Anti Brake Light question

Tiny
LSUFAN05
  • MEMBER
  • 2001 PONTIAC BONNEVILLE
  • 150,000 MILES
My anti brake light came on so I took it to get diagnosed. They said I needed 2 wheel bearings. I was going to come back in a few days when I got paid. Now my ABS light no longer comes in, if something were truly wrong wouldn't my light come back on?
Please help!
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Tuesday, April 5th, 2016 AT 3:51 PM

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Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
Nope. You have an intermittent problem that doesn't act up all the time. Most commonly you have to turn the ignition switch off, then restart the engine to turn the ABS system back on. Once the problem acts up again, the computer will set a diagnostic fault code, turn the ABS system off, and turn the yellow warning light on to tell you, then it may work normally again after the next time you restart the engine.

The wheel bearings on GM front-wheel-drive cars are a REAL big cause of this problem and they are usually intermittent at first. The sensors develop real wimpy signals to start with, then with a little play in the bearing assembly, (which is normal), the signals get even weaker until they are so weak, especially at lower speeds, that they drop out and the computer can't read them. That makes it think that wheel has stopped rotating. If you're slowing down and have the brake applied lightly, false activation will result. The computer is trying to get that wheel it thinks is skidding back up to speed. When you're not applying the brakes, the computer knows all the wheels are rotating if any one of them is, so when it sees a missing signal from one wheel. It sets the appropriate fault code and turns the system off.

The sad part of this is the weak sensors are built into the wheel bearings. GM is famous for forcing you to buy large assemblies to get the part you need to replace. The worse part is there's a very good chance of the same thing happening to the new wheel bearings in as little as 15,000 miles, so don't be angry with your mechanic or the parts supplier. It's the nature of the design. Most bearings last considerably longer than 15,000 miles, but if you look in the dealer's scrap metal bin, you'll find dozens of these bearing assemblies in there. Be aware those old bearings, if they're not noisy, will work perfectly fine for years on any GM front-wheel-drive car that doesn't have anti-lock brakes.
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Tuesday, April 5th, 2016 AT 7:20 PM
Tiny
LSUFAN05
  • MEMBER
This is probably a stupid question, but I'm guessing these wheel bearings need to be replaced.
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Tuesday, April 5th, 2016 AT 7:38 PM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
You didn't provide any test results or diagnostic fault code numbers, so I'm just going by what has been real common and what your mechanic said is needed.

One thing I should try to explain as best I can is how these codes are set. Typically the signal from one sensor gets weak first, and you run to the mechanic. Based on the fault code number, and his experience, he knows to replace that wheel bearing. The problem arises when you try to live with this for many months. When the yellow warning light is on, the system is turned off and many of the self-tests are suspended. During that time the same problem may develop on the other front bearing, but since the tests are not being run, a fault code for that second bearing won't be set. When you finally do go in for service, all the mechanic has to go on is the one fault code stored in the computer's memory, so he writes you an estimate to replace just that one bearing. It isn't until he replaces the bearing, erases that fault code, and goes out on a test-drive that the self-tests resume and the missing signal from the other wheel is detected. If the problem is still intermittent, it may not be detected for minutes, hours or days. You might have the warning light turn on a few minutes after you leave the repair shop. Naturally you think the mechanic is incompetent or you were ripped off, but in reality, the car just needed more parts than either of you knew about. Mechanics hate this too because they know they did the proper repair but they also know this design makes them look incompetent.

When you turn around and go back to the shop, the mechanic will recheck his work and will start by reading the diagnostic fault codes again. That's where he will find a new code number for the other wheel. We hate having to tell you more parts are needed, but we have no choice. This seriously adds to the bad reputation we have that is mostly undeserved.

I got the impression you took the car in to be checked right after the warning light came on, so it's almost a certainty that only one wheel is causing the problem at this time, and you need just one bearing assembly. If that is correct, I suspect your mechanic told you both bearings are needed because he knows this is a real common problem, both bearings are the same age, (most likely), and have the same amount of play / wear, so to avoid hard feelings later, he knows it's best to just change them both right now. In the long run that is better than replacing one bearing now and making you come back a second time a month or two from now, when you won't be happy. Think of it like having a worn spark plug that causes a misfire. They're all the same age so even though only one is bad, we replace all of them at once. You'd really be unhappy if we made you come back numerous times every time one spark plug failed.
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Tuesday, April 5th, 2016 AT 8:24 PM

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