Is it necessary to fix that ABS light?

The real cost of ignoring an ABS light

When money’s tight, ABS lights tend to be ignored. Unlike the check engine light, California doesn’t require these systems work in order to re-register your car. As long as you’re not polluting the environment, you’re welcome to endanger yourself and others.

But are you? Endangering others that is. ABS is a relatively recent feature, and if the ABS light is on, the brakes should still work, albeit like a car without ABS. Cars without ABS were the norm only 20 years ago. Was everybody crashing and dying all the time before ABS? Yeah, they kind of were.

Cars weren’t as safe before ABS was standard

In the 70s and 80s, before any cars were equipped with ABS, people died in car wrecks at the rate of 25 per 100,000. Today people die at the rate of 10 per 100,000. Is that all due to ABS? No. Airbags, seatbelt improvement, and other design changes surely had an effect as well. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any statistics on the number of crashes per driver over the years, but this would likely be a good indicator of the effectiveness of ABS and other driver assistance features like VDC and traction control since it would only include the tech that prevented the crash and not the tech that saves you once you crash.

ABS is good for other people

People may believe that ABS is an important safety system overall. However, what I do notice is that when people think it’s an important safety system, they think it’s important for other people, not for them. They don’t need to worry about the ABS light. Everyone thinks they’re a good driver. All the other drivers? Complete morons and a menace on the roadways. They’re not like the other drivers. They know that they won’t be able to steer in a skid, but they know they can break the skid, get the car turned, and then get back on the brakes, all in a matter of milliseconds. The last time they practiced that maneuver? Oh, well tires are expensive and you can’t just go around practicing skids on the street.

I once was pretty sure I could do a backflip. Had I ever done one? No. Was I correct about my ability? As it turned out, I wasn’t. My point is this, 3 seconds before a life-changing disaster is a bad time to find out you’re not Ken Block. Maybe you should just fix the ABS light.

Not worried about life and limb? How about your money?

This is why I started this post, and why it’s titled “the real cost of not fixing an ABS light”.  Modern cars have flight recorders. They record all the time, overwriting data as the memory fills up. In the event of a collision, it saves the data up to and through the event in non-volatile memory. What it stores varies car to car, but there will certainly be vehicle speed, yaw, acceleration/deceleration, steering and braking input, and… trouble codes.

ABS light on? Maybe you’re automatically at fault!

So what? Well, automotive technical articles show up in my feeds, and I’ve been seeing more and more about telemetry data being used in accident investigations, both by law enforcement and by personal injury lawyers. In accident investigations, there are a few situations that will almost always make it your fault.

  • hitting the car in front of you
  • being the party who is changing lanes
  • making a left turn
  • having alcohol in your blood

And now, maybe driving with the ABS light on will be used against you as well. I avoid driving if I’ve had anything to drink, even if I’m not drunk, because I know if I’m in a serious accident, they’ll be drawing blood and testing BAC at the hospital. Follow me and you’ll find I use my signals and change lanes gradually, because motorcycles can come up fast and if I hit one while changing lanes it will be my fault. I leave plenty of stopping distance because it doesn’t matter if the guy in front of me jams on the brakes for no reason, if I hit him, it’s my fault.

Should you pay to fix that ABS light? I think you should. But of course I’d say that, I’m a mechanic 🙂

Other articles that may interest you:

Can you keep driving with the check engine light on?

How to reset the check engine light

Reset your TPMS light – Honda Civic