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Traction Control Light | What It Means & When It’s A Problem

If you enjoy fast cars, you may have accelerated so fast that your tires spun before. However, the traction control system (TCS) on today’s modern vehicles is designed to prevent your tires from spinning. Spinning tires can cause you to lose control of your vehicle, and it could lead to a crash.

Not only does the traction control system keep you from taking off so fast that your tires spin, but it also monitors your wheels for spinning during wet or icy conditions. The TCS system is a crucial safety feature on today’s cars, and a malfunction could put you in a dangerous situation. If you see the TCS light on your dash illuminated, you might have a problem. Keep reading as we tell you exactly what the light means and when you need to get your car to a mechanic.

What Is A Traction Control System?

The traction control system is the system on your car that prevents the wheels from spinning, thus causing you to lose traction and possibly control of the vehicle. There are several components to your traction control system that make it work properly. Sensors are an integral part of the system, and the wheel speed sensors are some of the most important. These sensors monitor the speed of the wheels. By using all the other data in your car’s computer, these sensors alert the computer that one or more wheels are spinning too fast. When the wheel is spinning faster than it should, the computer knows that it is starting to slip.

So, what does traction control do? The TCS works in conjunction with your vehicle’s anti-lock braking system. When the TCS system notices a wheel starting to slip, it can do a couple of things. It might reduce power to the wheel or apply the brakes. Not only does the system help prevent the wheels from slipping, but it also helps keep your car on a straight path in slippery road conditions. This overall functionality of the TCS system provides enhanced safety to the driver, passengers, and others on the road.

You should know that a traction control system is mandatory on all new vehicles sold today. Some vehicles are equipped only with a basic TCS system, while others have a more comprehensive vehicle stability control system. These computer systems not only prevent a loss of traction, but they help the driver maintain control of the vehicle in dangerous situations. You might be wondering, “What is Stabilitrak?” This is simply the name that some manufacturers have given their stability control system.

Why Is My Car’s Traction Control Light On?

Now you should have a good understanding of what the traction control system on your car is and how traction control works. You should also know that your car has a traction control warning light that will illuminate when there are problems. You might be wondering, “Why is my traction control light on?” Sometimes the light is not an issue and goes away almost immediately. However, the light can also signal a serious problem. Here are the most common reasons why your TCS light is on.

— Temporary Loss Of Traction

A temporary loss of traction is probably the most common reason for your TCS light to illuminate. The TCS control module has recognized that at least one of your wheels is spinning, so it takes action to prevent the spinning. It might reduce power to the wheel or even apply the brakes. When the TCS system engages to prevent wheel slips, it also illuminates the warning light. Typically, the light stays on for only a second or two. As soon as you regain traction, the light should disappear. If you feel your wheels spinning briefly and then the light turns off, you probably don’t have a problem. Things are working as they should, and there is no cause for concern.

— Faulty Wheel Speed Sensor

Remember that your traction control system uses sensors at each wheel to determine when a wheel slip occurs. The wheel speed sensors on your car can go bad. When they do, it’s likely that it will cause your TCS light to come on. Since your ABS system uses the same sensors, a bad sensor might cause your ABS light to illuminate as well. Thankfully, replacing a sensor is not an extremely expensive repair. Similar to a check engine light, the TCS light will also store trouble codes in your car’s computer. Using a scan tool, your local auto repair shop can determine which sensor is bad. On average, it will cost about $200 to have the sensor replaced.

— ABS System Malfunction

Not only does your TCS system share the wheel speed sensors with your ABS system, but these two systems also share several other parts. Since the two systems are so interlinked, a problem with one often causes issues with the other. If you have a malfunction of your ABS system, it might cause your TCS light to illuminate. The problem could be anything from a faulty wheel speed sensor to a bad ABS control unit. In this case, you will probably see both the brake warning light and the TCS warning light on the car’s dashboard. Since this signals the fact that you could have a big problem with your entire braking system, you should have it checked right away. Replacing an ABS control module is not cheap, as it could cost you over $1,000 on some vehicles.

