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Honda Civic: Failed PCMs And CAN System Diagnostics

It’s not unusual for me to get help requests through my e-mail. Sometimes it’s from working technicians, other times it’s from vehicle owners who can’t get their problems solved through professional repair shops. In early 2014, I received one...

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Servicing Mercedes-Benz AIRMATIC Suspensions

The Mercedes-Benz AIRMATIC suspension system was introduced in 1999 on the S-Class and has subsequently been used on the E-Class and most of the automaker’s SUVs. The system employs electronically controlled air springs that provide an ideal balance...

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Mazda: Performing Regular Undercar Maintenance

In this article, we’ll take a look at brake and undercar service on the Mazda vehicle lineup, with the footnote that even though this type of work ­becomes routine when you have a preventive maintenance mindset, good work habits from beginning to end...

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The Ins And Outs Of Sanders

Sanders are required tools in today’s collision repair shop. Body techs and painters rely upon them every day to achieve that perfect finish on your customers’ vehicles. Whether you’re prepping a panel for paint or removing imperfections before...

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Are You Regularly Maintaining Your Equipment?

Technicians who are idling because the welder won’t feed wire, the hydraulic ram won’t pull chains, the booth heater won’t heat or the air compressor won’t compress enough air is a costly mistake, as labor time is the most expensive thing in any...

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Celebrate 'Back To The Future' Day By Watching The Time Machine Get A 2015 Detail

    For many today is just another Wednesday, but for a lot of people it is more than just your average Wednesday, it is "Back to the Future" Day. It is a day that everyone who watched the cult classic trilogy Back to the Future recognizes...

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Solving Carbon Deposits In Direct Fuel Injection Engines

Symptom: Misfire codes, stumbling and suspicious fuel trim numbers. On a scan tool, the engine may show a loss in volumetric efficiency. The driver may complain about a loss of power, poor fuel economy and hard starts. Cause: Carbon deposits on...

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Using Your Oscilloscope: Current Ramp Test Ignition Coils

Regardless of design configuration, the role of the ignition coil is to multiply battery voltage into high voltage. Following Ohm’s law for the conversion of volts to amperes, oil-filled coils generally require 3 to 5 amperes of primary current...

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Serial Data Bus Diagnostics

Understanding The Function of Serial Data Buses If serial data buses did not exist, a wiring harness would have to be five times its normal size and use twice as many sensors to deliver the same level of functionality and safety we see in the modern...

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Home Brakes Bearings Wheel Speed Sensors

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According to a recent BRAKE & FRONT END survey, the most commonly replaced ABS items are wheel speed sensors and wheel bearing hub units with wheel speed sensors. Pulling a wheel speed sensor code does not mean that you should immediately pull and replace the sensor. If you do not confirm the source of the code, you are doomed to have a comeback. You can check virtually any magnetic wheel speed sensor by measuring its resistance with an ohmmeter, but you need to look up the exact specifications for the vehicle because they can vary significantly from one application to another. For instance, older Toyota Camrys and Porsches both use a similar Bosch 2 ABS system. Yet the specs for the rear-wheel sensors on the Toyota are 900 to 1,200 ohms versus 1,600 to 1,800 ohms for the Porsche. Why? Who knows. But if the wheel speed sensor is out of specification, it won’t produce an accurate signal that the ABS control module can read.

Magnetic wheel speed sensors generate an alternating current (AC) signal that increases in frequency and amplitude as wheel speed increases. Because the sensors are magnetic, they can attract metallic debris from semi-metallic brake linings and rotors that stick to the tip and interfere with the signal. If the ABS module doesn’t see a clean wheel speed sensor signal, it may think there’s something wrong and set a wheel speed sensor code. Even a tiny nick in the tone ring around the outer CV joint or on the rotor may be enough to disrupt the signal.

The distance or “air gap” between the end of a wheel speed sensor and its ring is critical. A close gap is necessary to produce a strong, reliable signal. You don’t want metal-to-metal contact between the sensor and its ring since it would damage both. But you don’t want too much clearance either. An air gap that’s too wide may produce a weak or erratic signal or, worse yet, no signal at all. So if a wheel speed sensor is adjustable (many are not), refer to the service literature for the required air gap and adjust it to specs. Insert a nonmagnetic brass or plastic feeler gauge between the end of the sensor and ring, and then tighten the set screw that locks the sensor in place. Some sensors come with a piece of paper or plastic over the end that provides just the right gap when the sensor is installed. To install this type of sensor, insert it until it just touches the sensor ring, then backed off just enough so the ring will turn without rubbing against the spacer. Tightening the set screw locks it in place.

A good wheel speed sensor will generally produce an AC voltage reading of 50 to 700 MV when the wheel is spun at a speed of about one revolution per second. Use a digital multimeter or a digital storage oscilloscope to check the sensor’s output.

If the voltage reading is low or nonexistent, check the sensor’s resistance (with the key off). You can do this at the wheel or by using a breakout box in the ABS module wiring harness. Measuring at the harness will also check the continuity of the circuit. If you get a low reading at the harness, check the wheel speed sensor. If the sensor is within specs (typically 800 to 1,800 ohms), the problem is in the wiring, not the sensor.

If you’re using a scope to check a wheel speed sensor circuit, a signal pattern that is flattened (diminished amplitude) or erratic usually indicates a weak signal caused by an excessively wide air gap between the tip of the sensor and its ring, or a buildup of metallic debris on the end of the sensor. A weak signal can also be caused by internal resistance in the sensor or its wiring circuit, or from loose or corroded wiring connectors.

One new piece of hardware that is being used on certain Chrysler ABS systems (trucks mostly, but LH cars in 2004) as well as the Lincoln LS is an “active” Hall effect wheel speed sensor. Most wheel speed sensors are magnetic (variable reluctance), but the new Hall effect sensor generates a stronger square wave signal that allows the system to more accurately monitor wheel velocity at low speeds. The sensors have two wires and use the chassis as ground.

My Light Is On
The ABS warning light is on in your customer’s car and he wants you to check it out. So where do you start your diagnosis? Because the ABS warning light is on, you know the ABS system has detected some kind of fault. But are there other problems that may be affecting the ABS system? Start your diagnosis by asking your customer a few questions. How long has the warning light been on? Has the warning light been on before? Have you noticed any other problems with the brakes? Has the brake warning light or any other warning lights been on recently? Have you had the vehicle serviced recently?

Depending on what kind of answers you get, you may want to investigate some other things before you plug in your scan tool to read the ABS fault code(s). If the check engine light or charging system warning light has been on, the vehicle might have a low voltage problem that is affecting the ABS system. And if the customer says he had the tires replaced a few days ago, the ABS warning light might be on because of a change in tire size, mismatched tire sizes, a severely underinflated tire or even a damaged wire to a wheel speed sensor.

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Larry Carley

Larry Carley

Larry Carley has more than 30 years of experience in the automotive aftermarket, including experience as an ASE-certified technician, and has won numerous awards for his articles. He has written 12 automotive-related books and developed automotive training software, available at www.carleysoftware.com.
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