9 Causes of a Traction Control Light Coming On When Accelerating

Few things are as alarming as when a warning light appears in your dash as you accelerate. And in this case, it turns out to be the traction control light.

Like an overbearing parent, it restricts your vehicle’s fun while providing little explanation for its harsh judgement. Typically harmless, it could signal something serious. Let’s look at some of the most common reasons the traction control light comes on while you’re accelerating.

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.

traction control light on

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.

Related: What is Ford AdvanceTrac?

Top 9 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. Below are the most common causes of a traction control light coming on when you are accelerating.

See Also: What Does “Check VSA System” Mean?

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) Low Tire Pressure

best tire manufacturers in the world

Driving with tires that are underinflated reduces their traction and contact with the road surface, which can activate the traction control system and cause the warning light to come on when accelerating.

Low tire pressure allows more tire flex and distortion as you press down on the gas pedal. This excessive flexing triggers the vehicle’s computer to detect a loss of traction. The traction control kicks in to try to prevent tire slippage, while simultaneously turning on the traction control warning light on the dashboard.

Continuing to drive on significantly underinflated tires can be dangerous due to the loss of vehicle control and can also lead to overheating and blowouts. It causes uneven and accelerated tire wear as well. This degrades handling and traction capabilities even after refilling them to the proper inflation levels.

5) 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.

6) 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.

7) 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. 

8) Bad Wheel Bearing

Faulty wheel bearings can also trigger the traction control light to activate when pressing down on the gas pedal. Wheel bearings allow the wheels to spin smoothly and quietly. But over time with wear, they can become loose or damaged. This degradation eventually causes noticeable vibration, noise, and handling issues.

When accelerating with compromised wheel bearings, vibration through the chassis increases significantly. This throws off the wheel speed sensors that constantly relay rotational inputs to the vehicle computer. The abnormal signals from the failing bearings trick the computer into thinking wheel traction is lost, prompting traction control engagement.

9) 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. Psst… it may also allow you to do a burnout, even in an automatic.

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.

Diagnosing the Root Cause

Your traction control light came on, but how do you determine the culprit? With some basic diagnostic tests, you may be able to get clues and narrow down the problem before taking your car in to the repair shop.

1) Inspect the Tires

best tire pressure gauge

Start by visually inspecting all four tires carefully. Look for significant tread wear or uneven wear patterns. Feel for any cuts, gouges, or bulges in the sidewalls. Then use a reliable tire pressure gauge to check if all tires meet the automaker’s inflation specifications (usually listed in the driver side door jamb).

Driving on under-inflated, damaged, or excessively worn tires is a very common reason for traction control activation.

2) Listen

Listen for any abnormal noises coming from the wheel wells as your accelerate gently in a clear area. Growling and loud humming may indicate a stuck or damaged wheel bearing. Also feel for any vibrations coming through the steering wheel or seats at various speeds.

Vibration felt mainly at high speeds can point to out of balance wheels or bad wheel bearings.

3) Scan for Trouble Codes

OBD2 scanner

Finally, use an OBD2 scanner connected to the diagnostic port underneath the dash to check for any stored codes.

While the check engine light may not directly correlate to the traction control issue, stored codes can reveal transmission, engine misfire, or ABS wheel sensor faults that are contributing to activation of the traction control system while driving.

When to Get Professional Help

While some traction control light issues can be simple fixes, the illuminated warning light shouldn’t be ignored, especially when it occurs alongside other dashboard warning symbols or changes in vehicle performance.

It’s a good idea to seek professional service in these situations:

  • The traction control light comes on simultaneously with the Check Engine light or other warning lights like ABS, temperature, or oil pressure. This indicates multiple sensor faults are detected and likely a complex electrical/mechanical issue.
  • You notice burning smells coming from the wheels, white smoke from the hood, or overheating engine temperatures when the traction control activates. These signs point to severe friction and components wearing prematurely.
  • Loss of acceleration power occurs and the vehicle feels sluggish or weak whenever pressing the gas pedal. The traction control system may be reducing engine throttle despite no visible wheel slippage.
  • You recently had body work done like lifting the vehicle or replacing transmission components which may impact computer guidance of traction control responses.
  • You observe leaking brake fluid or damaged hydraulic brake lines which interconnect with the traction control system.

85 thoughts on “9 Causes of a Traction Control Light Coming On When Accelerating”

    • Can you describe what you mean by “grabs”? Is it rubbing against the fender or fender liner?

      Is your front right wheel the inside or outside tire in that instance?

  1. Hello Sean, I drive a Jeep Commander 2006 AWD, V8, 4.7L. Recently I had a bad hub and after the change I have started to see my traction control blink when I accelerate up to 20mph and then the engine power reduces to slow the car down, more like a crawling car at this point. Could it be the hub? The speed sensor never gave any issue with the bad hub.