— Traction Control System Manually Turned Off

The traction control system light on your vehicle could simply mean that you have manually turned off the TCS. Some people choose to deactivate the system during good weather conditions because they do not want the vehicle to decrease the power getting to the wheels through the powertrain. People often choose to turn off the system on performance cars or other vehicles with a lot of horsepower. If you decide to turn your TCS off, make sure that you are prepared to handle the potential loss of traction. If you are not an experienced driver, you could find yourself in a dangerous situation when your wheels start to slip.

— TCS Computer Malfunction

Just like your ABS system, your traction control system also has a small computer that controls the system. If the control module malfunctions, it will cause the TCS light to illuminate. The computer might just need new software installed. This is not a job that most people will be able to perform on their own, and you will likely need a certified mechanic to perform the work. In most cases, the unit can be reprogrammed for about $200 to $300. In severe cases, you might need to replace the TCS computer altogether. The cost for this will be more expensive, and it could cost $800 or more to replace the unit.

— Bad Steering Angle Sensor

The steering angle sensor is located inside the steering column behind the steering wheel. This sensor detects the turning of the steering wheel, and it matches that to the turning of the car’s wheels. When this sensor goes bad, it might trick the computer into thinking that the vehicle’s traction is slipping. Replacement of this sensor is a fairly complex job, and it’s likely to cost you around $500 for parts and labor.

Repairing & Resetting The TCS Warning Light

So, how do you fix the problem and get your TCS warning light to go away? The answer depends on the cause of the problem. If the light is illuminated because your vehicle lost traction, it should go away in a few seconds. Once the car regains traction, the light will go off. For those who manually turned off their TCS, the light will go away once the system has been turned back on. When there are problems with the system, the fix is a little more involved.

Most of the time, the problem is related to a bad sensor or control module. First, you should replace the faulty sensor. You can reprogram or replace the control module if necessary. Next, you will want to use a scan tool to reset the trouble codes in the car’s computer. This process is just like resetting your check engine light. Start your vehicle, and the light should go away. If the light remains on, you may not have fixed the cause of the light. In that case, you will probably want to get your car to an experienced mechanic to handle the car repairs.

Average Cost To Repair Traction Control Problems

Most traction control repairs are not that expensive. Faulty wheel sensors can be replaced for less than $200 in most cases. You might even choose to do the repair yourself. In that case, it will probably cost you $50 or less for the part. Reprogramming a traction control module will need to be done by a mechanic, but the cost is generally less than $300.

The most expensive repair related to your traction control system is usually the replacement of the TCS control module or the ABS control module. Replacement of either of these computers can cost you $1,000 — maybe even more for high-end vehicles. Sometimes this is the only solution to the problem, but thankfully, most TCS repairs are not that expensive.

The Bottom Line

Your car’s traction control system plays a critical role in preventing skids and other loss of traction. The system works closely with your car’s ABS system to keep your tires from sliding on the road. If you notice your TCS light illuminated, there could be several reasons that it’s on. Your vehicle could have temporarily lost traction, or you might have a bad wheel sensor. Most TCS repairs are not that expensive, although the repair could exceed $1,000 in the rare event that you need to replace the entire TCS control module.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you still drive with the traction control light on?

Yes, you can still drive with the service traction control light on in most cases. Driving with the light on will not usually cause any damage to your vehicle. However, you should know that the light is warning you of a malfunction in the traction control system. Therefore, you should be very careful when driving — especially in slick road conditions — so that you do not lose control of your vehicle.

What causes traction control to malfunction?

The most common cause of a malfunction in your traction control system is a bad sensor. A bad wheel speed sensor is fairly common, and this will cause your TCS to malfunction. Similarly, a bad steering angle sensor can also cause problems. Finally, problems with the TCS computer will cause system malfunctions. In that case, you might need to have the computer reprogrammed or completely replaced.

What are the benefits of traction control?

The main benefit of traction control is safety. The system prevents your wheels from slipping, and it allows you to maintain control of your vehicle. Traction control may prevent an accident, especially during wet or icy road conditions. The vehicle’s computer is able to respond quickly to wheel slips, and the system helps keep the car under control.

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