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Brake Job Tips

Forcing Dirty Fluid Back into the ABS

The biggest brake bungle techs are making today is forcing caliper pistons back without clamping the hose and opening the bleeder. Since the line comes in near the bottom of the cylinder where the sediment is, this forces debris up into the ABS unit, and that will likely result in a comeback for a glowing anti-lock warning light. Just opening the bleeder as you may have done in the past is not good enough anymore. You should choke off that hose.

Wheel Sensor Damage

A thing to remember about ABS is that it's easy to damage those delicate wheel speed sensors while doing brake work, or to cause metal particles to attach themselves to the magnet. Either is likely to put the system into default, or make it go permanently into anti-lock mode (it's called «false modulation»), and turn on the warning lamp. On ABS, speed sensors are at the top of the list of failures. As far as the ABS problems are concerned, the first is speed sensors with metallic particles sticking to the sensor nose. This may cause system default, or make it constantly go into anti-lock mode. Make sure the air gaps are correct, and the sensors and tone wheels are clean with no iron filings or debris in the vanes, which can give an erratic speed signal, set a code, and put the system in default.

Another problem on wheel speed sensors is an internal break in a wire. Be careful doing any wheel work because those sensors are delicate. The second thing is rust where the sensor mounts or in the wheel speed sensor bore, which makes the sensor hard to remove. As time goes on, we're going to see more and more corrosion in the electrical parts. Another problem is moisture infiltration into speed sensor electrical connectors, which causes intermittents.

Anti-Lock Brake System Service Precautions

  1. Always refer to the appropriate anti-lock service manual before attempting to service any portion of the brake system.
  2. Warning: Some ABS systems store brake fluid in an accumulator under high pressure. Failure to depressurize these types of anti-lock systems before servicing can cause physical injury! The majority of these ABS systems can be depressurized by simply turning off the ignition and firmly depressing the brake pedal between 20 and 40 times. Check service manual for exact number.
  3. Use the proper DOT 3 or DOT 4 brake fluid specified by the vehicle manufacturer. This can be found on the master cylinder cap or reservoir body. DOT 5 (silicone) brake fluid can not be used in any ABS system.
  4. Do not hammer or pry on wheel speed sensors and/or sensor rings to adjust the air gap. These components are delicate and can easily be damaged!
  5. ABS and other on-board computer can be easily damaged by high electrical system voltage. Do not attempt to jump start an ABS equipped vehicle with a gasoline powered booster or 110 volt type battery charger on the fast charge/ boost setting. Slow charge the battery first before attempting to start. If this is impractical, disconnect the negative battery cable before fast charging the battery.
  6. All four tires must be of the same size and type. Failure to observe this rule can cause the ABS and/or Traction Control system to disengage and the warning light to come on. Follow the vehicle manufactures recommendations before installing any optional tire sizes.
  7. Never unplug or reconnect any electrical ABS component with the ignition on. This can cause a current surge and damage one or more of the system components.
  8. When installing any "add on" electrical accessories' (CB's, Telephones, Stereos, etc.), it is important that any antennas or other wiring be located away from the ABS computer and sensor wiring. A magnetic field is generated as current flows through this additional wiring. The magnetic field that is created produces electro-magnetic interference (EMI) that can affect the signals from the wheel speed sensor to the ABS computer.
  9. When electrical welding on a vehicle, it is recommended that all of the computers be disconnected from the wiring harness to prevent possible damage. Care should be taken not to damage the connectors.
  10. When replacing unitized wheel bearings, half shafts, steering knuckles, or any other component that could affect the air gap between the wheel speed sensor and sensor ring, then the air gap must be checked.
  11. When servicing disc brakes, open the bleeder screws and vent the brake fluid, if it is necessary to push the caliper pistons in. There is sediment that naturally collects in calipers over a period of time. This sediment, if allowed to flow back into the master cylinder along with the brake fluid, can possibly damage the ABS hydraulic unit.