7 Causes of a Traction Control Light Coming On When Accelerating

Most modern vehicles have a traction control system (TCS) in them. Traction control limits wheel slip when torque is applied on acceleration.

What is Traction Control?

Traction control uses wheel speed sensors to detect when one driven wheel is spinning faster than the other wheels. In this condition, the ABS activates on the slipping wheel to slow its speed. Once the slipping wheel slows down, it is able to grip the road again and the brake on that corner of the vehicle is released.

Sometimes, the ECU will also reduce engine torque in addition to using the ABS system to apply the brakes.

Many vehicles also have a stability control system. Stability control leverages the use of ABS in a similar way. This system works to keep the vehicle pointed in the direction you want to go, even if the road is slippery and you start sliding. These two systems work together, so a malfunction in one will likely affect the other.

A rolling tire has more grip than a sliding tire. If the front tires are sliding, your ability to steer will be hindered. In extreme cases, you may not even be able to steer at all! In this case, your vehicle will follow the direction you were headed before you started to slide.

When one or more tires lose lose grip and start spinning, the traction control system will detect this problem and then act accordingly to correct the issue.

The traction control light (or TCS light) often flashes at the very moment wheel slip is detected and the system kicks in to correct the problem. This flashing is no cause for concern, but you should take note of the occurrence and drive a bit more carefully. 

If there is a problem with the traction control system that hinders its ability to work effectively, the traction control light will remain illuminated indefinitely.

Top 7 Reasons the Traction Control Light is On

If the traction control light does come on, it will usually do so while you’re accelerating. Do not panic when this happens because you need to focus on stabilizing the steering wheel as best as possible.

The traction control system is not going to assist you like it did before, so you need to be extra careful here. The best thing to do is slow down and drive to the nearest mechanic to resolve the issue.

Below are the top 5 causes of a traction control light coming on when you are accelerating.

1) Bad Wheel Speed Sensors

bad speed sensor

Wheel speed sensors are connected to your traction control system and engine control unit. These sensors are responsible for detecting the speed in which your wheels are rotating. Each wheel has its own sensor.

If the rotation speed of any wheel changes unexpectedly or unusually as you’re accelerating, the wheel speed sensors will detect the change and notify the traction control system.

But if the wheel speed sensors are not working, the traction control system will not be notified. Then your vehicle will lose traction, causing the traction control light to come on.

A bad wheel speed sensor may also trigger your ABS or brake light to come on.

2) Bad Steering Angle Sensor

steering wheel off center

The steering angle sensor calculates the angle of the steering wheel and the rate in which it is being turned. The sensor is positioned in the steering column so that it can track the angle and rate precisely.

This sensor is typically used by the stability control system to detect the direction the driver intends to go. If the sensor goes bad, you can expect the traction control light to come on.

You may notice stability control issues with a bad clock spring

3) Bad Road Conditions

driving in the snow

If the road conditions are too severe, your traction control system may not be able to handle it. For instance, if you live in a location with a lot of snow and ice on the ground, then the roads are going to be difficult to maintain traction on.

If the traction gets to be too difficult, then your traction control light may illuminate on the dashboard. There isn’t much you can do other than getting your vehicle to a better area with safer roads.

Consider buying winter tires if you don’t have them installed already. Winter tires are much better suited for slick road conditions than your standard all season tire. If you have the space, you can buy a second set of wheels and swap them over whenever you need to. 

4) Bad Steering Rack

rack and pinion leak

The steering rack is attached to your steering wheel and is an important part of the power steering system. It receives the high-pressure hydraulic fluid that is necessary for making it easy to turn the steering wheel.

Part of having good traction is having smooth steering that is easy to control. So, if you have a bad steering rack, it will be harder to steer your vehicle on a rough road. This will cause your traction control light to possibly come on.

5) Programming Issues

bad ecu

There may be a circumstance where the traction control system must be reprogrammed because it is having issues with its current programming. Sometimes these programming errors can happen as time goes on. Other times they are a result of a manufacturer defect or oversight. 

If the traction control system ever has this problem, the traction control light will come on. Only a certified mechanic who specializes in your make and model vehicle will be able to fix the programming issues.

