In the age of Anti-lock Brakes (ABS), proper “threshold braking” is becoming a lost art. But, while every car sold in the US since 2012 has ABS, any car produced BEFORE then might not have ABS. If your car is older than 1995, it’s an almost certainty that it doesn’t have ABS. Read our article on Modern Braking Systems if you’re not clear on what we’re talking about here. (or even it you do, it’s a good article!)
Okay, so you’re driving an older vehicle, and you know it doesn’t have anti-lock brakes. That’s okay! People drove cars without ABS for over 50 years before that technology appeared. We can deal with that, we just need to teach “emergency stop” braking as it was taught 30 years ago.
We know that if we brake too hard, our wheels will stop turning, and we’ll skid to a stop. That is not the most effective way to stop, can damage our tires, and we’ll lose steering control and possibly even lose control of the car. We DON’T want to brake that hard. But, we DO want to brake as hard as we can… to the point just BEFORE the brakes lock. That is the “threshold” in “threshold braking”.
if we brake too hard, our wheels will stop turning, and we’ll skid to a stop. That is not the most effective way to stop
How do we do it? Well, let’s take a step back to how you SHOULD be braking for a normal stop. You need to stop the car for a stop sign or whatever, you’re going to squeeze (not jab) the brake pedal, feel the weight transfer forward compressing the front springs, and then maybe squeeze a little more as required to get the level of deceleration that you need to make the stop. And right before the end of the stop, you’ll ease up off of the brake pedal a little (not all the way!), just enough to ease the “bounce” as you finish your stop. With practice, this is how you’ll make a smooth normal stop. Squeeze, set the nose of the car down, squeeze more if you need to, and ease up toward the end of the stop. It’s all about the transitions smoothly squeezing down, smoothly easing up.
To make a quicker stop, we do all of the same things, just a little quicker. You’ll still SQUEEZE into the brake pedal (not jab!), you’ll just do it quicker because you’re trying to stop the car quicker. As soon as the nose of the car is set down, now you can squeeze MORE. How much more? Well, almost as much as you want. As long as you’re not stabbing the brake pedal, if you ease into it, you can brake pretty darned hard and get the car stopped quicker than you think. And if you’re not in a true “emergency” situation, you can still maintain your smoothness by easing up off of the pedal (not all the way) right at the end of your stop to control the bounce. Instead of letting the front of the car bounce all of its spring energy up on it’s own, YOU can take control of it. With practice, you can make a REALLY quick stop and still be very smooth about it. Squeeze quickly and firmly, set the nose of the car down, then squeeze more… as much as you feel you need to, and ease up toward the end of the stop. It’s still all about the transitions.
With practice, you can make a REALLY quick stop and still be very smooth about it.
The above two paragraphs apply to normal and somewhat quicker than normal stops even if you DO have ABS. Every driver should practice these skills and be able to make smooth stops, quick or otherwise.
Now, if you’re making a true emergency stop without ABS. Your mostly doing as mentioned above, but when you squeeze HARD into the brakes, you’re listening and you’re feeling. You will hear and feel when the tires begin to lose grip. Tires will squeal. You’ll feel your deceleration decrease. You may even feel the steering wheel pull in one direction or the other as one of the front tires starts to lock up. The instant you detect this, YOU are your own ABS! You have to do what the ABS would do, you ease up on the brake pedal SLIGHTLY, just enough to let that tire begin turning again, and then you get right back into it. In the dark ages, we called this “pumping the brakes”. You brake as hard as you can get away with… and if you feel a tire starting to lock up, you just ease up a little and then back down again. With practice, a skilled driver can use this technique and stop ALMOST as quickly as a car with ABS can. But, it DOES take practice. And it DOES take the awareness that “hey, this car doesn’t have ABS, I need to take control of this stop for myself!”
With practice, a skilled driver can use this technique and stop ALMOST as quickly as a car with ABS can. But, it DOES take practice.
So, if we can threshold brake, why does ABS exist in the first place? Well, panic stops are a skill that most drivers simply don’t practice. They don’t know how hard they can or can’t brake in their car. When something goes wrong and they need to stop NOW, they’re going to panic and stab the brake pedal. ABS speaks that language! But, even if you are practiced at the art of threshold braking, ABS does it much more reliably than you could. Maybe you didn’t have your second cup of coffee yet this morning and you’re not quite on your game? ABS is always on its game.
Don’t be afraid to drive a vehicle without ABS. Do understand your situation and drive accordingly. With ABS, you can and should put your foot to the floor when making a panic stop. WITHOUT it, you absolutely can’t do that, and you need to know it.