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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 while steering. Read on to learn about ESC and how this automotive 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 individual wheels to help the driver maintain control of the car in critical driving situations. ESC helps prevent a car from “rolling” or “running away” due to loss of road traction due to wheel spin.

The technology behind the ESC system is highly effective in assisting the driver in maintaining control of the car during hard steering maneuvers. ESC does not explicitly prevent a vehicle from overturning. However, the safety feature helps keep the tires on the pavement, where a car is much less likely to overturn.

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

When is electronic stability control activated?

The electronic stability control system monitors input from the steering wheel and helps ensure the car goes where you want it. ESC activates when it detects a probable loss of steering control.

When it detects that the car is not going where the driver is steering, the system makes adjustments to correct the car’s trajectory or minimize slippage during emergency evasive turns.

ESC also comes into play when drivers in an emergency move the steering wheel too much (known as over-correction) in an attempt to control the vehicle. Well-meaning drivers sometimes understeer or oversteer during poorly-judged corners. This can happen on slippery roads or during aquaplaning and is a leading cause of single-vehicle accidents.

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, the ESC turns on when the car is started. It works in the background while monitoring the steering wheel activity along with the speed sensors on each wheel.

When the sensors determine that the driver is losing control, the ESC system automatically activates to adjust for oversteer and understeer. Apply or release the brakes on each wheel of the car to get the vehicle back on track. ESC engages traction control systems and adjusts engine power to reduce speed and apply brakes if the driver gives too much throttle.

These manipulations significantly reduce the risk of being in a rollover. They help keep the car on the road, where it is less likely to be “tripped” by something off the track and capsize.

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

How to operate the electronic stability control

You don’t have to do anything to get your car’s ESC to work. Start monitoring steering and speed when starting the engine.

ESC activates when it detects if a driver could lose 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, a warning light flashes on the dashboard. You may feel slight jolts and jolts as the brakes are applied and the engine power is reduced.

Spin-outs can occur when drivers alternate too abruptly and quickly. Reduce your speed while 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 does not replace responsible driving habits on slippery roads.

Common problems with electronic stability control

Electronic stability control systems generally work effectively. However, problems can arise:

  • Problems with your anti-lock braking systemsuch 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 can degrade the performance of the ESC. Read our tire guide to find out more.
  • A faulty brake light switch can activate ESC light. This common problem is easily solved with an inexpensive replacement switch.
  • Steering input when driving with high performance may not always indicate the intended direction of travel. In these cases, the ESC can intervene when it is unwanted.

Advantages of Electronic Stability Control

ESC systems use steering wheel position sensors to compare the steering wheel position with the actual steering response of the vehicle. If it detects something wrong, the ESC makes small changes to the brakes or engine torque to help the driver stay in control.

Electronic stability control in a car offers many advantages:

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

What does the electronic stability control light mean?

Your car’s electronic stability control is a valuable safety feature. A malfunctioning ESC will stop working until any problems are resolved. An illuminated ESC light on your vehicle’s dashboard can mean one of several things:

  • Out of control. Electronic Stability Control is active and operational to maintain traction and direction because it senses that the vehicle is out of control.
  • Malfunction. The ESC system has failed or has been disabled. You should promptly take the car to a qualified mechanic to correct the problem.
  • Slippery conditions. A light on the ESC dashboard can indicate that driving conditions are slippery. You should slow down to improve your control.

Things to keep in mind

  • When the ESC light is off, the 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 has become mandatory on all passenger cars from model year 2012.

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