Troubleshooting VW ABS Light On

Vehicle:   Volkswagen
Difficulty: ⚫⚫⚫⚪⚪
DIY Cost: $60-$400
Est. Time: 1-3 hr

In this guide, we take a look at what it means when Volkswagen ABS light stays on, common problems that trigger VW ABS light, and how to troubleshoot the ABS light.

The common problems that trigger VW ABS light are: a faulty ABS wheel speed sensor, steering angle sensor, failed ABS Control Module, or damaged wires. 

The most common problem is ABS wheel speed sensors, which can get dirty over time or fails. When this happens, the sensor will need to be replaced to reset the ABS light. In some cases, you can clean the sensor. Sometimes cleaning works, but there are no guarantees.

What does it mean when the VW ABS light stays on? 

VW ABS light on

Under normal operation, the Volkswagen ABS light turns on when you first turn on the ignition but turns off within five seconds after the engine starts.

 When the system functions properly and no faulty codes are detected by the ABS control module, the ABS light stays off. 

If your VW ABS light comes on and stays on, it means the Anti-lock Brake System (ABS) has been disabled because the ABS has detected a problem. 

What does this mean? 

Let's look at a simple example. During an emergency stop situation, you hit the brakes hard. Because the ABS light is on, the wheels may lockup, and the vehicle can skid. 

If you are have driven an older vehicle with no ABS, you most likely have experienced this situation at least once.

Because the traction control and ESP (Electronic Stability Program) depend on the ABS to function properly, traction control and ESP lights usually come on.

Symptoms

VW ABS ESP  Light on
  • ABS Light Stays On
  • EPS and ABS Light Stay On
  • Traction Control Light Stays On
  • Red Brake Light Stays On
  • VW brake light flashing and beeping
  • ABS light stays on and BRAKE light flashing
  • The speedometer may stop working.

Common Problems

VW ABS control module

Common problems that trigger VW ABS light to come on are: 

  • Bad ABS wheel speed sensor,
  • Faulty clock spring,
  • Low battery voltage,
  • Damaged wire harness,
  • Dirty ABS wheel speed sensor,
  • Bad brake light switch.

To find why your ABS light is on, you need to read the codes with a Volkswagen scanner via the diagnostic port located underneath the dashboard on the driver's side. Let's take a look at how to diagnose VW ABS light. 

How to Diagnose and Reset Volkswagen ABS Light

How to read reset diagnose VW abs light

The first thing you should do if your VW ABS light comes on is to check the brake fluid level and add brake fluid if it is low. If your Volkswagen keeps losing brake fluid, you should get the vehicle inspected by a mechanic as soon as possible. Do not drive with the BRAKE light on. Your brakes may stop working while driving.

If the brake fluid level is ok, perform VW steering angle calibration. In most cases, you can perform this step without any tools. 

Troubleshooting Volkswagen ABS light is fairly simple as long as you have the right tools. For this step, you will need a VW scanner that can read and clear codes from the ABS module and view live sensor data from the ABS module. We need to read codes from the ABS module. With a VW scanner that can read ABS codes, you'll be able to narrow down the issue fairly quickly. 

VW ABS diagnostic port

To troubleshoot the VW ABS problem, start by connecting an abs scanner to the diagnostic port, power up the scanner, and go to the ABS or BRAKE module. Scroll down to the bottom to view live sensor data.

  1. Locate the diagnostic port underneath the dashboard—driver's side. 
  2. Connect your VW scanner and turn on the ignition but do not start the engine.
  3. Turn on your scanner and select Volkswagen and then your particular model.
  4. Next, go to control units and select the ABS control unit or brake control unit, depending on the scanner.
  5. Scroll down to Read DTC or read fault codes. A list of fault codes will be displayed. You need to pay attention to codes that show as current or active. Those codes are the reason why the Volkswagen ABS is on.
  6. Next to the code, you will see a description of the problem or sensor that is faulty. For example, it will say, "Front right ABS speed sensor faulty."
  7. Replace the sensor that is faulty and then reconnect the scanner to clear the codes.
  8. Enter the ABS (Brake) control module again, but this time instead of selecting read DTC to select clear codes and confirm by pressing yes. 

