The truth about anti-lock breaks...

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jan 01, 1990

Dear Tom and Ray:

After reading your real up-beat synopsis of anti-lock brakes, I feel compelled to tell the downside. I have them on my 1987 Buick Grand National, and I thought they were great until the entire system needed to be replaced at a cost of $700. You want my impression? Anti-lock brakes are just something else to go wrong that has to be fixed by a dealer at $40 an hour.

RAY: How old are you, Don? I could've sworn you wrote us an angry letter in 1929 when automakers switched from mechanical brakes to hydraulic brakes. I think you complained that your Model-A brakes were a lot cheaper to repair that these safer hydraulic things they were putting in all the new cars.

TOM: That's actually a pretty good analogy. When the change over was made from mechanical to hydraulic brakes, the cost of brake repair went way up...and cheapskates like you moaned and groaned back then too. Suddenly there were master cylinders to fail, brake cylinders to stick, and hydraulic lines to leak.

RAY: But hydraulic brakes represented an immeasurable improvement in braking ability over mechanicals, and now, no one would dream of driving a car without hydraulic brakes. You would find it scary if you tried it!

TOM: And anti-lock brakes are almost as significant an improvement. Under almost all conditions, they really work, and we stand by our recommendation.

TOM: We will make one suggestion, however. You don't say how many miles you have on your Buick, but if your mileage is low, you ought to ask General Motors to pick up the tab for the ABS. It really shouldn't fail on a car as young as yours. You may get the same two-word answer my brother gives me when I ask him to pick up the tab at dinner, but it's worth a try.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter

Got a question about your car?

Ask Someone Who Owns One