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Civic brakes grind and lock up in icy conditions

Coasting to a stop behind a school bus in light snow, my brakes started grinding and locked up. Only avoided hitting the car in front of me by steering into the oncoming lane. (Fortunately, no oncoming traffic on this side road.) It did it again a few minutes later when I was slowing for a turn – again, at low speeds in light snow conditions. That time I was able to steer into the margin.

It’s a 2005 Honda Civic EX (manual transmission), and it supposedly has ABS brakes. I know ABS can be noisy – but I’m keen on the braking part, which didn’t happen! Any thoughts on what’s going on?

Is the ABS warning light on?


Were you braking when you steered? And you were able to steer? Then ABS is probably working.

Some people think they’re locking up because the pedal gets very hard when it actuates, and they make what some might describe as a grinding noise (and the pedal vibrates).

If your light snow is like the snow I dealt with the other day, it’s like driving on grease. It’s entirely possible your ABS was working, and the tires simply couldn’t grip hard enough to effectively brake. How’s the tread look, and are they at least all seasons?

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Tester, no, no ABS warning light.

If this is the base model of 2005 Honda Civic it may not have ABS
Michelle , turn key to ACC but don’t start and see if an ABS light shows on dash.

If the ABS is working, the brakes shouldn’t lock up.

What kind of tires on the car?

Winter? Or all season tires?


Shadowfax (like the name, Gandalf, call me Luthien). I was able to steer, and your description fits what happened perfectly. Except braking itself didn’t happen!

The roads hadn’t been salted. (The salt truck sprayed me minutes later.) Conditions were slick. Slush cones had built up around both front tires.

Tires, hmm… hadn’t thought of that.

They’re all season tires (this is Maryland, not Michigan, so you don’t really get snow tires here). The tread’s… okay, not great, on the left front. Definitely “get tires in six months.” Right side, front and back… eh. The tread’s a little lower.

I think it’s the tires + conditions. I’d better get new tires on the car for the winter.

…and, perhaps most importantly of all…how much tread remains on those tires?
ABS and Stability Control are wonderful safety features, but they are unable to overcome the incredible winter traction difficulties produced by badly-worn tires and/or tires that are rated as “summer tires”.

Volvo, thanks. It’s not the DX, it’s the EX, so not the base model. Definitely have ABS. Apparently the grinding I experienced was the ABS kicking in – minus the braking.

Shadowfax suggested it might be the tires, and I think so. I was due to replace them in the next six months, but the two right-side tires are lower than the left.

I know, uneven wear. Can’t rotate the tires properly on this car until I buy new wheels. The previous owner messed up the front wheels – they’re ever-so-slightly squared – and then put those wheels on the back to disguise the damage. So if I put the back tires on the front, it’s like driving on a washboard.

VDC, I was due to replace the tires in six months, but the right side tread is in worse shape than the left (the inability to rotate the tires on this car is another matter). I think replacing all four tires will put me in a better place for the winter, if Maryland has a snowy year.

You can’t afford to not purchase 4 new tires and the shop may not mount tires on the damaged wheels . You have already came close to an accident so for the people who have to share the road and yourself replace now.

Even if you have to put the cost on a credit card the interest will be less then the cost of a wreck.

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Hi Volvo, the issue with the wheels does not have any impact at all on the car’s safety, and yes, they will mount the tires on the current wheels. This is an issue on my car that I’m more familiar with than you are.

The previous owner did NO MAINTENANCE ON THIS CAR WHATSOEVER. None. For 117,000 miles. I’m taking care of everything he didn’t do. Everything important is done except some rust on the rear struts (which I pointed out–the mechanic missed it, but I heard the squeaky bed-spring sound and knew what it was). The squared off wheels are a low priority, given how much I’ve put into this car this year.

None of the electronically-based safety features on your car can operate properly if you are running the car with tires that are not very closely-matched regarding tread depth and traction coefficient. If you really want to avoid a very costly collision, you need to replace all 4 tires with NEW good-quality tires at the same time.

The wheels are not a safety issue. They just create a vibration.

Trust me that I know this car – certainly better than the kid who owned it before me, who did no maintenance whatsoever.

My checkbook and I know this car very, very well. I know what’s a priority to be fixed and what’s not.

The tires were on the list for six months on, but they’ve moved up because of the snow.

No, uneven wear doesn’t cause collisions.

I realize I have girl’s name here, and I was really hoping that I could avoid this, that you’d pick up that I’m not a bunny behind the wheel from the fact that I drive a stick … but I can change my own oil, check my own brakes, and change my own tires, and used to be able to adjust the timing on the old Chevys. So enough. I’ve never had ABS on a car before, so this is new. Not braking is always a bad thing.

And yes, of course I’d replace all four tires at the same time. Especially considering I can’t rotate them.

I expect that’s correct. A Honda specialist could check out your ABS system and tell you its condition for sure. My guess is that your ABS system is working and for the conditions and tire-tread available it did the best it could, what it was designed to do.

@VDCdriver said to replace the tires, not the wheels. It is possible that some tire shops won’t mount tires on damaged wheels, but if yours thinks it’s safe, then great.

Of course it does. Uneven wear = uneven traction = potential for a spin.

No one is assuming your knowledge of cars are lacking because you’re female. A lot of us know females who routinely do engine swaps. We’re suggesting your knowledge of cars might be lacking in certain areas because you make statements like “uneven tire wear doesn’t cause collisions.”

A Honda specialist could check out your ABS system and tell you its condition for sure. My guess is that your ABS system is working and for the conditions and tire-tread available it did the best it could, what it was designed to do.

That would be a good precaution, George San Jose.

I don’t care about a little condescension – so long as you know what you’re talking about.

Not reading that I have the EX, which is not a base model, puts you a couple points behind. Shows he was either not reading the post, yet answering anyways. Or doesn’t know that the EX isn’t the base model, so therefore ill-informed, yet answering anyways. Guys who run their mouths without knowing what they’re talking about usually do so because they think women don’t know their own cars.

Shadowfax, you know what you’re talking about, and read the post, so thank you very much for your help.

Of course it does. Uneven wear = uneven traction = potential for a spin.

Unlikely. And also unlikely that anyone who can tell you the wear conditions on their tires off the cuff is going to replace just the right-side tires. Are you kidding me? Especially when you can’t even rotate them.