ABS, should I replace them?

We have a '97 Ford Explorer that has 233,000 miles on it (yeah, I know that’s a lot but it’s in immaculate condition, except for the ‘shotgun’ seat belt, which my daughter’s dog ate). Really, I’ve always kept all the maintenance up on it, and now my son, the college freshman, has it. I recently took it in for a good going-over. Now, I have a really good relationship with the service department at our dealership . . Seriously! In fact, after going over the car with a fine-toothed comb, the service mgr. told me the only thing they could find that was wrong was the ABS system. He said a new one would run $1600, and that if he were I, he’d drive it ‘as is’. He said the brakes were just fine – only the ABS system was out, but that it was up to me. I mean, the guy was actually trying to talk me OUT of replacing the ABS system. I know the usual reflex response would be that in a car this old with this many miles, it would make no sense to put that kind of money into it. I just need to know if that’s the way to go, or do they make such a difference that my son’s safety will be jeopardized if I don’t replace them? I need to get this figured out as soon as possible, as he’s home on break (and brake) but will be going back & I’d like to get this resolved before then, if possible. Thanks to anyone who can help me make a good decision.

That was not bad advice. It does mean you will not have ABS, but if you had a car not much older than that, it would never had ABS. ABS is good, but we (well most of us) survived without it for a long time, although there were a few times it would have been very good to have.

It is up to you. I would never buy a car without it, but under the same conditions you have I would not replace it. Your regular brakes will not be affected.

Hi, Joseph, and thanks so much for the quick reply - - that really helps, and I appreciate that you took the time to answer. I’m hoping to get at least 5 replies by this time tomorrow, and I’m thinking about going with the ‘majority rule’ principle (must be all the politics on TV lately that’s influencing me). That sounds like good advice to me, and, of course, right now you ARE the majority! Again, thanks for taking the time. I’m really impressed that I got such a quick response.
Sylvia P.

I agree with Joe. When a vehicle reaches this mileage, it’s best to try to avoid replacing big ticket items if you can. In this case, it’s the ABS. If the primary brakes function properly, I wouldn’t sink that amount of money into this vehicle.


Thanks Tester! Wow, I really have to say how impressed I am with the quick responses. . .I’ve been a ‘Car Talk’ fan for many, many years, but just recently started using the web site. What a gold mine! Looks like so far the consensus opinion rests with the ‘Do Not Replace’ camp. Did I mention how much I appreciate the responses? Of course, there’s no price tag on my son’s safety, but, at the same time, I AM paying college tuition (ack!!!) I’ll be so glad when my offspring all have good educations & great jobs so they can start paying to have MY truck worked on (I should live so long)! Thanks again for the input.
Sylvia P.

And here is third vote from me, concurring with the rest of the panel so far. Drive your Ford as-is. It is simply not worth the expense to repair the ABS. You will still retain normal braking, which is quite adequate. This is the advice I give to anyone who has an older car; when the ABS calls it quits, continue to drive the vehicle for the remainder of its natural lifespan with just your conventional brakes.

I also would not spend money to fix ABS, I don’t really think it has much value to begin with if you have any experience driving a car with real brakes. Just remember that it’s not there.

While I would tend to agree with everyone else, that it’s not necessary to fix the ABS, I have some thoughts, and one question.

The question: Is the ABS light on on the Explorer’s dash? If not, then the ABS may still be operational, and not need replacing at all.

Now for the thoughts. I’m assuming your son is about 18 or so, and doesn’t have a lot of driving experience. Should he happen to lock the brakes, I would worry he wouldn’t know to pump them to avoid skidding and very possibly spinning and rolling over in an emergency situation. Working ABS would at least allow him to maintain some control in such a situation. $1600 is expensive, especially for an 11 year old truck, but there is quite a safety consideration as well. Personally, I wouldn’t get the work done, but then it’s not my son driving the truck.

Assuming the ABS is electrically failed, I might replace the brake fluid (it doesn’t matter you have done that recently). Or, tap the actuator/control unit/sensors with a plastic hammer, like kicking the television set. If it didn’t work, then it’s time to re-confirm the terms and conditions with your insurance company to make sure you’re the beneficial. (Do not mention the ABS thing) Good luck.

Whew! I have to say, just when I thought we were going to run the tables on this one . . .

Yes, my son is 18 and not a lot of driving experience at all. He HAS the Explorer at college, but drives it very seldom, if at all. I’ve been pretty much a stickler for always keeping everything in good condition, so I would think with continued reasonable care the Explorer ought to have another 100k left in it, at least. I have to say, TR35R’s remark about making sure I’m the beneficiary gave me pause. Here’s an item the importance of which I’m not sure; I drove up to college & let my son follow me home because he had experienced a problem with the battery (which is brand new) going dead. We jumped the Explorer & he followed me home. We filled up before we left town, but 50 miles down the road he phoned me to say his gas tank was registering on Empty. I decided to go ahead & let him fill up again, which took maybe $2.00 worth. He started it several times over the last couple of weeks, but didn’t drive it. Then, on the way to the dealership, which is 35 miles away, again with him following me, the car quit. He said the battery died, but the repair tech told me it was out of gas, and that when they added 5 gallons worth, the gauge worked fine. I’m personally wondering if there may be a gremlin in the electrical system? And, yes, the ABS light apparently did come on on the dash. Sorry I didn’t give more info from the get-go. Thanks for the shake-up. Now I’m on the fence again, but tilting toward getting them fixed. If it’s important, Gabe’s an EXTREMELY careful driver; if anything he tends to err on the side of caution. Thoughts?
Thanks, you guys are really coming through for me; I knew I could count on Car Talk folks!

