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I'm no longer a fan of ABS (on cars)

A few months ago, I was in a fender bender. I was taking my mother up to see my brother in D.C. and a few cars ahead of us, a couple drivers were road raging. One driver pulled in front of the other and slammed on his brakes. In my mother’s 2002 Toyota Sienna, I had plenty of distance between our vehicle and the vehicle in front of us, a Jeep Liberty. In spite of this distance, I rear-ended the Jeep Liberty, barely leaving a mark on it, but totaling my mother’s minivan due to front end damage and a bent frame. Nobody was injured and the impact wasn’t severe enough to deploy anyone’s airbags. (Thank you crumple zones!)

Fortunately, the minivan was still drivable, and the air conditioning still worked. The road ragers never stopped. They just went on their way. In any case, I know it was my fault I rear-ended the other car, regardless of what started the chain of events. I should have left more room.

When this happened, I pressed the brake pedal as hard as I could. As we continued to approach the Jeep, I wondered why I didn’t hear any squealing of the tires. Rather than hear constant squealing, like what you expect when you don’t have ABS, I expected to hear intermittent squealing as the ABS did its job.

Based on my experience, I now realize I’ve been wrong about ABS (on cars). Yes, it shortens your stopping distance in low traction conditions (like rain, snow, or ice), but on dry pavement, ABS actually extends your braking distance.

Knowing this, I wonder about my next vehicle. It will likely have ABS, especially if I buy a new vehicle rather than used, and I’m wondering how to route a switch to the driver’s console that would allow me to turn off the ABS in dry conditions and turn it on in low traction conditions. I’d want a switch, rather than just pulling the fuse, so I can activate and deactivate ABS without having to pull over.

What do you think of this idea?

P.S.- I use the “on cars” qualifier because on my motorcycle, the ABS works differently. The ABS only activates on the brake pedal, which normally operates the rear brakes, but is linked to both front and rear brakes on this motorcycle. The owner’s manual says I can achieve maximum braking by applying both hand and foot brake controls. The brake lever (hand control) is not linked to both brakes. It only activates the front brakes, and it isn’t connected to the ABS. If I had these kind of controls on a car (where I could apply extra braking to the front while trying to stop), there would be no reason to consider deactivating ABS on my next car.

Having grown up as the son of a lawyer, I think it’s a terrible idea.

If you were to get into a wreck and it came out that you disabled a safety system (even if you honestly believe that the safety system makes the vehicle less safe), they’d clean you out, and your insurance may not cover you since you probably wouldn’t tell them what you were doing to the brakes when you had the policy written.


It’s possible your tires were slipping without making a sound.
Depends on the road surface and the temperature of the tire treads.
It’s impossible to know that you could have stopped shorter without ABS.
One of my neighbors teenage daughter totaled their trusty, boxy old Volvo when she used the foot and hand brake in a panic stop much like yours, so you can’t be sure about that either.


The main purpose of ABS is so you maintain control of your vehicle while braking hard. According to NHTSA ABS lengthens stopping distance on slippery surfaces. It may or may not effect braking distance on dry pavement.

The other thing ABS gives you is traction control. Great to have during our infamous ice storms we get from time to time

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I would guess you should just leave it alone and live with it. I personally don’t like it either because I want to be able to control what the brakes do, not just sit there like a dummy while the ABS does its thing. On the contrary though, I particularly don’t like it on snow and ice. Once again its me against the computer and I think I can do better in some conditions. For an inexperienced or panicked driver maybe not. I think all you have to do though is pull the fuse. Of course the light will be on all the time.


In my experience, it extends braking distance under all conditions where wheel lockup occurs. That includes skidding on dry pavement. It’s purpose is to allow the operator to maintain control, not reduce stopping distance. It does the opposite in order to achieve its primary goal.

