Electronic stability control: everything you need to know


Electronic Stability Control, or ESC, is an automatic system in your car designed to help you stay on course when you steer. Read on to learn more about ESC and how this car safety feature works to prevent accidents by helping your vehicle go in the direction you want it to go.

What is electronic stability control?

Electronic stability control systems use computer-controlled automatic braking of the individual wheels to help the driver maintain control of the car in critical driving situations. ESC helps prevent a car from “spinning” or “dumping” due to loss of traction on the road due to wheel spin.

The technology behind the ESC system is very effective in helping a driver maintain control of the car during difficult maneuvers. ESC does not explicitly prevent a vehicle from overturning. Still, the safety feature helps keep the tires on the pavement, where a car is much less likely to roll over.

ESC is marketed under many different names, including Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Electronic Stability Program (ESP), Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), and several others.

When is the electronic stability control activated?

The electronic stability control system monitors your steering wheel input and helps make sure the car is going where you want it to go. ESC is activated when it detects a probable loss of steering control.

When it recognizes that the car is not going where the driver is heading, the system makes adjustments to correct the car’s path or minimize skidding during emergency avoidance deviations.

ESC also kicks in when drivers in an emergency move the steering wheel too much (called over-correction) in an attempt to control the vehicle. Well-meaning drivers sometimes understeer or oversteer on poorly judged turns. This can happen on slippery roads or during hydroplaning and is one of the leading causes of single vehicle crashes.

How does electronic stability control work?

Electronic stability control works by manipulating both the engine throttle and the brake of each wheel. Similar to other driving aids, ESC activates when you start your car. It works in the background as it monitors steering wheel activity as well as the speed sensors on each wheel.

When the sensors determine that the driver is losing control, the ESC system automatically engages to adjust oversteer and understeer. It applies or relaxes the brakes on each wheel of the car to bring the vehicle back on the intended path. ESC involves traction control systems and adjusts engine power to reduce speed and apply the brakes if the driver gives too much throttle.

These manipulations considerably reduce your risk of being rolled over. They help keep the car on the road, where it is less likely to be “tripped” by something off the roadway and roll over.

  • ESC increases brake pressure on one side of the vehicle to steer it smoothly in that direction. Results vary depending on whether and how much the front or rear brakes are applied.
  • Electronic Stability Control does not automatically apply hard braking or steering.
  • The ESC estimates the direction of the slip. It applies the brakes to the individual wheels asymmetrically to bring the car back in line with the steering commanded by the driver.
  • The ESC system can reduce engine power or operate the transmission to slow the vehicle.

How to use electronic stability control

You don’t have to do anything for your car’s ESC to work. It starts to monitor direction and speed when you start the engine.

ESC activates when it detects whether a driver is at risk of losing control of the car. The system automatically adjusts the individual wheel brakes to help stabilize the vehicle during a momentary loss of control. When your ESC activates and makes adjustments, an indicator light flashes on the dashboard. You may feel slight jerks and jerks when the brakes are applied and the engine power is reduced.

Skids can occur when drivers take turns that are too sharp and too fast. Reduce your speed when driving and make sure you take turns slowly and carefully. Computerized driving aids such as electronic stability control can help in dangerous driving situations. ESC is not a substitute for responsible driving habits on slippery roads.

Common Problems With Electronic Stability Control

Electronic stability control systems generally operate efficiently. However, problems can arise:

  • Problems with your anti-lock braking system, such as worn brake linings and air or dirt in the brake fluid, can affect the operation of the ESC.
  • Tires with poor tread and those that are not in good condition may reduce the performance of the ESC. Read our tire guide to learn more about them.
  • A faulty brake light switch can trigger ESC light. This common problem is easily solved with an inexpensive replacement switch.
  • Steering input while driving high performance may not always indicate the intended direction of travel. In these cases, ESC can intervene when it is undesirable.

Benefits of electronic stability control

ESC systems use steering wheel position sensors to compare the steering wheel position to the vehicle’s actual steering response. If it detects that something is wrong, ESC makes minor adjustments to the brakes or engine torque to help the driver maintain control.

Electronic stability control of an automobile offers many advantages:

  • Against the skidding of the vehicle in slippery conditions
  • Helps provide corrective support in critical driving situations
  • Provides valuable assistance functions for driving safety, comfort and agility
  • Help the driver stay in control of the car in general

Meaning of the electronic stability control indicator light

Electronic stability control of your car is a valuable safety feature. A faulty ESC will stop working until the issues are resolved. A lit ESC warning light on the vehicle’s dashboard can mean several things:

  • Out of control. Electronic Stability Control is active and works to maintain traction and steering, as it senses that the vehicle is not under control.
  • Malfunction. The ESC system is malfunctioning or has been disabled. You should quickly take the car to a qualified mechanic to correct the problem.
  • Slippery conditions. An ESC dashboard light may indicate that the driving conditions are slippery. You should slow down to improve your control.

Things to keep in mind

  • When the ESC light is off, your system is functioning properly.
  • There is a direct correlation between your car’s ESC and its anti-lock braking system (ABS).
  • The ESC system is most effective when the vehicle’s tires are properly inflated.
  • Electronic stability control became mandatory on all passenger vehicles from the 2012 model year.

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