In the automobile industry, standard procedure is that one manufacturer brings some newfangled safety feature aboard, and then suddenly everyone has their own version of it. It starts in the top trims, and within a few years, it's standard across all trims.
Traction control is one of the few technologies that took awhile to get up and running. The first iteration was on rear-wheel drive performance cars in the 1970s. It became mainstream in the late 1980s. But, it wasn't mandated on passenger cars until 2012. Seems like kind of a long wait for something as important as staying on the road.
When there's a loss of traction, your post-2012 vehicle has a light that comes on, indicating the traction control system is working. Your car will keep the light on until road conditions are no longer slippery or unstable.
But, there are some situations in which the traction control light comes on and stays on. What does that mean, and what should you do about it? Read on.
How Does Traction Control Work?
Your car comes with wheel speed sensors. These measure how fast each wheel is spinning as you drive. Generally speaking, there shouldn't be any giant disparity between the four-wheel speeds. When you experience slippage, one wheel will spin faster than the rest. The sensors will pick up on the faster wheelspin, and limit the power heading to that wheel or even automatically apply the brake to that wheel.
Ideally, you should maintain a gentle grip on the steering wheel, but don't try to correct the wheel slip. Your car is already doing that for you, working to keep the car facing forward instead of going into a skid.
When traveling down a slippery road, it's easy to see how traction control systems can be super helpful. Therefore, when your car signals you that there's a problem when the traction control warning light stays on, it's a good idea to get it checked out right away.
Why Is My Traction Control Warning Light On?
There are many common reasons why your traction control warning light could come on. A few of these can actually be solved at home with the owner's manual and some basic car repair know-how to guide you, but you will need a few computerized gadgets to help you out. It's also not a bad idea to take your vehicle to a repair shop, where a certified mechanic can test all of the computers and electric signals, which will be required for some of these fixes.
The first possibility is a faulty wheel speed sensor. Your wheel might be doing exactly what it should, but if the sensor isn't reading correctly, your TCS light can pick up the warning.
You can replace the sensors yourself, but you'll need an OBD2 scanner to determine which one is out of whack. An OBD2 scanner is a tool that can be easily found online or at a local car parts store. It communicates directly with your car's computer to report any trouble codes. In today's technologically-inclined automotive scene, this can be a helpful tool to have around.
Another thing the OBD2 scanner can check is whether the anti-lock braking system is acting up. The ABS system and TCS share a lot of the same parts and pieces, so if your ABS light comes on, it may trigger the traction control warning light, as well. The trouble code reported to your OBD2 scanner (or your mechanic's scanner) will provide more insight. The stability control systems' control module may be the culprit, which can be done at home.
In some cases, the traction control system needs reprogramming. Unfortunately, there's no home hack for this that involves duct tape and a flathead screwdriver. However, it's a pretty quick process that a certified mechanic can take care of for you.
Most of the time, when your traction control warning light is on, it's because the system is doing its job, keeping your car facing straight and not spinning out of control. But, if your light comes on and stays on, despite ideal road conditions, it might be time to consult with an auto repair shop. We have absolute faith in your mechanical skills. We just aren't entirely sure we can describe the computer programming part correctly without an advanced degree in computer science!
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