Stay on the Road with Traction Control | CarMax

You've likely encountered a caution sign warning drivers about icy road conditions, loose gravel, or flooding. Even if you didn't see a sign, being aware of slippery road conditions is critical to driving safely, and traction control can help you do that. 

Traction control is often included as part of your car's electronic stability control (ESC) system. When one of your car's tires begins to slip or overspin, the traction control system applies the brake to only that wheel. As the wheel slows, your tire is able to regain a grip on the road so you can maintain control of the car. In some vehicles, these systems also reduce engine power to help correct traction loss.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, ESC systems reduce "fatal single-vehicle crash risk by 49 percent, and fatal multiple-vehicle crash risk by 20 percent for cars and SUVs."


How to tell if your vehicle is equipped with traction control

The Robert Bosch Company started producing traction control systems for passenger cars in 1987. This technology became a standard feature for most car manufacturers in the following decade. If your car was built in the early 1990s or after, there’s a pretty good chance it has some kind of traction control system. ESC has been a federally mandated standard feature in cars since 2012. Since many ESC systems include traction control, it will likely be available on most newer vehicles, like the Chevrolet Equinox, the Ford Escape or our top 10 SUVs in 2016.

If you’re unsure if your car has traction control, then here are a couple of quick checks you can do to find out:

• Check your owner’s manual for information about your vehicle’s ESC system, and if traction control is included.

• When turning the ignition on your car or truck, look for the traction control system symbol to pop up on your dashboard.


What happens when my traction control turns on?

If your car, like the Hyundai Sonata or the Kia Optima, is equipped with traction control, an indicator light will signal that the vehicle has engaged it. Once this occurs, you may feel some pulsating on the gas pedal or the steering wheel as the car applies corrective measures to help you maintain control.

Imagine the following scenario: you’re stopped at a red light on a wet or snowy road. The light turns green and you push down on the accelerator, but your tires start to spin because you don’t have traction. This should be when your traction control system kicks in. By slowing down the speed of your tires, your traction control allows your tires to get enough grip on the pavement to move your car forward. 


When should I disable my vehicle's ESC system?

Most vehicles include a button to disable your ESC system because there are a few instances where traction control actually prevents your car from getting out of sticky situations. If your vehicle is stuck in mud, snow, or sand, then disabling traction control and rocking the vehicle back and forth might help ease it out. Also, your owner’s manual may recommend turning off ESC when a flat tire has been replaced with a compact spare tire or when you’re using snow chains.

You should always turn your ESC back on as soon as you return to normal driving conditions.


Do I need to service my vehicle's ESC?

Regular preventative care for your vehicle’s brakes, tires, and transmission should keep your ESC system functioning properly. To your vehicle’s self-diagnostics system, ESC is rolled into your anti-lock brakes system (ABS). If there’s ever an issue with your ESC, you’ll see an indicator light on the dashboard alerting you that the system is malfunctioning. If this happens, take your vehicle to a repair shop or maintenance center immediately. With a faulty ESC system, your vehicle may not be able to prevent skidding or be able to brake properly.

Is there any other important information about ESC and traction control?

ESC helps keep you in control of your vehicle when you need to swerve or brake suddenly to avoid an obstacle. However, its biggest drawback is that it may give you a false sense of security on the road. During adverse driving conditions like rain, snow, or while on loose gravel, you still need to drive with caution.

Also, make sure that your tires are in good shape. There is little your vehicle’s brake and traction control systems can do if the tire’s tread is too worn down. It’s important to regularly rotate your tires, maintain correct tire pressure, and replace your tires when needed. This will allow your car’s traction control system to be most effective at keeping you firmly on the road.