Electronic Stability Control (ESC) - What does this warning light mean?

Article by Christian A., on August 2, 2018

In the front cabin of a car, there lie a number of instruments and gauges. Likewise, warning lights are found, and each of them pertains to a certain system or function. One of the warning lights is for the Electronic Stability Control (ESC). Without knowing what the ESC is for and why its warning lights go off, the driver may worry or, worse, freak out.

Most modern cars are usually laden with a number of driver assistance systems that help keep the ride safe, comfortable and reassuring. One of these systems is the Electronic Stability Control (ESC), which is designed to make a vehicle stable by detecting and reducing skidding. ESC is known by many names.

It is called as ESC by Hyundai, Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Jeep, Renault, Chrysler, Citroen and Peugeot; Electronic Stabilization Program (ESP) by Audi and Volkswagen; and Electronic Stability Program (ESP) by Dodge and Skoda. BMW, Ford, Mazda, Jaguar and Land Rover call the system as Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) while Toyota and Suzuki named it as Vehicle Stability Control (VSC). Other names include Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC), Dynamic Stability and Traction Control (DSTC), Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) and Vehicle Stability Control (VSC).

Regardless of the name, ESC – as what we call it here – employs intelligent sensors that can detect any loss of control like skidding. Once skidding is detected, ESC will automatically apply the brake to the relevant wheel (outer front wheel for oversteer, or the inner rear wheel for understeer). This makes the car more stable, helping the driver bring the car back on track. Essentially, ESC makes use of both the Anti-lock Braking System and Traction control to do its job.

So when the ESC light illuminates, this means that the system is activated. But course, it entails more than just, as something is making the light goes off. When the car is not under control, like it is losing traction or skidding, the ESC light turns on. This means that the system is currently and actively trying to do its work – to maintain control.

When the car is experiencing or is about to suffer from oversteering or understeering, the ESC light may turn on to stabilize the vehicle. Moreover, when the driver suddenly makes evasive maneuvers, the ESC warning light may also illuminate. Furthermore, when the car is travelling on slippery roads and is prone to skidding, the ESC light may go off as the system tries to improve the vehicle’s traction.

Nonetheless, of the ESC light remains on, it is possible that the system has detected some malfunction.

While ESC can help the driver retain control of the car, it still has its limitation. Generally, it is still safe to drive when the ESC light is on, but the driver should take some precautions like slowing down on the road. But if the ESC light persists even when there is really no need to, it could be malfunctioning and the driver might need to contact a mechanic.

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