Piston Slap: The Sable's Spurious Speed Sensing?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
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piston slap the sable s spurious speed sensing
Longtime 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 sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.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.

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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2 of 26 comments
  • StudeDude StudeDude on Jan 18, 2019

    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.

  • Pwrwrench Pwrwrench on Jan 18, 2019

    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.

  • Carsofchaos The bike lanes aren't even close to carrying "more than the car lanes replaced". You clearly don't drive in Midtown Manhattan on a daily like I do.
  • Carsofchaos The problem with congestion, dear friends, is not the cars per se. I drive into the city daily and the problem is this:Your average street in the area used to be 4 lanes. Now it is a bus lane, a bike lane (now you're down to two lanes), then you have delivery trucks double parking, along with the Uber and Lyft drivers also double parking. So your 4 lane avenue is now a 1.5 lane avenue. Do you now see the problem? Congestion pricing will fix none of these things....what it WILL do is fund persion plans.
  • FreedMike Many F150s I encounter are autonomously driven...and by that I mean they're driving themselves because the dips**ts at the wheel are paying attention to everything else but the road.
  • Tassos A "small car", TIM????????????This is the GLE. Have you even ever SEEN the huge thing at a dealer's??? NOT even the GLC,and Merc has TWO classes even SMALLER than the C (The A and the B, you guessed it? You must be a GENIUS!).THe E is a "MIDSIZED" crossover, NOT A SMALL ONE BY ANY STRETCH OF THE IMAGINATION, oh CLUELESS one.I AM SICK AND TIRED OF THE NONSENSE you post here every god damned day.And I BET you will never even CORRECT your NONSENSE, much less APOLOGIZE for your cluelessness and unprofessionalism.
  • Stuki Moi "How do you take a small crossover and make it better?Slap the AMG badge on it and give it the AMG treatment."No, you don't.In fact, that is specifically what you do NOT do.Huge, frail wheels, and postage stamp sidewalls, do nothing but make overly tall cuvs tramline and judder. And render them even less useful across the few surfaces where they could conceivably have an advantage over more properly dimensioned cars. And: Small cuvs have pitiful enough fuel range as it is, even with more sensible engines.Instead, to make a small CUV better, you 1)make it a lower slung wagon. And only then give it the AMG treatment. AMG'ing, makes sense for the E class. And these days with larger cars, even the C class. For the S class, it never made sense, aside from the sheer aural visceralness of the last NA V8. The E-class is the center of AMG. Even the C-class, rarely touches the M3.Or 2) You give it the Raptor/Baja treatment. Massive, hypersophisticated suspension travel allowing landing meaningful jumps. As well as driving up and down wide enough stairs if desired. That's a kind of driving for which a taller stance, and IFS/IRS, makes sense.Attempting to turn a CUV into some sort of a laptime wonder, makes about as much sense as putting an America's Cup rig atop a ten deck cruiseship.