Traction control is a driving safety feature that is used for virtually every vehicle available in the new car market. Chances are that if you own a car, it has traction control and you’ve benefitted from it, possibly without realising how it actually helps.
Here we summarise what traction control does, how to use it and how it compares to stability control.
What does traction control do?
Basically, traction control is an onboard system designed to prevent a car’s tyres from slipping during acceleration. It is typically a secondary function of the car’s electronic stability control (ESC).
Traction control is most likely to come into play when the driver of a car is trying to accelerate on a road which surface has little grip on offer, likely because of the weather conditions, especially if there’s rain, ice or snow involved.
How does traction control work?
Usually, traction control will make use of the same wheel-speed sensors as the antilock braking system. The feature works out the rotational speed of each wheel to determine if any of the wheels receiving power are behaving in a way that suggests it does not have enough grip to match the power being delivered without slipping.
If a car does not have traction control, then the way drivers would get around this would be to gently feather the throttle so that they can still build up speed without losing grip. When traction control figures out that a wheel is long grip during acceleration, it will automatically pump the brake attached to that wheel, reducing the car’s speed but also how much it slips.
Traction control therefore gives a driver better control of their car and makes it much less likely for a driver to oversteer while negotiating a corner or lose the back end while building up speed.
When to use traction control
Traction control is a common safety feature on new cars and it is usually active automatically every time you drive a car with it. It will step in and assist when a situation occurs which it can help in.
Any car regardless of its powertrain set-up can benefit from traction control, but it is cars which send a lot of power to just the rear wheels which can end up spinning their wheels the most without it.
How to turn off traction control
Many cars on the market will give the driver the ability to turn off traction control if they know how. Normally the way to do it is to press and hold a certain button to disable the traction control.
If you don’t know where it is already, the location of the button to turn off traction control (and how to use it properly) should be mentioned somewhere within your vehicle owner’s manual. This same switch should be able to turn on traction control as well when you want this safety aid to reactivate.
Traction control vs stability control
Some motorists incorrectly believe that traction control is either the same as electronic stability control or you can only have one or the other. In truth, while traction control and stability control are separate systems they are both brake-based and usually exist together in one vehicle.
Traction control focuses on the job of keeping your wheels from spinning, but electronic stability control is like an evolved version of traction control. Stability control focuses on keeping the car pointing in the same direction the driver intends to point towards. While the car is being steered, ESC can control the braking to multiple wheels, and even the power to the engine, in order to keep the car going in the direction planned.
Since ESC does more tasks (all of which are critical), that explains why traction control is often nowadays considered a secondary function next to the car’s stability control.