Traction control: The what, the why and the how.

Your car’s wheels keep you safe as you drive.

Modern cars are vastly different from the automobiles of old. They are equipped with an array of incredible features designed to keep you safe. Traction control is a system designed to maintain grip between your car’s tyres and the road.

What is a traction control system?

A traction control system (TCS) forms part of the active safety features of your car, and can be a standalone feature or form a part of the electronic stability control (ESC) system. It is a standard requirement on most modern cars and ensures grip by preventing too much spin on the wheels. The system is generally always active but, in certain circumstances, it can be turned off.

How does TCS work?

Cars with a TCS system have sensors for each wheel. These are called yaw sensors and they monitor the wheels in relation to the speed your car is traveling at. If they detect that the wheel is spinning faster than the car is going – in other words, slipping or losing traction – the system will correct this.

Traction control minimises slippage in two ways. In the first instance, when the sensor picks up too much speed on the wheel, it sends a signal to the electronic control unit (ECU) and cuts power from the engine to the wheel. This slows it down and allows it to regain some traction.

The second way is by braking, which is why you’ll often see the anti-lock braking system (ABS) light illuminate when your car is slipping and TCS kicks in. In this instance, the ECU engages the brakes to slow the spin on the affected wheel, allowing it to get its grip back. When this happens, the car may jerk a little – this is normal and signifies that the system is doing what it’s supposed to.

When do you use traction control?

Traction control systems are usually engaged by default, and for good reason. Most drivers don’t get much warning when they lose grip – whether on a patch of sand or a wet road. You simply can’t pre-empt the slip. This is when the system kicks in, without you even realising it. And if you can switch it off, know that it’s best to keep it running at all times, especially if you live in a place where rainy weather is common.

Traction control is only ever switched off in controlled situations by those experienced in dealing with slides. An example of this is when you’re on a racing track. Bottom line? Disengage the system only if you know what you’re doing – it’s there to protect you, so let it do its job.

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