Skip the auto shop - Our mechanics make house calls
  1. Home
  2. Articles
  3. How Does Traction Control Work?

How Does Traction Control Work?

Tire traction

It’s raining as you drive on a darkened highway late at night, but you never worry about safety – your car has traction control. While you know the term, you may not understand what it really means or how it works.

When traction control was introduced in its early stages, it was much different than today's complex computer-operated systems. Vehicles on the road today utilize multiple electrical solenoids and sensors to monitor wheel speed, transmission output, and other variables that control application of engine power to individual wheels and suspension systems. The goal is to reduce the potential of tire spin and increase poor weather driving stability to reduce the likelihood of sliding or spinning in your car. While the aim of any traction control system is the same, each automotive manufacturer today has a unique approach to designing this feature to suit their vehicles' performance.

Let's explore a few of the common tractions control systems and how they work to keep your vehicle stable.

How Traction Control Operates

Traction control has been around for many years and is seen in most vehicles on the road today. An early version of the system found on rear-wheel drive vehicles is called a limited-slip rear differential. This mechanical device works to allocate power to whichever rear wheel has more traction in a given situation, reducing wheelspin. Limited-slip differentials are still used in performance-oriented cars today.

Modern vehicles feature electronic traction control, which relied on the use of sensors embedded into the ABS system. These wheel speed sensors monitor the speed of the wheels and determine if one or more have lost traction. If the sensors recognize that one wheel is turning faster than any of the others, it momentarily reduces power to that wheel.

Some systems use the brake connected to the slipping wheel to slow it down. This is generally enough to slow the vehicle down and allow the driver to regain control. Other systems take the process one step further by reducing the engine power sent to the slipping wheel. This is typically controlled by a combination of sensors, including wheel sensors, transmission speed sensors, and even differential and gear sensors for rear wheel vehicles. You often feel the gas pedal pulsating or hear unusual engine sounds when traction control engages.

Traction Control as Part of the ABS System

Traction control works with the ABS system, but serves a different purpose. While the ABS system kicks in when you’re trying to stop your vehicle, traction control engages when you try to accelerate. Imagine you’ve stopped at a stop sign on a wet or snowy road. It’s your turn to go and you push down on the gas pedal. Your tires start to spin because they don’t have enough traction on the slippery pavement. Traction control begins working to slow down the speed of the tires so they get enough grip on the pavement to propel you forward. Your wheels stop spinning and your car begins to move forward. This is traction control in action.

What type of vehicle you own will determine the specific set-up for your traction control system. Although many car owners might be tempted to turn this system off to intentionally spin their tires or try a "drift," it is highly recommended to leave the system engaged at all times. In some instances, when it is disabled, it can cause additional wear and tear of other components and lead to potentially expensive repairs. What's more, drivers who aren't experienced in handling a skidding vehicle risk getting in a crash. The repairs associated with turning off traction control can be very expensive, so be careful when considering the use and deactivation of traction control.

The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details
Icon-warranty_badge-02

Skip the repair shop, our top-rated mechanics come to you.

At your home or office

Choose from 600+ repair, maintenance & diagnostic services. Our top-rated mechanics bring all parts & tools to your location.

Fair & transparent pricing

See labor & parts costs upfront, so you can book with confidence.

12-month, 12,000-mile warranty

Our services are backed by a 12-month, 12,000-mile warranty for your peace of mind.

Get A Quote

Need Help With Your Car?

Our certified mobile mechanics make house calls in over 2,000 U.S. cities. Fast, free online quotes for your car repair.

GET A QUOTE

More related articles

The Traveler’s Guide to Driving in Malaysia
CraigBurrows / Shutterstock.com Malaysia is a popular destination for many tourists today. The country has amazing sights and attractions that you will want to explore....
How to Avoid Back Pain in a Car
If you have back problems, sitting in a car for an extended period of time can be excruciating. Even without back problems, you could experience discomfort and soreness from...
P2159 OBD-II Trouble Code: Vehicle Speed Sensor B Range/Performance
Diagnostic Trouble Code (DTC): P2159 P2159 code definition Vehicle Speed Sensor B Range/Performance...


Related questions

Q: What indicates that the AdvanceTrac® with Roll Stability Control™ is active?

While you shouldn’t notice much when the AdvanceTrac® with Roll Stability Control™ activates, you may feel some sensations depending on what the system is doing and what the driving conditions are. Here’s what you should know: During Self-Check The traction...

Q: Check engine light, ABS light on

Hello, thanks for writing in. If the check engine light is coming on and going off then usually it is not too serious. Most of the time this is caused by a sensor that is not reading quite right. The...

Q: Vibration and noise experienced at the front left wheel.

Hi there. The vibration could be the wheel hub assembly worn or the CV Shaft moving around. The wheel is attached to a wheel hub assembly which is attached to the steering suspension on the car, so the wheel will...