Can worn brake pads cause the ABS light to come on?

(Last Updated On: September 2, 2023)

The ABS or Anti-lock braking system in full, is part of a cars braking system but not exactly as you might think. The ABS is largely an electrical system so can worn brake pads cause the ABS light to come on? Is a viable question.

Can worn brake pads cause the ABS light to come on?

The answer is yes and no; see, the brake pads being worn out will not cause the ABS light to come on. The ABS light on when driving means that it is inoperable. But the result of worn brake pads, such as the low fluid level because brake pads need to travel further to apply braking pressure, with the reduced pad thickness, can cause the ABS light to come on. Amongst several other reasons. The thing to be careful of is not to confuse the ABS light and the brake pad warning light.

If the ABS light is on in your vehicle, it is best to have it inspected by a mechanic as soon as possible; it is difficult to diagnose issues at home without using a diagnostic tool. Driving with the ABS light illuminated means; you can be in a dangerous situation if you need to emergency stop.

What is the ABS system?

The ABS consists of several components, such as the ABS pulsar ring, a magnetic pickup, and a modulator. The ABS will recognize the slide when you apply great braking force, and the vehicle begins to skid. To keep the driver in complete control of the car, the Anti-lock braking system releases and reapplies the brake pressure in milliseconds. The force is applied using the brake fluid which is inside the ABS modulator to the car’s brake system. The rapid release and reapplication of the brakes allow you to maneuver out of harm’s way and ultimately control the skid.

What causes the ABS light to come on?

Although worn brake pads will not cause the ABS light to come on, many components in the ABS system can.

  • Bake fluid low – A low fluid level can interfere with the ABS as it uses the brake fluid to regulate the braking force applied. A dangerously low fluid level, such as a leak, would cause the ABS to become inoperable and illuminate the indicator.
  • Faulty ABS sensor – The sensor is a magnetic pick-up that can become faulty for any reason, including the impact from a stone.
  • Broken ABS wire – Similar to the ABS sensor, the wire that connects to the ABS sensor can be cut or damaged by debris on the road. Any breakages in the wire will illuminate the ABS light.
  • Faulty ABS modulator – The ABS modulator is the pump with multiple valves allowing brake fluid to pass through to apply or reduce the brake pressure. The valves can become stuck open or closed or just become faulty in general. Debris can get inside if it finds its way into the brake fluid reservoir.
  • Broken ABS pulsar ring – The Pulsar ring sits around the driveshaft, and the ABS sensor sits a few millimeters away; a build-up of dirt and debris cause the pulsar ring to become damaged. Equally, debris can damage the teeth on the ring and cause the ABS light to illuminate.
  • ABS deactivated – In some vehicles, it is possible to turn the ABS off. Sports vehicles, specifically, it can be more of a hindrance than a help under heavy braking. As soon as it is turned off, it will illuminate the indicator to remind you.
  • Faulty software – The ABS is controlled by the cars ECU, faulty software just like a virus on a computer could cause an issue with the ABS.

Can you drive with the ABS light on?

You can drive with the ABS light on, and you might think it would be ok; older vehicles never had ABS, so sure, it would be like driving an older car. However, modern vehicles are designed to have ABS functioning at all times.

Without the ABS functioning, if you need to avoid another vehicle or debris on the road and apply the brakes in a hurry, you might not be able to prevent a nasty accident as you would have done if the ABS was working.

The cause of the fault would also determine whether you can drive with the ABS light on; a failed modulator might make driving a little tricky. The ABS modulator has lots of valves that open and close a faulty modulator can apply brake pressure even when the pedal is not pressed, so care should be taken to know the issue or whether you can drive.

If something like the ABS sensor is faulty, it will just mean the ABS is not working, and you could drive as far as you want. However one thing to remember is without the use of, A.B.S., traction control systems and electronic stability control cannot operate.

How far can you drive with ABS light on?

Depending on the issue with ABS as to why the ABS light is illuminated would determine how far you can drive. Just remember the ABS light on means the anti-lock braking system is not working. So, although specific issues might mean you can go until the end of the car’s life, it would be hazardous to assume you can drive forever, especially if you need to get yourself out of a situation.

Final thoughts

Although worn brake pads will not cause the ABS light to illuminate, the surrounding supporting components worn or broken may cause the ABS light to shine. An ABS warning light can be diagnosed by having the vehicle plugged into a diagnostic machine that will read the fault. Most mechanics will have the tool needed to do this and repair the defect. It is best to know the problem before determining whether you should consider driving at all.

My name is Tom although my friends call me Tommy. Messing around with cars and bikes has always been a hobby of mine even from a young age. So I made it my day job 17 years ago. I am a fully qualified mechanic as you would expect. I've worked in all different areas of the motor trade, valeting, panel beating, engine repairs, I'm sure you get the idea. I enjoy sharing my wealth of knowledge and experience with others, which is the reason I spend a lot of time here writing for this website.

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