn’t find what you were looking for, type in a few key words into the search at the bottom of the page. You can even type in specific check engine light codes. In addition to the code meaning, you might find articles and forum posts that pertain to that code. If nothing comes up for your issue, sign up for our forum and ask your question there. We’ll be happy to help if we can. It’s free, and all you need is a valid email address. Just be sure to respond to the confirmation email to complete your registration. If you don’t see the confirmation email, check your spam or bulk folder.
Written By EricTheCarGuy
Edited By Julie Hucke