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Strange Requests At The Service Counter

Sometimes, I have to wonder if certain ­customers’ brains are firing on all cylinders. But as an automotive service professional, I have to maintain a certain level of self-control while answering their questions, even though what they’re...

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Are All Cars ‘Supercars’ Now?

I attended an open house at Smokey’s Dyno in Akron, Ohio, last month. The shop was filled with Lamborghinis, Jaguars and other high-end cars. It was a great chance to look under the hoods of some supercars. The shop even had a rare McLaren P1 sitting...

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Documenting Inspections: Are You Leaving Maintenance Dollars on the Table?

How do you translate scribbles on a ­repair order into sales? There is no magic trick involved — the key is to document the vehicle ­inspection process. The more you know about your customers’ vehicles, and the more you are able to document...

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Mazda: Performing Regular Undercar Maintenance

This month, 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 are...

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Import Automatic Transmission Diagnostics

Don’t be alarmed if you pull an automatic transmission trouble code when diagnosing a “check engine” warning light! Since the automatic transmission operation has a major effect on grams-per-mile exhaust emissions, you’re going to see the...

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Honda: Vehicle Won’t Move or Barely Moves

A customer brings in a vehicle that won’t move forward, ­­backward or both. Check first to see if it grinds or clicks. And does the speedometer read a lot higher than you’re actually going? Chances are the driveshaft is disengaged. This can...

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iATN Exceeds 2 Million Forum Messages

The number of messages in the professional automotive discussion forums of the International Automotive Technicians Network (iATN) exceeded 2 million in early December 2014, with the Shop Management and Technical Discussion forums being the most popular...

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Diagnosing Starter Misses

Contributing writer Gary Goms was called to a friend’s shop to help with a no-cranking condition on a 2006 Chevy Tahoe. After diagnosing a faulty PCM ground, locating the missing ground proved to be problematic. Find out how Gary solves The Case...

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Snap-on Adds Diagnostic Calculator To Website

Snap-on announces a new diagnostic calculator feature has been added to its website at http://diagnostics.snapon.com to help automotive repair technicians and shop owners determine how much profit they could be making by using a Snap-on diagnostic platform,...

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Head Gasket Do’s and Don’ts

DO: Clean the holes. To ensure accurate torque values and to avoid cracking the cylinder block, clean any dust, dirt, oil and fluid from the cylinder block head bolt holes before installing the new head gasket and head bolts. Never lubricate the...

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Harmonic Dampeners: Why They Fail, What to Look For

Every time a cylinder fires, the crankshaft speeds up a very small amount for a short period of time. It is then slowed down as the next cylinder in the firing order compresses air and fuel for the next combustion event. The speeding up and slowing...

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Be Careful When Replacing That Diesel Air Filter

Modern passenger and light-duty diesels with ECMs have mass airflow sensors and precisely control fuel ­delivery. Key to the efficiency and lifespan of the diesel engine is the diesel air filter. A restricted air filter will not affect fuel economy but...

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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 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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