If you want to keep the Explorer for another 100K, get the ABS fixed (did the dealer give you an itemized breakdown of what exactly is wrong?). You may wish to consider an independent shop - you might save a considerable amount of money on this and the other repairs.

And get the other repairs done too. The reason I say this is to avoid the “clunker mentality”. The more little things that go wrong with a car and are left unrepaired, the more you consider it a clunker, and therefore, the more you’ll neglect it. A vicious cycle that leads to an early demise for the car, and potentially the driver if you start ignoring safety-related repairs. Not a way to get that additional 100k mles out of it, for sure. Just my $.02 on the subject.

I’d get them fixed. Your son may be careful, but he’s not experienced–he probably needs every break (no pun intended) he can get, safety-wise. And the fact you intend to keep the car a while just makes the decision easy.

There are lots of reasons to replace a car that’s running well…one is safety. If you feel abs is worthwhile, which I do, esp. in a poor handling Explorer, it may be time for a newer car with abs. When it’s slippery, and you slam on the brakes without thinking, which you may have been used to and your top heavy SUV just starts to roll, remember all the money you saved by not fixing it as the world goes spinning by…best of luck.

Thanks, NYBo,

Yes, getting all repairs done has always been my default position, which is why I get so many miles on my vehicles, I think. I can’t say my daughter (who drove this previously) was quite as meticulous, but she was pretty good . . . largely due to ‘reminders’ from Mom. We’ve always made sure belts, hoses, etc. were good, power steering pumped & replaced, regular oil changes, emission checks (mandatory), etc. My theory is that, economics aside, it’s better for the environment to keep a car in good repair; both because of emissions and because every new car manufactured uses a huge amount of energy and raw material. That aside; nothing is more important that Gabe’s safety, so rest assured the 'Clunker mentality" is not an issue. I’m pretty ‘retentive’ about these things. I think it was the fact that the Manager of the repair dept. was seemingly coming down on the side of not replacing them that really made me think this might not be such an important issue.

Again, I cannot begin to thank everyone who’s responding enough. It’s a real help in making this important (and expensive) decision. Keep those opinions coming, please . . .I’m learning a lot!!

Thanks Scrabbler & mconn,
I’m thinking at this point a good thing to do might be to conduct a poll of mechanics in our area to find out who’s really good and what they’d charge for the job. What do y’all (yes, I’m from ‘The South’) think? I just moved back to the tiny town in North Louisiana where I was raised . . after being away for like 40 years. Needless to say, there are no mechanics in my town . . Shreveport is the nearest city. The owner of the Ford Dealership I took the Explorer to was our MYF leader ‘back in the day’. Ah, the joys of rural American existence! That may help give you a clearer profile of the situation. Also, A new car isn’t in the cards right now (did I mention college tuition???) so, to me, that’s even more of an incentive to fix everything as soon as it needs it; as if I needed more of an incentive than Gabe’s safety. Anybody know a good mechanic in Northwest Louisiana?? Isn’t there a spot somewhere on this website that rates mechanics?

You good people are giving me a lot of good advice, and I really appreciate it. Keep it coming, okay?
Thanks again,
Sylvia P.

I cannot add to the safety/cost trade-off advice you have already received, but there might be another consideration: state inspection requirements. Some states have periodic safety inspections. Here in Maryland we have a safety inspection for registering a used car (waived for in-family transfers); that would affect the vehicle’s resale value. We also have periodic emissions inspections which (I think) you fail if any safety warning lights (e.g., ABS) are on. You can also fail for certain stored codes; I do not know if that includes ABS.

I would not bother ever with ABS as it won’t return much life. If your vehicle had vehicle stability/roll over control I would fix that as that has significant real world advantages that no driver whether professional or well experienced ever match in their wildest dreams and under fear of going out of control.

If you are considering replacing the vehicle (from one of your posts, though, it seems unlikely) consider the costs: ABS repair, plus other odds and ends that need done, figure $2000, bring it up to really good condition. For that money, you can get a crapmobile, which you’d probably have to spend another 1-2 grand fixing anyway. If you want it to last, I’d say get the repairs done.

As for the gas gauge problem: Do you, or your children, have a habit of topping off the gas tank when filling it up; that is, adding more fuel after the nozzle automatically shuts off? If so, it’s possible the charcoal canister (it absorbs fuel vapours, preventing them from leaking into the air) may be saturated, which would cause the pump to stop pumping very early, after only pumping a couple dollars into the tank. I believe it’s not a difficult repair; or you could leave it and let it de-saturate on it’s own, as my dad did with his Sonata.

Lastly, look on the CarTalk site, go to the Mechanics Files. Type in your zip code and a list of reputable mechanics can be found in your area.

I would go with the NO FIX camp. I recently bought a new car and went out of my way to buy one without ABS. I value my own driving skills more than the add ons. Also, for years cars never had ABS and drivers honed their skills by learning to stop correctly. You have obviously taken good care of your car and I would recommend continuing to do that for all items affecting environment, performance and safety. That includes the seat belts! Hoever , if the stereo fails and needs $1500 to fix it, this would be an item you could just skip.

I’m sure your vehicle will go another 100,00 miles safely.

Good Luck!

I also would (and do) pay extra to avoid ABS for myself. If I bought myself a new car (unlikely), I would probably just kill the ABS anyway. However, I’m not sure what I would do on a kiddy car. I guess it would depends on the kid’s driving ability. I do think it’s scary that there will be an entire generation who are not capable of driving cars with real brakes. Actually, I’m tempted to send my kids to a high performance driving school and buy them cars with real brakes. I’m not sure.