What Does the Electronic Stability Control (ESC) Warning Light Mean?

Electronic Stability Control (ESC) came about as a result of anti-lock brake systems (ABS) in new cars advancing over the years. ABS only activates when you step on the brake pedal, but what about the rest of the time? That’s where electronic stability control steps in. Like the anti-lock braking system, the ESC system monitors the rotational speed of the wheels and other parameters such as steering angle. If the computer detects a loss of steering wheel control or traction, the computer can reduce the engine power and/or engage the brakes to try and retain control of the vehicle.

There are many names for electronic stability control, such as vehicle stability control (VSC) and dynamic stability control (DSC), but they all perform similar functions. Refer to the owner’s manual for specific information on how the electronic stability program works on your vehicle.

What the ESC light means

It is important to understand how your particular control system works because the ESC light on the dash could have multiple meanings. Generally, the light will illuminate when the computer is actively trying to maintain traction control. This light will stay lit only while the vehicle is not under control. If the light stays on constantly, it is likely that a malfunction has been detected or the system has been shut off manually.

Most vehicles with a button to turn on the stability control should also have “off” written underneath the symbol so you will know the difference between a malfunction and the system being off. If a malfunction has been detected, the system will be deactivated temporarily until it is remedied. You will also need to ask a certified technician to scan the car’s computer for codes to help identify the issue.

Is it safe to drive with the ESC light on?

While electronic stability control can help you avoid loss of control of the vehicle, it can’t do everything for you. Try to keep the light off as much as possible. If you are driving in slippery conditions and the light keeps illuminating, slow down so the car is easier to control. Any issues preventing the stability control from operating should be addressed as soon as possible too. There are times when you need to turn the stability control off, but you can leave it on for the most part.

If your vehicle’s stability control isn’t working properly, our certified technicians are always available to assist you in diagnosing any problems.


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