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Anti-lock Brakes and More
The level of advanced technology being stuffed into today's new cars is astonishing. Much of this consists of items that are generally termed driver's aids. Stability control systems can override a driverís throttle input, brake assist technology applies the brakes harder when it senses that the driver is not applying them hard enough, and anti-lock systems are commonplace. This is nice; however, advanced technology is generally most useful if the driver is aware of it. Many car owners donít understand what the technology is and how it can benefit them.

I did a show for Cadillac at Laguna Seca racetrack in California a few years ago, when they first came out with stability control and traction management. We hosted a bunch of local press people and ran a parking lot slalom. They tried, but it was difficult to get the vehicles to spin out or plow off the course. This is not to say that it canít be done, because all the technology in the world wonít save you from truly bad driving. I have encountered quite a few people who donít know that their car is equipped with anti-lock brakes, or they donít know how they work. This can cause danger because many anti-lock brakes generate a considerable amount of feedback which can alarm the uninitiated. Stability control, when activated in mid-corner by excessive acceleration or lack of traction, creates a pause that can be disconcerting and which feels like temporary engine failure. Some systems are more intrusive than others, but like confession and cod liver oil, they are there for our own good.

Many motorists are reluctant to brake hard enough initially. This is where brake assist comes in. The equation involved is simple, the faster a car is going, the harder it can be braked. An emergency stop with a good anti lock system is technically easy, but only if the system is made to operate early.

The process of emergency braking on a car without ABS involves a quick press with the leg to get through the free play, at which point the brake pedal will feel distinctly harder. Further adjustments are made with the ankle If the job is being done well, the foot will actually curl back fractionally as speed is reduced. The modified version of this, which applies to any vehicle, produces an agreeable chauffeur-style stop. This gets rid of that unpleasant lurch at stoplights, which reduces the chance that passengers will leave permanent fingerprint marks in the dashboard.

Here is what I recommend, and this may be one activity best done alone. Find an empty road and test your anti-lock brakes. Step on the pedal with vigor. It is far better to experience this some place where youíre not going to hit something. Working on your braking skills, understanding your carís braking system, is a good way to improve the driving odds. Traction control can be checked in wet weather, snow, or gravel, again with due caution. However, the first step is a careful reading of the ownerís manual, that most under-read of documents. It helps to know what technology you are working with.


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