You can also go under Live Data or Sensor Data and select ABS wheel speed sensors and quickly display the values from the sensors. Start moving the vehicle (have a helper drive while you operate the scanner) and check the ABS wheel speed sensors' readings.

You should start to see the revolutions of each wheel. If one of the sensors shows zero while the rest of them start to change, you know that that sensor is faulty, or the wires going to the sensor can be damaged or corroded.

Why can't I clear my VW ABS light? 

Can't clear VW abs light

Ensure that you have an OBD-II scanner that can read Volkswagen ABS codes. Most generic and inexpensive OBD-II scanners cannot retrieve VW ABS fault codes from the ABS control unit or clear VW ABS light.

Read our article on OBD-II scanners if you need a good VW scanner.

VW ABS CODES ACTIVE VS PASSIVE

Follow the steps above to read the fault codes from the ABS control module. Make sure that all fault codes have changed from ACTIVE to PASSIVE or STORED. If you have an ACTIVE / PRESENT code, you won't clear the ABS light.

You can clear VW ABS codes and reset the ABS light only if all the codes are shown as passive or stored.  Go to the ABS Control Unit and select clear the ABS light; once you select clear DTC from the main menu, press okay on the confirmation screen.

If you had a faulty ABS wheel speed sensor and you can't clear the ABS light, make sure to inspect the wire harness to that sensor. Also, use a diagnostic scanner to reread the fault codes because you may have more than one faulty wheel speed sensor., 

Volkswagen ABS Problems Explained

Troubleshoot vw abs light jetta passat eos cc golf gti gli tiguran routan

ABS Wheel Speed Sensor

One of the most common problems that cause Volkswagen ABS light to stay on is a faulty VW wheel speed sensor. Replacing a faulty ABS wheel speed sensor is very simple and takes less than one hour.

The only challenge is that you will need to read the codes with a VW scanner to determine which sensor is faulty.

We often see VW owners that replace all ABS wheel speed sensors when the ABS light stays on, hoping it will fix the problem. We do not recommend replacing random parts without performing a diagnostic first.  

While a bad ABS wheel speed sensor is often why your Volkswagen ABS light stays on, several other problems can trigger the ABS light. 

A bad ABS pump, faulty ABS control module, blown fuse, steering angle sensor faulty or needs calibration, damaged wires, and even low battery voltage or dead battery can also be the reason why your ABS light stays on. 

ABS Control Module

Bad ABS brake module faulty

The ABS pump or module can fail and trigger the ABS, ESP, and traction control light to come on.

ABS pump failure can be severe and should be repaired immediately. Communication errors from all ABS wheel speed sensors or not being able to connect to the ABS module are common signs that the ABS module is faulty and can also be caused by a blown ABS fuse or a bad relay.   

VW dealers recommend that you replace the ABS pump, which can get very expensive. The average cost to replace a Volkswagen ABS control module is between $900 and $1,600. 

If you are looking for a less expensive solution, remove your old ABS pump and send it to a repair shop specializing in fixing VW ABS pumps. You can find many repair shops that offer this service on eBay.

A repair shop specializing in ABS repair will open your pump, find out what is wrong with it, and repair your old ABS pump. The downside of this method is that you will have the car parked for a few days while the ABS pump is repaired. 

Repairing the old ABS module can save you a significant amount of money. The average cost to repair a VW ABS Module is between $250 and $350, which is a lot less expensive than replacing the ABS module.

An added benefit of repairing your old ABS pump is that it will not need to carry any programming since you are installing the same ABS pump you removed. Fault codes may need to be read and cleared with a VW scanner

Steering Angle Sensor

vw steering angle sensor

A steering angle sensor can fail and may need to be replaced. The steering angle sensor is mounted on the steering column,  below the steering wheel.

Its purpose is to determine the direction the wheels are pointed to, which is done by determining the steering wheel's position as the driver turns it left and right. The sensor can fail and no longer can detect if the steering wheel is turned. 

The ABS module does not know where the driver is trying to steer. If there no input from the steering angle sensor, the ABS light comes on along with traction control and stability control (ESC, EPC) lights.

The steering angle sensor may need to be reset. Follow this guide to learn how to reset the VW steering angle sensor. 

Replacing the steering angle sensor is relatively easy but requires removing the airbag from the steering wheel.

