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Braking It Down

I used to be a car salesman. Very early on it became apparent that using jargon wasn’t a smart move, even though the automotive industry is littered with them. There’s ABS, ESP, ESC, GST…wait, scrub that last one. You already know that stands for Goods and Services Tax.

But what about the rest when it comes to braking?

One of the early ones was ABS. This was something that the industry latched onto and proudly trumpeted that “Car XYZ has ABS!” So? The cool thing is that all of these acronyms are actually really simple to understand once you know what they stand for.

ABS is Anti-lock Braking System. Before ABS arrived there were two kinds of braking styles. Most of the time it was hard on the brake pedal and one or two long black smoky trails. Or there was the canny driver that would “feather” the pedal and raise and lower the braking foot to not lock up the brakes. ABS does the same thing. Computer controlled sensors will have the brake pads grip and release the brake discs, slowing forward progress but not stopping the whole wheel from rotating or locking up. This increases the control over the car’s handling the driver has. Early versions had all four wheels controlled by one or two sensors however it’s pretty much standard now that each wheel’s brake is controlled independently.

TC is an easy one too. Traction Control. Back in “the good old days” when manual gearboxs, grunty engines, and a heavy right foot would combine to perform a “burnout”, where the grip or traction of a tyre became less than the intended design, they’d spin and the heat would heat the rubber to a point that the tyre would smoke.
Traction Control stops this from happening, whether it’s intentional or, in the case of climbing a damp/wet tarmac road and turning a sharp corner at slow speed then accelerating, then that driven tyre loses traction, a computer sensor steps in and reduces power momentarily to reduce the lack of traction.

ESP/VSC is Electronic Stability Program or Vehicle Stability Control. It also can be known as DSC (Dynamic Stability Control) or ESC (Electronic Stability Control) In essence, these all stand for the same thing. They combine with Traction Control and yes, our old friend the electronic sensor is invited to play again. The sensors measure wheel rotation speed, the direction of travel of the vehicle, the angle of the vehicle and if a preprogrammed point of “whoops, let’s be careful here” looks like it’s going to be reached, the stability program will apply brakes to the wheel or wheels deemed needing assistance.

This can be done without the driver being aware too. On a wet and greasy road the system may quietly work in the background and help, without drawing attention to itself, the driver not crash. By gently applying braking force the system helps the car stay on a straighter, tighter, driving line.

EBD sounds nice, because the letters rhyme. Electronic Brake Distribution sounds less sexy though even though it’s important. It is an automobile brake technology that automatically varies the amount of force applied to each of a vehicle’s wheels, based on road conditions, speed, loading, and works hand in hand with the ABS.

Finally, there’s BA. Nope, it’s not Bad Attitude although its usage could come from that. Brake Assist means nothing more than applying extra braking pressure if the onboard computers think it’s needed. In the latest cars this tends to be partnered with a forward looking sensor setup and cruise control, stepping in if the carbon based element (that’s you) doesn’t step up.

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