Your car’s traction control system helps you maintain control of the vehicle during slippery road conditions. If the car’s computer senses that one of the wheels is slipping, it can reduce power to the wheel to keep it from spinning. Similarly, the system may work in conjunction with the anti-lock braking system to apply the brakes when needed to prevent a loss of traction. If your vehicle has a problem with the traction control system (TCS), you might see the traction control warning light illuminate. This warning light can appear for a few different reasons. Keep reading as we tell you the most common causes of the light and how to fix them.
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What Is A Traction Control System (TCS)?
So, what is traction control? A traction control system is a component of your vehicle that uses several sensors and a control module to keep your car from losing traction. The detailed functionality of the system is quite complex, but here is how it works at a high level. Each wheel on your car is equipped with a wheel speed sensor. Under normal conditions, each wheel should be moving at the same speed. However, if your car starts to skid or slip, some wheels will be moving faster than others. The traction control module monitors the wheel speed sensors and immediately knows if your vehicle loses traction.
What does traction control do if it senses an issue? Upon the loss of traction, there are a couple of things that might happen. First, the control module might tell the car’s computer to reduce power to the wheels. This should slow down the rate at which the wheels are spinning and help regain traction. Similarly, the module might engage the ABS system to gently apply the brakes to one or more wheels. Braking can help slow the wheels and prevent them from continuing to slip. The specific action taken depends on other driving conditions, like the position of the throttle, whether you are already applying the brakes and other factors. The car’s computer uses all this information to quickly process and decide which action to take.
Why Is Your Service Traction Control Light On?
You might wonder, “What does service traction control mean?” Do not be alarmed if you notice your traction control warning light on your dashboard. There are several reasons the light might come on, and not all of them signal a problem. Thankfully, you can almost always continue to drive even with the light on. However, you should be aware that the traction control system is an important safety feature, so you should be more careful when driving if the light is illuminated. Here are the most common reasons you will see the traction control light.
— Faulty Wheel Speed Sensors
Since your car’s traction control system relies heavily on the speed of each wheel, a faulty wheel speed sensor can present big problems. Inaccurate speed readings or no data at all could cause your traction control system to malfunction. If there is a problem with one of the wheel speed sensors, your car’s computer will typically identify the sensor issue. When this happens, you can expect to see the traction control light illuminated. If you have a Chevrolet, you might see the “Service Stabilitrak” message on your instrument panel.
— Bad ABS Sensor
Not only does the traction control system rely on wheel speed sensors, but ABS sensors are also a crucial part of the system. The anti-lock braking system on your vehicle prevents the wheels from locking up during a hard braking situation. The wheels might also be prone to locking up on icy or wet road conditions, even under normal braking conditions. When this happens, the car can slide, and you can lose control of the vehicle. The ABS sensors tell the computer if a wheel stops spinning, and the traction control system might need to engage to reduce braking power to one or more wheels. Just like with wheel speed sensors, a faulty ABS sensor can also trigger your traction control warning light. In addition, you would probably see your ABS light as well.
— Malfunctioning Traction Control Module
We’ve already mentioned several of the sensors that can cause your traction control light to illuminate, but there is another component that can cause problems as well. The traction control module is the brain of the traction control system. It reads and analyzes data from the various sensors throughout the system. In turn, it passes instructions to the car’s ECU based on the results of the data analysis. All of this happens extremely quickly, and an issue with the control module will usually cause a trouble code in the computer. This code should cause the traction control light to illuminate, and your TCS might not work properly until you have the issue repaired.
How To Repair Your Traction Control System
Before any repairs are performed, you first need to identify the cause of the issue. Sometimes, your traction control light simply means that the system has engaged and is functioning properly. If you feel your tires begin to slip, you might see the traction control light flash briefly and then disappear. The light came on because the system engaged to prevent wheel slip.
However, if the traction control light comes on and won’t go away, then you probably have a problem. You can start by pulling over in a safe place and restarting your vehicle. Shut the car off for a few seconds, and then restart it. If the light goes away, then you probably had a computer software issue that is now fixed. But, if the dashboard light is still shining, it is time to get your vehicle to an auto repair shop.
An automotive repair facility can assist you with proper diagnosing of the issue. They will be able to use a scan tool to read the trouble codes from the vehicle and determine the cause of the problem. Most of the time, a sensor replacement is all that is needed for this car repair. A faulty wheel speed sensor or ABS sensor can be fairly easily replaced by a mechanic. If the traction control module must be replaced, this is a slightly more complex job that will be just a little more expensive.
Finally, make sure that you are extremely careful when driving your car to the dealership or other mechanic. If your stability control system is not functioning properly, you should avoid hard acceleration or other activity that could result in wheel slips. If both your traction control light and your brake warning light are illuminated, you should consider having your car towed to the repair shop, as it might not be safe to drive.
Cost Of Repairing The TCS
So, how much will it cost you to fix the traction control system? The answer depends on the severity of the problem. The most common issue — replacement of a wheel speed sensor – will cost you about $250 to $300 on most vehicles. If you have a high-end car, your bill could be as high as $500. Replacing an ABS sensor will cost you about the same amount.
Replacing the traction control module is a slightly more complex job, but still not extremely expensive. It simply requires removing the module from its connector and replacing it with a new unit. You can expect to pay $300 to $400 for this repair on most vehicles, but again, high-end vehicles will cost you more. Replacing this module in some luxury brands can cost you close to $1,000.
The Bottom Line
Your car’s traction control system sits in the background most of the time monitoring sensors, but when the TCS light comes on, you know that you might have a problem. If you are thinking, “Why is my traction control light on,” you should now know the most common causes. If the system light keeps flashing or the light turns on and won’t go away, you should have a mechanic diagnose the issue. You might have a faulty sensor or a bad control module. These issues should be corrected as soon as possible, and most traction control repairs will cost you less than $500.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I drive with the “Service Traction Control” light on?
Yes, you can still drive your vehicle with the traction control light on. However, you should know that the system might not be functioning properly. Therefore, you should avoid slamming on the gas pedal as you might lose control of the vehicle. If both your traction control light and brake warning light are on, you should probably consider towing the vehicle to a repair shop. You can always refer to your owner’s manual about the meaning and severity of specific lights on your vehicle.
What are the warning signs of traction control failure?
The warning signs of traction control failure could be the traction control light, check engine light, a loss of engine power, or wheel slippage. Unlike regular car maintenance, like oil changes, there is no routine maintenance usually needed on the traction control system. However, maintenance will be needed if you notice any of these symptoms. If your system fails completely, you could lose control of your vehicle in slippery conditions. Go ahead and get your car to a repair shop right away if you notice any of the symptoms mentioned here.
Is there a difference between traction control and Stabilitrak?
No, there is really no difference between traction control and Stabilitrak. General Motors has given the name Stabilitrak to its traction control system. You might also see the system called electronic stability control (ESC) on some types of vehicles. These systems all perform virtually the same function, and they help you maintain control of the vehicle under adverse driving conditions. The lights, such as the Stabilitrak service light or service electronic stability control light, also point to the same problems.