6) Limp Mode

how to bypass limp mode

When a vehicle enters limp mode, the dashboard usually lights up like a Christmas tree. One of these lights will likely be the traction control light.

Limp mode keeps the powertrain safe while still allowing the driver to “limp” his vehicle to a mechanic for a repair. This prevents the driver from being stranded and needing a tow. 

7) Manual Override

traction control override

Many vehicles have a button you can press to disable the traction control or stability control systems. You may wish to disable traction control if you are stuck in deep snow or mud. In some cases, a little wheel slip may actually help free you.

Sports cars come with the ability to disable traction and stability control systems to give the driver more control over the vehicle’s handling dynamics.

Even if you disable traction control manually, it will likely turn itself back on when you restart the vehicle.

Every traction and stability control system is different. Likewise, so is the procedure to disable them. Consult your owner’s manual for your specific vehicle’s procedure.

Can You Drive With the Traction Control Light On?

If the only light illuminated on the dash is the traction control light, chances are it’s fairly safe to drive. If it’s wet or slippery outside, you’ll want to take extra care when accelerating or taking turns.

In these conditions, the vehicle may behave unpredictably. If you’re not used to the way a sliding car feels, it can be a very scary experience.

Remember, a rolling tire has more grip than a slipping tire. Accelerate, steer, and brake smoothly so you don’t upset the balance of the vehicle. Look as far down the road as you can, and look in the direction you want to go. Remember to maintain a safe following distance.

20 thoughts on “7 Causes of a Traction Control Light Coming On When Accelerating”

    • My 2002 honda odyssey started a vibration and then the check engine light came on 2 mins later then my tcs light came on do you know what it can be ? I need help and i don’t know where to take my car cause i don’t want to be told its this and then its something else i just dont want to lose so much money anyone can help please i will truly appericate it thanks.

      Reply
    • Could be a bad wheel speed sensor. I’d get it scanned for any fault codes. Check your tire pressures as well, especially if the TC light is only coming on when you first start driving (when tire temps/pressures are the lowest).

      Reply
  1. I’m having the same problem with my car it’s a 2002 Acura and it’s idling high, engine light came on and TCS light on,Have u heard anything about what the problem would be?

    Reply
  2. My Traction control light comes on when I’m sitting still on a 2011 Chevy Malibu can you tell me what could be the problem had the car service and I’m still having the problem

    Reply
    • Could be a faulty wheel speed sensor, TCS/ABS computer, or wiring. Get the car scanned for any trouble codes to help pinpoint the issue.

      Reply
    • My Trac Assist light keeps coming on in my 2014 Ford fusion and my car is hard to steer after that. What does that mean

      Reply
      • See Kevin’s response above. I’d get it checked out at a shop if you are not comfortable troubleshooting the issue.

  3. Which of these issues can cause the car when making a left turn on good dry road to feel like the breaks are lockin up on the passenger side?

    Reply
  4. I Have a 2005 Toyota Siena, when driving at 35 or 60 mph, the traction light comes on.
    I take it to the Dealer, they balance and rotate the tires, but having same problems. You refer to the wheel, or you referring to the rim or the tires?

    Reply
  5. I have Ford Galaxy 2lt diesel, 2013 . My traction light turn on and engine went off. I was able to start it again after few minutes and drive to machanic he said that injectors are faulty . Need to replace all four of them , he charge big money now my car is not starting without easy start once stops after ten minutes again cat start, Air Bubbles are coming in feul pipe. Cant figure out where it is coming from. Mechanics is not accepting that Injectors are faulty , Any advice before I take him to court

    Reply
  6. My sienna 2013 was toed without turnning off TRAC/VSC system. When toed, engine was not stopped. After that, VSC warning on, But I cannot reset maintennance warning, additionally, TRAC/VSC system button doesn’t work either. What can I do?

    Reply
  7. Just bought 4 new tires for my 2010 Dodge Charger as well had an alignment. Since then my traction light comes on when I accelerate. When I let off it goes away. Any idea what could be causing the issue

    Reply
    • Are the tires the same size? If not, it could be messing with the traction control system.

      If the new tires are slipping for some reason that would also cause the light to go off when you accelerate.

      Reply

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