Anti-Lock Brakes on an icy hill

My driveway slopes fairly steeply down to the road. When it’s icy and the car starts to slide, what’s the best way to control it? Jam the brakes and let the anti-lock take over or work the brake pedal gently? This isn’t a skidding issue in the usual sense, it’s just the car sliding straight down the hill under the pull of gravity. Do anti-lock brakes do any good in this situation?

You’ll probably get varying opinions here. I’d say to let the ABS do its thing, then you’ll be able to steer and control the car to some extent at all times.

Do you have winter tires? If not, if this is something you face regularly or if you might end up in the road before stopping, you should probably put on winter tires that have good ratings on ice. They do make quite a difference.

You could also throw some traction grit onto your driveway before leaving, of course.

By the way, it really doesn’t make any difference if you’re skidding due to momentum or gravity.

Agree with lion9car. Push the pedal firmly and let the ABS do its thing. ABS will keep the car more or less straight, but it won’t be able to overcome a very slippery surface. Winter tires and salt/sand on the driveway will help

I agree with Steve and lion, let ABS do its thing. That said, the laws of physics cannot be repealed. If the tires have nothing to grip, you will slide either from gravity or momentum.

Depends on how good/sensitive your ABS is. Some of them, you can’t control it manually with the pedal because ABS kicks in too quickly, before you can react. Some of them, the ABS is so good that it will out perform you every time. And on some of them, the ABS sucks and you’re better off doing it yourself.

Unless somebody is superhuman, there is no way that he can pulse the brakes anywhere near as fast as an ABS system is capable of doing, so firmly holding down the brake pedal is the right thing to do under these circumstances when you have an ABS system.

That being said, unless you increase the coefficient of friction between your car and that icy driveway, nothing is going to help totally. A set of four winter tires will substantially increase your coefficient of friction and will actually help the ABS to work more effectively.

For some bizarre reason, some folks can only envision winter tires as helping with starting traction, but in reality their biggest advantage is in regard to dramatically shortening your stopping distances on winter road surfaces. The various Michelin X-Ice winter tire models are the top-rated winter tires, and I strongly suggest that you invest in a set of 4, mounted on their own set of steel wheels for ease of mounting and dismounting.

“it’s just the car sliding straight down the hill under the pull of gravity”

ABS must have at least a wheel moving to determine that it needs to do something. If there are zero wheels turning, the ABS system will just sit there and continue to monitor the situation and do nothing.

You’ll need to put some sort of sand or something on your driveway to give the tires some traction.

Sand is your only option.
Having suffered the bane of ABS on an icy hill, I can offer only my empathy. The millisecond a tire starts to slide you lose all control and the car just keeps rolling. Contrary to common misconception, ABS was never designed to help you stop, just to help you keep your steering… not a real asset if it helps you slide into the object in front of you because there’s no place to steer to. Testing of ABS early on clearly showed its weakness, but manufacturers proceeded anyway under the assumption that it was going to be mandated.

There’s a steep hill by my house where I make a left turn in the middle. I’ve always been able to manage it when it’s icy in all my previous cars, but with the ABS the I cannot. The ABS starts chattering and the wheels just keep rolling, unable to get the bite needed to make the left.

Some people swear by ABS. I swear AT ABS. I suspect that those who swear by it don’t have to turn a corner in the middle of a steep hill.

I guess I have to agree with mountainbike. I find it less than useful. With four wheel disc brakes, I have never had a problem braking straight, and never had a problem steering either. Sometimes you need to alternate skidding with steering to avoid issues. Nothing worse than trying to stop at the bottom of an icy hill and all you can do is keep your foot on the brake while the ABS just pumps away.

Get rid of the ice or put something on it to increase traction like sand as same mountainbike suggested. If you engage the ABS and slide downhill, it is because your tires are slipping on the ice, and ABS or special manual braking will not help. You might consider winter tires but they will slide on ice too at some point.

Something tells me though, if this is an ongoing issue, you don’t have good winter tires. Without the good tires, abs just won’t work effectively. Most people who swear at abs, are usually asking it to do the impossible…stop you straight and short with all season tires not made for slippery winter conditions.

Btw, if you want to defeat abs, just pump the brakes as you normally would without. Abs is really a higher speed and not much of a low speed help. You still need experience and practice and…spreading a little sand always helps. The difference between having abs and not is…you get more help from any sand. If any wheel has good traction, it WILL lock up. You don’t want all of them to lock up with three on ice and one with good traction.

If a car can just slide from a dead stop down your icy hill. No brake is going to help the situation.

What do you run for tires and what kind of a car do you have ?

One other thing for those of you who diss the idea that AWD / 4wd will not help braking…surprise, it does.
On a real slippery hill, you can drive with two wheels in snow on the side of the road and not have to worry about getting stuck. We do this all the time when our steep mountain road is glare ice going both up and down. So, if your driveway has snow on the side, put two wheels in it and the abs will help use those wheels only for braking.

