Electronic Stability Control (How it Works and Common Problems)

(Updated on January 10, 2022)

Computers and electronics are taking over all new vehicles these days. The Electronic Stability Control (ESC) system is one piece of innovative technology which gives vehicles extra stability and traction, especially on rougher roads. Depending on the vehicle, it may also be referred to as Electronic Stability Program (ESP), Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), or simply traction control.

This technology works in conjunction with the vehicle’s engine control unit. Whenever the car begins to lose traction on the road, the sensors in the wheels will provide this information to the computer. This will cause the computer to automatically activate a wheel brake to stop the vehicle from swerving out of the lane or road. If you oversteer or understeer, you can expect this to happen then too.

What Electronic Stability Control Monitors

To understand the functions more clearly, here are the top 4 functions of the electronic stability control system.

Senses Wheel Speed – Like previously mentioned, the system can determine the speed of all your wheels. Once this information is relayed to the computer, it will be able to calculate the amount of braking power that it will take to slow down the wheels.

Positions the Steering Wheel – There is a sensor in your vehicle that tracks your steering so that it knows which direction you want to go. But if the vehicle goes in a different direction than where you’re trying to steer, the electronic stability control system will apply the brake to the wheels. Then you can reposition your steering appropriately.

Avoid Fishtailing – The rear wheels of some vehicles might lose traction before their front wheels do. This is known as fishtailing and it is one of the main reasons that drivers oversteer. You will likely experience this problem on the road under bad weather conditions. Fortunately, the electronic stability control system can detect when fishtailing might happen. Then it will apply the brakes to avoid it.

Turn Stability – Vehicles have a lateral acceleration sensor that can track how fast you’re turning your vehicle. If there is too much steering or not enough steering, the sensor will be able to tell. From there, the electronic stability control system will fix the problem.

Symptoms of an Electronic Stability Control Malfunction

If you have a bad electronic stability control system, it will make driving straight extremely difficult. This is a problem that you cannot push aside and wait to fix it. Otherwise, you could be putting yourself and other people on the road in danger.

Below are the top 4 symptoms of bad electronic stability control technology. If you notice any of these symptoms, then get it fixed immediately.

Warning Light – If there is a problem with your electronic stability control system, a warning light will illuminate on your dashboard to let you know it. You may also receive some troubleshooting codes if your car gives them to you. Either way, this warning light is an indication that you have a problem with this system.

See Also: What Does “Service AdvanceTrac” Mean in a Ford?

Bad Traction – The electronic stability control system is supposed to keep the vehicle stable on the road. Obviously, if there is a problem with this system then it will affect the stability of your vehicle. This means the traction will be bad, causing you to swerve out of your lane on the road.

Brake Issues – The anti-lock braking system is connected to the electronic stability control system. This means that when the latter goes bad, it will also cause problems with your braking as well. Your brakes will still work, but you’ll need to step harder on the brake pedal to slow down the vehicle.

Read also: Cruise Control Working Principle, the Advantages, and Disadvantages

No Power Control – There are some model cars which give drivers the ability to turn the electronic stability control system on and off. This may come in handy if your vehicle gets stuck somewhere and you need to spin the wheel to get out of there. But if you have a faulty system, then you won’t be able to control when it turns on and off.

7 thoughts on “Electronic Stability Control (How it Works and Common Problems)”

  1. I have a 2008 Toyota Prius, I have replaced the ABS Control Module, relays, new tires, speed sensors, caliper’s, rotors, brake pads, replaced both batteries. Car was running til the Stability control light flashed on and off and wouldn’t allow the vehicle to accelerate over 40mph. I have watched youtube tricks all day and I havent been able to figure it out………Any Ideas?

  2. New battery right amount of volts , bad brake rotor ? Seals on ecm an esc connections on GM products with cheaper locks

  3. My traction control light came on and now my car isn’t shifting as it should. What should I do. The only things coming on the computer box is power steering and traction control off.

    • Sounds like you may be in limp mode. It would be best if you could take the vehicle to nearby shop to have it looked at. It’s hard to know what’s wrong just from that description alone.

  4. My F-150 is pre-2009, so no ESC and no AWD (on-road 4×4). I am considering buying a 2014 for the last steel body, bigger gas tank and the AWD. So if I have ESC and AWD, and the computer fails…I loose control and crash or what?

    • You’re in control of the truck. A loss of ESC shouldn’t cause you to crash.

      If you’re not confident in your driving skill, I would look around for some high performance or defensive driving courses with professional instruction in your area.


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