  2. Thanks Sean I will check. Funny it never happens around town but the minute I go on an hour trip it lights up half hour into the ride on the interstate going 70 MPH. Thanks again.
    Maybe I should just stay around town !

  3. I have a 2011 Chevy 4WD Silverado. The Service Traction Control and Stabletrac Light does not come on for weeks when I drive around town. It only comes on after I get on the Interstate Hwy and do 70 MPH for a half hour and that is when it always comes on. When I turn the truck off and restart the light goes off. It only comes on when I am doing that 70 MPH for about half an hour. Any tyhoughts?

    • I don’t know. You can check the factory service manual to see what situations will trigger that light, and use that to kick off your diagnosis. I’ve used this to help me track down problems before. Sometimes the manual will point to a set of sensors that are reading irregular values, and this could be caused by a bad sensor, bad wiring, or a bad ground.

  4. Vehicle is on dry pavement nothing to do with acceleration or rough roads. Light came on along with engine light diagnostic reading of crankshaft. Of which engine was replaced so has its own crankshaft. And light remains on in vehicle both engine and the VSC. could it have to do with sensors, resetting , wiring issues? puzzled n frustrating. concerned

  5. I have a 2004 2WD AT RAV4. Recently when I drive a familiar winding mountain road with dry pavement, my Trac light momentarily comes on, I hear a buzzer and sense a slight jerk (from a wheel brake maybe?).

    Extenuating circumstances might be my driving off road on rough hilly roads. Could that abuse cause a sensor to be damaged somehow making the Trac system more sensitive and the light now come on when it never did before?

    • I have the exact same vehicle, 2004 2WD RAV4. I have the exact same set off circumstances, windy road with a grade that causes the traction control light to go on and cause a slight jerk. I however was not driving off road. It’s a problem I had only started seeing about a year ago. I can’t say this will fix your problem, but I got my tires rotated and was told that they have uneven wear possibly due to mis-aligment. I had the steering, stability, and alignment checked and it was the alignment that was off. All 4 tires were off on the Toe. Since that has been corrected I have not had the “jerk” or even seen the light turn on under the same windy hilly road conditions.

  6. I have a 2015 chevy impala i had went about 2 or 3 weeks without driving. When I did decide to dive it after about 20 miles dash board indicated that back passenger tire need air. So I aired it up and moved along to my destination. A couple of hours later I get back on highway and after 15 to 20 miles or so dashboard now indicates that both driver side tires need air. Had no place to get any so I go home. The next day dashboard still give same exact indication and I go air the tires. Indication goes away. However after only a mile or 2 the tc light comes on. What does this mean? Help

    • Are all four tires now set to the correct tire pressure values (according to the driver’s side door jamb sticker)? Start there, then recalibrate the TPMS sensors. Monitor tire pressures for a while to make sure no tires are slowly losing air.

      When the weather gets colder, tire pressures drop and this is a common cause of TPMS lights in the fall and winter.

  7. I have a 2016 fod ranger when I start it up traction control light comes on and dose not change gear turn it of and start it up and everything I fine drive ok what can this be

  8. I have a 2013 Nissan Roque SV AWD. Just replaced the front driver side cv axle and wheel hub bearing and ABS sensor. Everything was fine until I drove for about 10 miles. Then the AWD, ABS, and Traction lights all came on. I pulled into a parking lot and shut the the car off. Waited about 15 mins started it up and no lights. Drove the rest of the way home with no problems nor lights. Exact same thing happened the next day. Any ideas of the cause?

    • What prompted you to replace the CV axle, hub, and ABS sensor in the first place?

      Sounds like it might be an electrical issue, assuming the installation is correct.

  9. I have Chevrolet Orlando 2011 Diesel Auto . Have Slippery car road sign on for a week and the T/C light is off. No issues driving, Steering is smooth. Slippery car sign come on every time I put the keys in and stays on. What could be the cause. Mechanic says could be steering angle sensor, but as chevy’s are not sold anymore in UK, hard to find a part (25849366) here. want to be sure not to waste time. ?

    Also not sure it its relevant, had Engine light come on 3 weeks ago, but that was gone as soon as mechanic identified the problem and cleaned the EGR valve. and then no lights for a week , until the above problem a week ago. so could be unrelated,

    • Your mechanic’s assessment seems accurate. The “slippery car road sign” is the stability control light, which requires both the wheel speed sensors and the steering angle sensor to work correctly. Can you find the part online?

      This is likely unrelated to the check engine light that was just fixed. Sounds like you have a good mechanic.

