Spin the wheel

Frank Massey looks at how you need to approach a problem when different types of sensor are involved

Published:  09 October, 2017

I have been asked several times about ABS wheel sensors. Like many other components, the technology is changing. The changes reflect the expansion in integrated chassis dynamics.

Just imagine how many functions require wheel speed and rotational differential data.

ABS, dynamic stability, hill start, audio volume, navigation, self park, all wheel drive, active steering assist, electronic handbrake etc. Sharing this data on a high speed can network ensures very accurate vehicle motion dynamics.

Older variable reluctance sensors (VRS) rely on a coil generating an alternating voltage when rotation occurs. The problem is they are not directional sensitive and cannot report motion at very low speed. Air gaps were critical as they affect signal amplitude. They are often referred to as passive sensors. So, the introduction of digital or active sensors was inevitable.


Principles
How do we tell them apart? Active sensors require a voltage supply from the ABS PCM, with a ground or signal return. They operate with different principles of signal generation; hall, and magneto resistive. Pure hall effect sensors will switch between the supply potential voltage and ground. Magneto resistive sensors operate on the principle of current and voltage change in response to a change in magnetic induction. This change can be introduced in several ways reflected in wheel bearing and sensor design. Smaller sensors with integrated magnetic field rings are now the norm. Developed by NTN at their Annecy facility they are called encoded bearings. A small ring mounted at one end of the bearing carries a series of north south poles. These have now been replaced by dual encoding, two sets of magnetic rings with a unique offset. This enables the abs module to determine direction of rotation.


Subtle differences
There are two very subtle differences in the digital outputs. They can be called pull up or pull down. The sensor supply voltage will be slightly lower than battery voltage this is due to the different internal resistance values. However, it will be around 10.5/11.5v.

The ground or return signal value will vary between 0v or 1.4/1.8v. You could have a sensor or circuit fault; let me try and explain the subtle differences, and how to prove which is which. Remember the golden rule if in doubt compare a wheel circuit that works normally.

First unplug the sensor and measure both circuits in the loom. With no load applied the supply voltage should jump up to NBV

Next check the ground circuit if its true ground then it’s a pull-down type and the signal will be on the power line, and may only be around 200mv

If a small voltage exists then it’s a pull up type and the signal will be on this wire not the supply. The digital signal will be very small when the wheel rotates. It could be small around 200/400mv, or as high as 0.5/1.8v, depending on the manufacturer variant

Common sense would dictate the serial route is easiest, however how would you determine an intermittent fault? It could be a faulty sensor, faulty encoder, or a circuit error. The only way is using a scope. Should we measure voltage or current though? Both change in the circuit. Unless you have a very special current clamp, go for voltage and select a AC coupling.

The specific question I am often asked is current measurement, well I can tell you in a pull-down circuit its around 7-15 ma with a 400mv voltage change. The pull up type will produce around 6/13ma with 0.2/0.35mv.     However, these voltage values can vary due to the value of the two parallel internal sensor resistors these are normally 1.4k ohms, with a much higher resistor in the meg ohm range, within the ABS pcm.

I hope this helps. The pico image was taken from a VW Golf 1.4 TSI. The easy bit is replacing the wheel sensors. Ever since metal housings were replaced with plastic they never corrode in the housings
do they…?

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