By on January 18, 2019

1992 Mercury Sable Heckblende, Image: FordLongtime TTAC Commentator Golden2husky writes:

Dear Sajeev:

I have a problem with my old ’92 Sable. About a year ago the ABS started to lightly engage while the wheel was turned hard left or right as you pulled into a parking spot. The parking was not at “turtle” speeds but was well below the need to engage ABS. This issue began to get worse after a few months; the unwanted ABS engagement would occur with less of a steering wheel angle. No longer did you need the wheel fully turned to cause the problem.

For the last two months the car sat unused, but now with the potential for snow and the need to haul building materials on the roof rack I’ve begun using the car again. Now, with the wheel pointed straight, the car will occasionally engage the ABS when stopping at a red light. Usually the engagement is light, but a few times it was pretty severe. I’m concerned about rear-ending somebody. I do not consider disengaging the ABS to be an answer. The ABS idiot light comes on at startup and extinguishes after a few seconds.

You have a lot of experience with old Fords so perhaps this has happened to you. The car is nearing 200K and has spent its entire life outside. Salt use in these parts is pretty moderate. Tires and struts are fairly recent and are in excellent condition.

Sajeev answers:

I stop in my tracks and assist any Sable in need, as the original’s radical design inspired my childhood … while the decades-long decline inspired my career in automotive journalism.

So Sables are indeed worth the effort, but I digress … this bizarre ABS action is from a wheel speed sensor out of whack, giving readouts significantly different than the other three sensors.  This discrepancy is a huge red flag for ABS, causing it to take corrective action. And as the sensor fails to a greater extent, I reckon less steering angle is needed to create a ABS-sensitive speed discrepancy.

I’d recommend the free repair first: remove all wheels, inspect each tone ring for corrosion or missing teeth, clean both the ring and the sensor (with brake parts cleaner; use more aggressive stuff if severely corroded) to ensure a strong connection.

If that doesn’t work, you must use a code scanner for ABS codes, not the cheap one (or the paper clip trick) for Ford EEC-IV trouble codes. Finding a mechanic with the right tool and 30-60 minutes of their time is worth it: from there the sensor(s) are dirt cheap online and an easy DIY repair.

Conversely, since steering angle is the concern, odds are one of the front sensors is busted.  And since they are so cheap, you could buy two and solve the issue for less than the diagnostic time from a shop.

What say you, Best and Brightest?

[Image: Ford]

Send your queries to [email protected]com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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26 Comments on “Piston Slap: The Sable’s Spurious Speed Sensing?...”


  • avatar
    Cactuar

    Calling the ABS light an “idiot light” yet waiting one year to address the issue with ABS. Oh the irony ;)

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      Well, that was pretty rude.

      1) “idiot light” is a common, generic term used for warning lamps. Although I dont use it, many do in describing any warning lamp on a vehicle instrument cluster.

      2) the problem came on gradually and the car was parked for six months. It’s not like he ignored the brake pedal hitting the floor or something that severe.

      • 0 avatar
        CaptainObvious

        ^Agree

      • 0 avatar
        jatz

        Perfectly said, John.

      • 0 avatar
        Cactuar

        Please. Calling it an idiot light implies that one is on top of maintenance and has no need for assistance. It’s an arrogant claim at self-sufficiency. The OP called it an idiot light then proceeded to ask for help on a car website.

        Next time just call it a light.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        Thank you, guys. Cactuar you really need an attitude adjustment. The issue for months was only occasionally happening in parking lots and it is a fourth car. And yes, it is well maintained – I have to pass annual safety and I never fail. Idiot light is a normally accepted term and I used it. Get over it. I can imagine you don’t like the term “Christmas Tree dash” either.

        I will pull the wheels and check the tone rings and sensors. I was hoping there was a tool available to plug into the dedicated ABS test port under the hood. It would be nice to know what wheel is engaging the ABS. I prefer diagnostics over throwing parts at problems.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          The ABS on my old LeSabre failed at one point (then mysteriously fixed itself, for which I’m eternally grateful, as I was broke a.f. at the time). The light came on. Net effect? The brakes worked, just without the ABS feature. Once the ABS “fixed itself,” the light went off and the ABS started working again.

          Moral of the story: having the system fail doesn’t necessarily pose a safety issue.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            “Moral of the story: having the system fail doesn’t necessarily pose a safety issue.”

            “Now, with the wheel pointed straight, the car will occasionally engage the ABS when stopping at a red light. Usually the engagement is light, but a few times it was pretty severe. I’m concerned about rear-ending somebody.”

            To each their own.

        • 0 avatar
          Cactuar

          You’re right, I apologize. My language was disrespectful and uncalled for.

          I hope you find a resolution to your issue soon.

