What Does an Anti-Lock Brake Warning Light Mean?

An anti-lock brake system or ABS warning light indicates a problem with your anti-lock brakes. Review this brief guide to understand this warning.
Written by Rachel Rigolino
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
Your ABS light may indicate a serious problem with your anti-locking braking system—do not ignore this light as drivers need anti-locking brakes to prevent hydroplaning when roads are wet and skidding when roads are icy.
When your ABS light comes on, this signals a problem with your anti-lock braking system.  It may seem to you that your brakes are working just fine, but you may be at risk of having your wheels lock up in certain hazardous situations.
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What is the anti-lock brake warning on my dashboard?

An ABS light indicates a problem with your vehicle’s anti-lock braking system. Your anti-lock braking system is what keeps your wheels from locking up when you suddenly apply the brakes. To prevent the wheels from locking, the ABS quickly pumps your brakes, and you will feel a rapid pulsing against your foot when this happens. 
While drivers should never depend solely upon their ABS in bad road conditions, studies have shown that anti-lock braking systems do prevent certain types of accidents. After the introduction of ABS, there has been a significant decrease in the number of accidents on wet roads, particularly when sudden braking is necessary.
MORE: How to check and add brake fluid

What does the anti-lock brake warning light look like? 

An ABS light is typically amber or orange and reads ABS.

What does the anti-lock brake warning light mean?

There are various reasons that your ABS light may come on. Here are some of the most common:
  • You may have accidentally turned off your anti-lock brake system. Many times drivers turn off their ABS without realizing it. As there are various ways this may happen, review your owners’ manual to see how to turn the ABS on and off. This is an easy fix, and car owners should perform this check before bringing a vehicle in for service.
  • Your ABS fuse is blown. Occasionally, this may be an issue. If so, try replacing the fuse. However, if the light comes back on, this would indicate a problem with the ABS.
  • Your ABS control module isn’t working properly. Your ABS control module is what monitors your brake pressure and helps to prevent you from hydroplaning and/or skidding on ice. If it’s not working, the light will come on.
  • Your wheel speed sensors are bad. Your ABS control module relies upon the sensors in your wheel to know when to make adjustments to your braking. If a sensor is bad, this may trigger the warning light.
  • You have low brake fluid levels. Hydraulic brakes require brake fluid to operate. Low fluid levels can set off the ABS light.

How to turn off your anti-lock brake warning light

First, check your owner’s manual to see whether you have inadvertently turned off your anti-lock brake system. If you have, turn it back on and see if the light goes off.
If you know your ABS is on, take your vehicle to a professional mechanic who should be able to diagnose the problem. 
On the other hand, if you have an OBD II reader and would prefer to trouble-shoot the issue yourself, take the following steps:
  • With your OBD II reader, conduct a scan to find the code associated with the ABS light.
  • Take note of the number of each fault.
  • Fix the issue.
If you are somewhat knowledgeable about cars, you may be able to address the problem—for example, replacing or cleaning a wheel sensor—yourself. 

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An ABS light may mean that you’ve accidentally turned off your anti-lock brake system, but it can also indicate a serious problem with your anti-locking braking system—do not ignore this light as drivers need anti-locking brakes to prevent hydroplaning or skidding on ice.
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