Low Battery Voltage

Battery voltage triggetrs vw abs light to stay on

While older Volkswagen cars were not as sensitive to low voltage, on a new Volkswagen, a faulty code may be stored in the ABS control module if there is a weak battery, loose battery terminal, poor ground, or bad voltage regulator. 

In most cases fixing the battery is all you need to do to reset the ABS light. In fact, when the voltage issue has been addressed, the Digantoic Trouble Code (DTC) should automatically change from ACTIVE to PASSIVE.

If the problem gets fixed, the ABS module realizes that and changes the PASSIVE or STORED code. This allows the ABS  light to reset on its own, and the fault code related to voltage will be stored in the ABS control module but won't be active. 

Brake Light Flashing

VW ABS light on and brake light flashing on and off

Volkswagen ABS and brake light may flash when there is a critical problem with the brake system. For example, if the brake fluid level is too low or the ABS module is faulty. Do not drive if the brake light is on or flashes. 

Check the brake fluid level first and add the recommended brake fluid if needed. Next, read the fault codes with an ABS scanner. 

Damaged Wire Harness

While not a very likely problem, the ABS control unit's wire harness can get damaged and trigger the ABS light. A damaged wire harness will typically cause several issues. 

If your ABS light is on or your ABS pump is faulty, it is important to check if any open recalls related to the ABS exist for your vehicle. In the past, Volkswagen has issued ABS module recalls. To find out if your VW is affected by an ABS recall, check for open recalls here.

Why is my VW ABS light is on, but I get no codes?

If you use a generic scanner, it will only access check engine fault codes. A generic scanner will not show ABS codes even when the ABS light is on.

Every Volkswagen has over 20 different control units, including engine control unit, transmission control unit, ac control unit, ABS control unit, airbag control unit, and many other modules. It's important to use a scanner that will at least read VW ABS fault codes.

If you have an ABS scanner but still don't get any codes, you may have a bad ABS control module, damaged wire harness, or blown fuse. 

Can I drive VW with an ABS light on? 

Driving with the ABS light on can be dangerous. It is unsafe and not recommended to drive with the ABS disabled even if the brakes work. If the brake light is on in addition to the ABS light, stop immediately and have the vehicle repaired as this can be a serious problem.

In most cases where the is a problem with the VW ABS, the brakes will still function. Bringing the vehicle to a complete stop, especially during emergency stops, can take much longer without ABS. 

Why do I need ABS? 

What anti-lock braking allows you to do is maintain control of the car during sudden braking. It allows steering the vehicle even during braking.

If your ABS is not working and driving at 65mph and slam on the brakes, turning the steering wheel will affect if the vehicle is sliding. On snow or ice, without ABS, you only have to be going about 25mph before it's impossible to steer during hard braking. 

With ABS, you can steer and brake simultaneously.  If you're an experienced driver of non-ABS vehicles, you may be able to mitigate all of this considerably.

What are some common VW ABS codes? 

Here is a list of common fault codes that often trigger VW ABS light: 

  • 01130  / 1130 - ABS Operation: Implausible Signal. The fault code can be cleared after performing a Test Drive.
  • 01276 / 1276 - ABS Hydraulic Pump (V64): Implausible Signal. Check for a blown fuse first before you replace the hydraulic pump. 
  • 00283 -  ABS Wheel Speed Sensor Front Left (G47): Mechanical Malfunction.
  • 16352 - Control Module Defective. 01276 - ABS Hydraulic Pump (V64)
  • 00285 - ABS Wheel Speed Sensor Front Right (G45): Mechanical Malfunction.

Can ABS problems cause other problems? 

The ABS module in your Volkswagen is designed to communicate with other modules. The ABS usually sets fault codes in other modules such as the traction control and stability control systems. 

The useful data to the ABS module is likely useful to other control modules, and their proper interaction is an absolute necessity. Almost all 2000 and newer VW vehicles such as Jetta, Passat, Golf, Tiguan, Routan, Eos, Bettle have ABS. 

This guide applies to all VW vehicles with ABS, including Jetta, Passat, Golf, Tiguan, Routan, Eos, Bettle, etc. 

By YOUCANIC Automotive Experts
Nov 2020