  • avatar
    LTDwedge

    Have been faked out by:
    tone wheels no longer pressed tight on axles
    tone wheels with a crack (fake signal) in them
    tone wheels with severe rust (more fake signals)
    loosely mounted ABS sensors
    magnetic attraction of iron particles on sensor(s)
    electrical resistances in sensor wiring & routing

    Have never been faked out using a quality scan tool
    to direct me to a problem “wheel”.

    • 0 avatar
      SPPPP

      I would strongly recommend checking those items. Especially check if iron filings have built up on one of the sensors. This is especially common if the brake pads have ever worn down to the point where the metal backing plates contact the rotors.

  • avatar
    smallblock

    I had a ’94 Pontiac Trans Sport that did that exact same thing. The wheel bearing wasn’t making any detectable noise, but when I jacked it up the wheel had some play. In those the ABS sensor was integrated into the front unit bearing assembly. I’m not sure what the ’92 Mercury Sable has exactly, but I’d at least check this on all 4 wheels to start. If the distance from the sensor to the tone ring keeps changing under steering and braking loads, it’s going to do exactly what you’re experiencing.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      GMs early systems were notoriously wonky… like needing serious repair within the normal service life of the car but outside the warranty.

      • 0 avatar
        smallblock

        I can’t fault GM on that dustbuster – I bought it for $200 from a coworker with 100,000. All it needed was a cleaning, window regulator, and blower motor. I drove it another 100,000, and sold it for $400 to another coworker. It had the mighty 3800, and with all the seats removed was reasonably quick, and got twice the mileage of my ’96 Tahoe 2 door on 33×12.50×15’s. I drove it like I was trying to kill it, jumping it over railroad tracks, “Rockford” turns, pinging it off the speed limiter for an hour in Canada, etc. All it ever needed were brakes, tires, shocks / struts, 1 wheel bearing, ball joints. I once thought the valve body in the trans was going, but I sea foamed it and changed the fluid/filter and it was good from there out. The only time it ever negatively surprised me was when it blew a plastic coolant hose nipple in the intake, NAPA had a metal one for like 6 bucks.

  • avatar
    Jeff Weimer

    I have a ’96 Ranger. It’s OBDII, so I can *read* the ABS trouble codes (using the free program Forscan – ABS is on a different protocol and wire in the connector), but it’s the same 4WABS unit they used in ’95 when it was still EEC-IV. It has a bad solenoid in the pump/valve assembly so I have to use a dedicated Ford special tool just to bleed the pump out after I replace it. Not made anymore, so Ebay prices are from $250-350. For a literally one-minute operation.

    I got lucky and scored the Mazda version (same thing different part number) for $100.

    Anyone out there with a 96-97 Ranger or Explorer with 4WABS in the greater Norfolk, VA area that needs to bleed their brakes? $20 for the service and I’ll come to your house.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      You should be able to bleed with ForScan, but you need ForScan on a windows machine, not ForScan Lite on your phone.

      • 0 avatar
        Jeff Weimer

        I have windows Forscan, and you can’t bleed the pump through OBDII, and that’s from the factory service manual I purchased the PDFs of. I think you can with the 98-up ABS, but not the 95-97.

        I originally thought I could, too, because OBDII, but that’s unfortunately not the case.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      I should have said the Windows version, with the extended license. That too is free and it allows you to do things like ABS bleed, turning things like dark mode and DRLs on or off, changing the tire size to correct the speedo, adjusting steering wheel temp, or making the car think it is in Europe so that you can enter a destination into the Navigation while the vehicle is in gear. Of course all of those are vehicle dependent and on the earliest cars there are not a lot of changes you can make.

    • 0 avatar
      millmech

      Burn the Witch

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    No comment on the ABS issue but more on the Sable.

    It was this generation – with the lightbar grille – that got me interested in American cars again. Truly was a revolutionary design compared to so many malaise-era Detroit design.

    The old man had one toward the end of his career and that V6 felt really nice and smooth compared to the 4-cyl Nissans he used to drive.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      Those bulbs were expensive back in the day – $20 a pop. I found some old stock on eBay and picked up all I could use for $8. Burned out lamps on a car is a pet peeve of mine…

  • avatar
    StudeDude

    Because of the age of the vehicle, OBDI and the low cost of the front ABS sensors, I agree with your approach to replace both sensors. Also check the routing of the sensor wiring and the connectors based on the occurrence of a fault while turning. One of those cable routing brackets may have come loose or rusted away.

  • avatar
    pwrwrench

    Yep, I vote for the $64 for the two front sensors,AFTER checking the tone rings for damage or contamination (and the wheel bearings). Wear particles from the rotors and pads can fill in the teeth on the ring giving an incorrect signal to the ABS control unit.

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