It isn’t the tires. I’ve had numerous tires on numerous vehicles over the years, and I’ve tried various tires on this car. Only with the ABS do I have a problem. I could even do the turn with my old '89 Toyota pickup with its hyperlight rear end and RWD, and with all season tires. I could do it with both of my daughter’s Civics, I could do it with my 1991 Camry. And my 2005 Corolla (which did NOT have ABS standard on the LE model), and various college cars (Taurus, Accord, Jeep GC). None of these vehicles had ABS.

It’s a 2005 Scion tC with all-season Hankooks currently, but it doesn’t matter what tires I put on it (I’ve had a number of different tires on it). These are actually excellent under all other winter conditions. It’s the ABS that causes the problem.

“It isn’t the tires”

If you are not using winter tires, it’s hard to tell how much the abs is helping you or not. All season tires very so much in winter traction, even by their mileage, let alone their tread design, it is impossible to make a judgement as to what the case is. All season tire rubber ALWAYS hardens up on ice more then winter tires !

Abs will not help give you ANY traction. Your tires do that. It was not designed to stop in the shortest distance in all conditions, it was designed to give the driver options like both braking and steering. If you have all season tires, you will never be happy with abs to the same extent with winter tires. As a matter of fact, because all seasons have so little traction, when applying brakes with abs and all season tires on bad ice, you almost feel like you are Accelerating !

Abs is not for the drivers who freeze up and slam on the brakes and wait for a collision. Because the most frequent accident is rear ending, abs is for those who want to both brake and steer and loss of steerage is even more dangerous then loss of some distance when braking.

Same, if you drive a car with snow tires on those roads in the same conditons, you would quickly turn into an abs supporter. Just like, if one drives through snow with AWD and snow tires, they quickly become an AWD supporter. TIRES ALWAYS MAKE THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE and control over those tires is what abs and traction control and AWD is all about.

If it is a hill you can coast down I would try leaving it in neutral and use the brakes sparingly. Then putting in drive as needed. IE not hittin them hard. Let me know the results.

Skip the lecture dag. Been there, tried that.
I’m not a young kid still learning to drive. I know as much about this stuff as you do. Maybe more. And I definitely know more about my cars and their characteristics.

If you disagree that ABS is a highly overrated system prone to the problems described, just say so. Don’t lecture.

I learned from the best at it.

What if you tried it both ways? Maybe it will be clear from the outcome one way works better in this situation than the other.

There’s something you can do besides monkeying with the braking too. Steering. I used to live in snow country before ABS technology was available, and when all four wheels would lock up, like on black ice, there’s not much the driver can do. But if some of the wheels are sliding but not all the wheels are locked up, the driver should use the steering wheel to try to keep the front of the car pointed in the basic direction they want to go. So if the rear wheels slide to the left, the front of the car will turn to the right of the intended direction, so turn the steering wheel so the front of the car turns back to the left. It’s sort of obvious what you need to do when it happens, but the explanation always sounds very complicated.

Same, this isn’t my word against yours. And, it isn’t personal as you want to make it. This is your word agaisnt Tire Rack and the dozen or so tests on UTUBE that all show that when winter tires are tested agaisnt all season tires, abs is ineffective in helping a car maintain course when turning on ice with all season tires. Only when used with I winter tires can abs be effective. When combined, it becomes very effective. You don’t have winter tires together with abs so how would you know ?

Now, you can call it lecturing…I call it informing. I really don’t care that your experience tells you something different. We can all disagree on that basis. But when OP asks a question and may be riding on all season tires too and you tell them that abs in your opinion does nothing to help,…we owe an explanation why to OP. Bottom line. You can’t evaluate the effectiveness of abs with all season tires on ice. You may have experience with all season tires on ice, but it doesn’t sound like you have experience with winter tires and abs on ice. I do…and I do every day during the winter. I doubt very much you have, ever had or will have as much ice driving experience.

This is one reason I prefer a manual transmission. I have been in a situation where sliding down hill on ice was un-avoidable. Creeping down hill with a manual transmission in first gear worked!

Dag , read my lips… a third time… BEEN THERE, TRIED THAT.
YES I HAVE EXPERIENCE WITH WINTER TIRES ON THIS CAR. .

For the record, I have as much driving experience in New England as you do and far more on sheer ice. In North Dakota, the streets in Grand Forks and on GFAFB turn to solid ice and stay that way all winter. Salt isn’t used in GF because of the temperatures and never allowed on the base because of the airplanes.
Now stop trying to tell me you know more about my experience, my car, and my hill than I do.
I’m not going to continue this debate with you, because you clearly are not listening.

Sarge, creeping down with the tranny in first gear definitely does help. But on a really icy day, I’ve given up trying to make that left on this hill. I just go around the block.