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Tech Talk

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In the six previous parts of this series we have studied the function and operating principles of anti-lock braking systems and other functions based on ABS components. It can clearly be seen that electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), traction control (TRC) and vehicle stability control are simply extensions in functionality of the basic ABS system and it follows that test procedures and diagnosis are also similar. Here, we examine simple diagnostic and repair routines for the ABS based system components, using appropriate equipment.

Equipment required
The days are long gone when you could safely get by with an analogue multimeter (one with a swinging needle) and a test lamp. The internal resistance of these older devices is so low that simply using them to test components can easily damage modern vehicle electronic systems. LED type test probes and digital multimeters

usually come on during normal system operation). Is only one system affected or does something else not work, (speedometer, speed related radio volume etc)? Often it is best to road test the vehicle yourself to confirm the fault - does the ABS/TRC actually work when required? Note: It may be unwise to assess the VSC on the road due to the extreme driving conditions usually needed to activate it.

Code Readers
Once a fault is confirmed an appropriate code reader is very useful to establish the general area of the fault. Most modern systems will distinguish between permanent faults and historical, recorded codes and it should be easy to determine if a fault is intermittent or continuous. Make a note of any codes found and clear them if possible. Road test the vehicle to see if they return. If the codes don’t reappear, check any electrical connections and harnesses related to the codes previously noted - a good ‘wiggle test’ can be very useful.

are safer to use but limited in their abilities, leaving digital oscilloscopes as the most efficient tools for detailed testing. Also very useful are code readers and serial data tools, utilising the vehicle’s diagnostic socket.

Basic procedures
The very nature of these systems means that they only normally operate under fairly severe conditions and often the first indication to the driver that there is a problem is the illumination of a warning lamp on the instrument panel. When the garage receives a report of a “Fault” it is imperative that they fully understand the driver’s complaint. Does the lamp illuminate when the ignition is first turned on? Is the lamp on all the time or intermittently? Is it illuminated for long periods or only when the ABS/VSC/TRC is in operation? (Many drivers don’t know that the lamp(s) will
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Serial Data
Should the same codes reappear, using a serial data tool will allow you to test some components whilst they are meant to be “Active” . Wheel speed sensors, brake switches, brake pressure switches and their electrical circuits can often be tested in this way by simply applying the physical influences they are meant to sense; movement, pressure etc. This can be done during road testing and often in the workshop. Note: Don’t be tempted to carry out road testing diagnosis on your own;

use an assistant. Serial data tools often include a facility to operate the “Active test” function (built into the ECU), which will allow you to actuate solenoid valves within the hydraulic actuator assembly. This is sometimes used when bleeding the system where it is necessary to operate solenoid valves to allow fluid to pass through the system, but it also acts as a very useful diagnostic aid.

Diagram 1: Digital ABS sensor signal These are the same signal. This sensor is supplied with a reference voltage (11V) as shown on the right. The signal is easier to see on the left when a scope function called “A/C coupling” is switched on, allowing a lower voltage scale to be used. The frequency will increase with wheel speed. If the reference voltage is missing the sensor will not work – check the supply from the ECU. Note: A DC voltmeter will display 11.26 Volts constantly in this case as it displays an average of the sensed voltage (which is zero with an AC voltage).

sensors NOT highlighted as faulty by the code reader and compare it with the “faulty” signal. Spin the wheel by hand; the examples in the middle column show two types of signal. (See diagrams 1 and 2)

Yaw sensors and acceleration sensors
These sensors are usually mounted on the vehicle floor and produce signals to indicate how much the vehicle is twisting about its vertical axis and how much “G” is being generated in various directions (depending on the application. See diagram 3). It is usually possible to de-mount these sensors from the floor without disconnecting the harness; they can then be twisted/shaken to simulate their normal action, testing their output at the same time. The signals may be a variable voltage or a digital output and some later versions are actually CAN signals when connected to suitable systems. (Diagram 4). Should the signals not appear then either the sensor or wiring may be at fault. Check for open circuits, short circuits between wires and shorts to ground in the wiring with the sensor and ECU disconnected. In the next article to this series we will work through an example fault procedure to highlight the techniques discussed here. If you would like to study and practice the diagnosis of these systems in more detail we would be delighted to provide you with a place on one of our technical courses. Please see details below on how to contact us. ProAuto Limited are an automotive technical training company based in Shrewsbury, Shropshire. Our core business is the design and delivery of technical training to the automotive industry, which includes vehicle manufacturers, component manufacturers, diagnostic equipment manufacturers and independent garages. We run courses from numerous select venues nationally, so a course is never too far away. For further details you can visit our website at email us at or telephone on 01743 709679.

Pinpoint testing
Using a combination of fault codes and serial data it should be possible to establish that a fault actually exists as well as the area in which the fault lies. Bearing in mind that the modulator assembly is usually not serviceable and that the ECU is often mounted directly to the modulator, faults reported of solenoid valves, processing errors etc. within the unit usually involves replacing the entire assembly. Of course, as many people have discovered, it is not always wise to simply rely on codes and serial data when deciding what to replace or repair. The various sensors and their connections need to be checked. All sensors mounted remote from the ECU and connected by wires must by their very nature produce an electrical signal accessible to both the ECU and an oscilloscope and that signal must vary according to the physical influences applied. This means that if you apply the same movement, pressure etc. to the sensor as those it would detect in normal operation, it should react by producing an electrical signal of some sort. The best way to access most signals is to leave the component connected and “backprobe” the signal wire in the connector using a suitable probe attached to an oscilloscope, connecting the earth probe to the vehicle chassis/battery earth terminal.

Diagram 2: Inductive ABS sensor signal The display on top shows two wheels turning at different speeds. The sensor on the right is supplied with a reference voltage (5V). If the reference voltage is missing the sensor may still work but a “reference or bias voltage error” may be recorded. Refer to vehicle specific data or check the supply from the ECU and compare signals from other wheels. The frequency and voltage of all these signals should increase with wheel speed. An A/C voltmeter will display a voltage increasing with speed. Note: A DC voltmeter will display zero or the reference voltage constantly.

Diagram 3: Analogue and CAN acceleration/yaw sensor signals The analogue (top) output voltage changes with levels of inertia. The CAN signal below can be measured at the sensor, diagnostic socket or any point on the CAN circuit.

Wheel speed sensors
These sensors and their connections are the most likely to fail, bearing in mind their location, often exposed to dirt and moisture. Make sure the sensors are all mounted correctly, the air gaps to the sensor ring are the same and the wiring is not obviously damaged. A number of types are in current use and the signals will differ. If you are unsure what to expect, test the signal from one of the
W W W. M OTO R .O RG .U K Diagram 4: Digital steering angle / rate sensor signal Sensors are attached to the steering column. The signal changes at the set centre point. A processor in the sensor or the ECU calculates the rate and direction of change in steering position. Note: The voltage stays the same so a voltmeter is of little use. The actual voltage and shape may change depending on the application. These sensors may also produce a CAN signal.

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