Not all implementations are created equal and some are far worse than others. My Camry is particularly sensitive and will kick in due to small ripples in the pavement or at the least little bit of sand. I almost ran into the back of a car when the ABS activated on a downhill stop with a light coating of sand. I am certain that would not have happened with traditional brakes. To head off the inevitable, no I do not brake hard or wait until the last minute to romp on the brakes. I have learned to leave even more space than I did with traditional brakes to account for the ABS side effects…

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Well, son of a lawyer, I guess that means I’m better off completely forgoing ABS by buying a used vehicle that doesn’t have ABS. Such a vehicle would actually be less safe than only using ABS when the conditions warrant it, but I guess that’s the way the world works.

At least I have my plan now: Keep my non ABS car a long as possible, and when it’s time to upgrade, I’ll refurbish an older non-ABS vehicle rather than buy a new one.

Were he still around, my dad would have told you yes, if you insist on not having ABS, you’re legally better off driving a vehicle that never had it rather than getting one that has it and disabling it.

Since ABS has been standard for many years now it’s going to get harder and harder to find a non ABS vehicle. 10 years from now it will be near impossible

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ABS reduces stopping distances on every surface except gravel and grass. From a NHTSA study in 1999

And here’s the complete study;


That might be the case where you live where rust is a limiting factor on vehicle age, but here in sunny Florida, I see a lot of cars on the road that are even older than my 1998 Civic.

I could not open the full study but that chart make no mention of ice of any kind or fresh fallen snow but road tests published many years ago in Car and Driver said ABS lengthens distances in those conditions, sometimes dramatically.

Not a big fan of abs.

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Wet Jennite simulates ice. Same coefficient of friction. ABS still wins, by a bunch.

And Yes, deep snow is usually show as a shorter stopping distance without ABS. Tough to get consistent snow for testing so they omitted it.

I’d rather have full control of the car in a panic stop so that possibly I could steer around the obstacle at the last minute (or at least choose what to hit), even if it does mean giving up some stopping distance.

Only ABS will give you that control. ABS can modulate the brake force at each wheel independently of the brake pedal force. You can’t do that.

I was like you many years ago. Convinced I was better than ABS. And 30 years ago, I was, but by the mid-90’s, ABS had eclipsed what even the most expert driver could achieve for both stopping distance and control.


I think of it this way. Dragsters do everything possible to prevent tire spinning (skid marks) because it reduces acceleration. So a skidding car will have reduced deceleration, ie, longer stopping distance.

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Exactly… and here is why…

In dry conditions I like ABS , but in snow and ice ,no,I had a Nissan pickup with 4 wheel ABS and I had some pretty scary events in semi slick conditions (were it would not begin to decelerate)So one day I said to myself you hear all the pros about ABS,so I will devise a little test,one day it put down 4-5 inches of wet snow,I was running about 30 mph,I jammed on the brakes ,stutter ,stutter ,no deceleration,so I said hmmmmm,(I knew how to go through the ABS EFFECT ) so I repeated the test by modulating the brakes(I even increased the speed by 5 mph-to about 35 mph for giggles) I was able to safely stop in half the distance .So that bore out my experience ,but make no mistake about it ,a vehicle with ABS(FIRST DEVELOPED FOR AIRCRAFT IN THE 30’S-to keep the planes on the runways) is usually safer most of the time,because you superior directional control.And nothing will help some distracted drivers ,perhaps maybe better driver training will help ,I maintain that it is to easy to get an operators permit,and no I am not an exceptional driver ,that is why I try to be careful and I will always let someone else drive if they will (unless they are intoxicated )


Snow and ice is where ABS shines. As I said it’s not the stopping that’s the best feature. It’s the steering control you have. And then there’s traction control. Great for ice.

ABS is terrible on icy roads. I speak from experience. And what’s the point of being able to maintain control of the vehicle at the expense of lengthened stopping distance? There’s generally no place to go but straight! Of into a tree or onto a sidewalk perhaps.

I’ve argued the illusion of ABS for years. It’s almost like religion. Those who believe in it cannot be convinced otherwise unless they actually have to use it on slippery or gravelly roads. Those who don’t like it are generally those who have experienced its weakness… as I have (on ice). The ABS advocates are simply those who have never had to use it in poor traction conditions.

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