      • can’t find any new part in UK, have found a used part (25849366) from a breaker yard of vauxhall insignia(matching part number). but one of its clips is broken, so will have to try it out, but the new one doesn’t seem to be easy to get in UK, I saw a new part but its in US , so my mechanic will try the used part, if the warning light goes then we will order the new part from USA, unless i find another one in UK

  10. I drives a 2009 Nissan Maxima the traction control comes on after a slight jerk and the car cuts off. I then shut the engine down and restart car sometimes problem be solved with driving but the light is still on after getting car park. the next day car is driving no light but after a few miles problem starts again

  11. Slipped on ice and car skidded on to the side of highway. The skid light came on in M37 infinity and after coming on I couldn’t accelerate and speed began to decrease along with jerking. It jerked until I parked it

  12. Got a 08 dodge Grand Caravan.Was changing the sway bar bushing and broke one of the bolts.Got one bolt bacsk in and ran a ratchet strap around it for now until i can gert the bolt put or weld the bushing bracket down.Had 215 65 16s in the back and 225s in the front.I sswapped hem ,215s are in the front now.The tractioncontrol light comes on and the van feels like its stalling

  13. any help
    on a trip this past weekend, got the messages service stabilitrac, abs light on. complete loss of steering , none at all. is there anyone else that has had this happen ?

  14. I have a 2016 Lexus and the Slip indicator/traction control light started coming on. It seems my tires spin and it takes time to get to speed and also there is a smell of gas too. I feel like I’m driving in ice and there is none and the smell is horrible if I try and go fast. Any ideas. The slip indicator light isn’t constant.

    • I’m not really sure. Could the tires be old and hard? You should probably bring it to a mechanic so he can see it in person and help you figure out what’s wrong.

  15. No hauling was involved I turned off the engine waited about 5min started the truck up then it worked my question again what causes this?

    • I’m not sure. Perhaps something interfered with the wheel speed sensor so the ECM couldn’t get an accurate reading? Some vehicles have a traction control button you can press that will disable the traction control until you restart the vehicle or press the button again.

      Your owner’s manual may have more information on why the light came on.

  16. Very useful info. I too have a problem with my Vauxhall Astra SRI 1.7 DTI (2OO7). While driving the traction skid mark light together with spanner light comes on together. At the same time the vehicle switches into limp mode. On switching off and then restarting the engine the lights go off and the vehicle drives normally. What could be the problem? Please help.

  17. I driving a 2010 Tacoma, V6 with the towing package. The Check Engine light has come on along with the Traction Control Light. Diagnostics suggest replacing the VVT solenoids and possibly the Traction Control Relay. I’ve replaced the VVT solenoids and have the TC relay, but cannot find any documentation to located the relay for replacement. I’ve looked in both the engine compartment Fuse Block as well as the inside compartment Fuse Block without success. Any ideas of where to look?

  18. I replaced the clockspring on my qashqai as the airbag light was on constantly, sorted that problem out but now my abs & traction lights both come on & stay on. Is it a faulty clockspring or something ive done or not done

  19. I have a 2007 yukon XL Denali when driving over mountain roads the traction light comes on. Then the transmission sounds like it’s not shifting any answers for this?

  20. I have a 2013 Chev. Sonic and driving home the traction light came on and the car started shaking and with very little pick up and go. I’m having it towed tomorrow to shop…any ideas what it might be?

  21. I have a 2013 Ford Flex the advance traction control light keep turning on when turning right all the time it has a recall for the rear suspension toe link Can that be the problem

  22. 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

    • 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.

      • Hi Sean
        I Have 2015 Holden ( Chevrolet) Colorado in perfect condition, just have traction control ( stability control ) flash sometimes when I go left or right or do a turn. Got it scan by mechanic no fault. Any idea what it could be or it’s normal ? Car is 2″ lifted.

        I have also replaced old tyres to new all 4 same size and wheel alignment and still same thing and no fault at scan.

  23. 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?

  24. 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

  25. 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?

  26. 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?

  27. 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

    • 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.

    • 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

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

  28. 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?

    • 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).

    • 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.

      • I have a 2014 Nissan Sentra and the traction light comes on and it drives very slow what do I need to do?

    • This problem happened to me I was driving down the road and my traction light came off and my vehicle completely shut off and never started back up could you tell me what’s the problem

      • I am having the same exact issue with my 2013 Nissan Sentra traction light comes on check engine light comes on and does not accelerate over 45 without my RPMs skyrocketing

    • Anybody know why my traction control randomly comes on when going to accelerate at a stop sign, red light, etc? Doesn’t allow it to speed up like normal for about 5-7 secs, then it does. On a 2004 Cadillac Escalade Sport


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