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A Short History of Antilock Brake Systems


Antilock Brake Systems (ABS) began appearing on many cars back in the 1990s. It was a spin-off of antilock brake technology that was originally developed for larget aircraft in the 1950s and 1960. European auto makers experimended with various electro-mechanical systems,but Chruysler was the first domestic vehicle manufacturer to offer a "Sure Brake" anti-skid system (developed by Bendix) as an option on 1971 Chrysler Imperial models.

In Europe, the Robert Bosch Corp. developed a prototype automotive ABS system in 1969, but did not introduce a production system (ABS2) until 1978 or certain Mercedes-Benz Class C models.

The advantages of antilock brakes quickly becasme apparent, and by the 1990s more and more auto makers were offering ABS either as an option or standard equipment. The Department of Transportation was slow to mandate the new technology, so it was not until 2013 that it was required on all new cars and light trucks in the U.S. The Europeans made ABS mandatory in 2004.

By 1998, there were many new ABS systems being introduced including Bosch 5.3 ABS, which was offered on a number of General Motors vehicles. The 5.3 system, which is a more compact version of the Bosch 5 ABS system, made its debut in 1997 on Subarus and Toyota Camry. That year, the Bosch 5.3 system was also used on:

The Bosch 5.3 system, like the Bosch 5 and 2 systems that proceeded it, is a nonintegral ABS system with a conventional master cylinder and vacuum booster. The 5.3 is smaller (by almost half), lighter (by 2-1/2 lbs.) and costs about 60% less than the Bosch 5 system. The module and hydraulic modulator unit are combined as an assembly, held together by six screws.

bosch 5.3 antilock brake system

bosch 5.3 ABS hydraulic schematic

General Motors refers to the 5.3 controller (which actually contains two microprocessors to check on one another) as the Electronic Brake Control Module (EBCM), or the Electronic Brake Traction Control Module (EBTCM) on models equipped with traction control. The hydraulic modulator is called the Brake Pressure Modulator Valve (BPMV).

Regardless of what you call it, the Bosch 5.3 is an efficient, compact system that operates essentially the same as the earlier Bosch 5 system. The BPMV uses two-way solenoid valves to control ABS braking as well as wheel spin. The pump on the 5.3 system, though, is is a separate component unlike the integral nonserviceable pump on the earlier 5 system.

On applications that have Magnasteer variable assist power steering, the Bosch 5.3 control module also helps control steering assist. It does this by monitoring vehicle speed via its four wheel speed sensors.

Diagnostics are via a Tech 1, Tech 2 or equivalent scan tool. A scan tool is also required to clear trouble codes. Special diagnostic modes include solenoid inlet and outlet tests, traction control system test and lamp test.

Manual or pressure bleeding can be used to flush the brakes, but if air is trapped in the BPMV you will have to use a scan tool to run the "auto bleed" procedure. This cycles the ABS solenoids and runs the pump to purge air from the secondary circuits which are normally closed off during normal braking.

On the 1998 Firebirds, the rear proportioning valve was eliminated from the brake system. The Bosch 5.3 system uses a process called "dynamic proportioning" to accomplish the same thing. The 5.3 software is programmed to cycle the rear BPMV inlet valves when braking to maintain the desired front-to-rear brake balance. This occurs anytime the wheel speed sensors detect the rear wheels are slowing slightly faster than the front wheels. Such a difference triggers the dynamic proportioning function, which causes brake pressure to the rear wheels to be modulated until the speed of all four wheels is the same. A problem with this part of the ABS system will not set a trouble code, but it will illuminate the red brake warning light.

On some ABS systems, traction control is accomplished by braking alone. But on the Bosch 5.3 systems, the ABS module also talks to the engine module and asks for a reduction in engine power if wheel spin is detected. This may be accomplished by retarding ignition timing, disabling up to half of the engine's injectors, or by upshifting the transmission to a higher gear.


