What is ABS (anti-lock braking system)?

  • How does ABS work?
  • Why do I need anti-lock brakes?
  • Parkers explains the tech

ABS, shorthand for an anti-lock braking system, allows the vehicle to maintain steering control when braking in slippery conditions by preventing the wheels from locking up.

How does ABS work?

Sensors detect if, under heavy breaking, a vehicle’s wheels begin to decelerate unusually rapidly, indicating a lock-up. This is likely in an emergency stop when a driver has stamped upon the brakes.

Upon detection of a skid, the car’s computer reduces the brake pressure until the wheel begins to accelerate – at which point it increases the pressure again, in a form of pulsing or what advanced drivers sometimes call "cadence braking." The process continues until the vehicle reaches a complete halt. 

Do I need it?

Absolutely. It’s mandatory on all vehicles nowadays, so unless you’re buying a specialist track-day car you shouldn’t have to worry about speccing it.

Found on

Since 2004, ABS has become a compulsory requirement on all mass-produced cars sold in Europe. Many pre-2004 cars will also come with ABS, depending on their age and original price. The production first car to come fitted with ABS was the 1971 Chrysler Imperial, the technology being referred to as Sure-Brake. 

Looking for more jargon-busting motoring meanings? Head over to our Parkers Car Glossary page and take a look at our other definitions