In 1998, Kelsey-Hayes introduced the EBC325 ABS system for light trucks. The EBC325 system is a lightweight, compact, four wheel three channel system that includes special dampening to reduce noise during ABS braking. It was also used on the 1998 Dodge Dakota, Isuzu Rodeo and Kia Sportage.

Another new system from Kelsey-Hayes in 1998 was the EBC430 system, which is a compact four wheel, four channel ABS system for sporty car applications. Introduced the previous year on the Lotus Esprit, the EBC430 system was also offered on the 1998 Lamborghini Diablo.


In 1999, Delphi introduced a new DBC-7 ABS system on certain GM models. Unlike the previous Delphi ABS-VI system that uses stepper motors to actuate the ABS pistons in the hydraulic unit, the DBC-7 system was a more "conventional" ABS design with solenoids (two per channel) and a pump. It was also a lower-cost, compact unit with integrated electronics.

delphi 7 antilock brake system

Two new systems from Teves in 1999 include the MK40 ABS system designed specifically for small cars, and a MK50 ABS system for light and medium-duty trucks up to 17,500 GVW. Both were compact, low cost, nonintegral four-wheel ABS systems similar to the MK20 ABS system that used on 1998 Chrysler minivans.

Stability COntrol Systems too

As ABS came into wider use, so did Stability Control systems. Teves developed an Automotive Stability Management System (ASMS), which was a full-time, stability control system similar to the Bosch Vehicle Dynamics Control and Delphi Traxxar systems. The ASMS system used individual wheel braking to counteract oversteer and understeer for improved cornering agility and handling control under all driving conditions.

The Teves ASMS system had three microprocessors (two 16-bit and one 8-bit) to process inputs from the wheel speed and other sensors. Two pressure sensors on the master cylinder measure brake pressure. A steering wheel sensor keeps tabs on the steering angle and driver input. A yaw sensor monitors understeer and oversteer, while a lateral acceleration sensor keeps an eye on cornering forces.

Using these inputs, the ASMS control module determines if the vehicle is responding correctly to driver commands. And if it is not, the system applies individual wheel braking as needed to counteract any undesirable forces and bring the vehicle back under control.


Though not directly related to ABS, another new brake technology that Teves developed was a "brake by wire" system. Instead of the brake pedal pushing on a rod to actuate the pistons in the master cylinder, the brake pedal travel would be monitored by a sensor and the signal would be used to apply the brakes electronically -- eliminating the need for conventional hydraulic components such as the master cylinder, calipers, wheel cylinders and brake fluid. Small servo motors mounted at each brake would apply the exact amount of pressure needed to bring the vehicle to a stop.


During this time period, both Teves and Lucas (in conjunction with Mercedes-Benz) developed new "Brake Assist" systems that sense how rapidly the brakes are being applied, and then apply additional brake pressure as needed to minimize a vehicle's stopping distance. In effect, it senses a panic stop and takes over from there. One of the parts of this system is an "Active Booster" that replaces the conventional vacuum power booster. The Active Booster is controlled by a module which determines the amount of assist needed independent of how much pedal pressure the driver actually applies. The result is quicker, shorter, safer stops in panic situations. When braking from 70 mph, for example, the system can reduce the stopping distance to 160 feet compared to 240 feet with conventional braking.

antilock brakes More Antilock Brake Articles:

All About Antilock Brake Systems (ABS)

ABS System Application Chart (by vehicle year, make & model)

ABS Systems Come Under Fire

ABS Diagnostic Testers

ABS Diagnostic Codes

Chrysler Dodge Plymouth Minivan Bendix 10 Antilock Brakes

Jeep Bendix 9 Antilock Brakes

Kelsey-Hayes 4WAL Antilock Brakes

Traction Control

Electronic Brakes

Antilock Brake Guide

GM SUV Recall for ABS problem (August 2005)

Fixes For Common Brake Problems

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