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What Is Electronic Stability Control & What Happens When It Fails?

Educational  ·  February 27, 2023

What Is Electronic Stability Control & What Happens When It Fails?

Late-model vehicles come with all the bells and whistles as auto manufacturers compete for sales. While some features might just be hype, others are potential lifesavers. The electronic stability control (ESC) is a perfect example. Learn more about it in this guide.

The ESC system uses sensors to detect a mismatch between the driver’s input (e.g. at the steering wheel) and the car’s precise position (e.g. if understeering or oversteering). In these situations, it uses various methods to help the driver regain control, like applying brakes or decreasing engine output.

Whether you’re in the market for a new car or have one with ESC, you’ll want to read through this guide. You’ll learn what ESC is and how it works, and more importantly, you’ll learn what happens when the system fails.

What Is Electronic Stability Control?

Were you trying to figure out the meaning of ESC or electronic stability control meaning?

You can learn much about what ESC does for a car just by looking at the name. It refers to a system that helps you control your vehicle and its stability on the road.

When you take a tight corner or swerve to avoid dangers on the road, that’s when the ESC system kicks in and does its job. I bet you thank your lucky stars or your driving prowess and not your car’s ESC whenever you make those sudden manoeuvres in dangerous situations.

Like many other car systems these days, the functioning of the ESC begins with several sensors responsible for gathering data. The sensors compare the driver’s input (e.g. how they turn the steering wheel or apply the brakes) to the car’s actual position and where it’s moving.

That allows the ESC to determine whether the car is manoeuvring safely and correctly. If the system deems it necessary, it’ll kick in to help the driver regain control and stabilise the vehicle.

The electronic stability control (ESC) system is closely related to the anti-lock braking system (ABS) and traction control system (TCS). They work together to help the car escape dangerous situations by applying individual brake callipers and adjusting engine output.

By overriding the driver’s input and doing these things, the electronic stability control system helps to correct dangerous conditions like understeering and oversteering.

As a result, the ESC stabilises the vehicle so the driver can regain and maintain control, bringing the car to safety.

The cost of electronic stability control and other safety features on cars typically adds to the vehicle's price tag. So, if you're wondering why your dream car is pricier than others, the presence of the ESC might be a reason.

What Happens When Electronic Stability Control Fails?

Like all other systems in your car, the electronic stability control can become faulty or fail altogether. But that’s not a reason to panic, so don’t worry too much. Your car can still drive normally despite the ESC not functioning correctly.

Still, you’ll want to know what happens when electronic stability control fails. Here are the signs you need to look out for:

1. Indicators, Warnings, or Fault Codes

Firstly, the electronic stability control will let you know if it's failing or malfunctioning. Cars with that system will typically have an indicator on the instrument panel. The light will turn on or blink to let you know the system is faulty.

Besides that, you might also notice other warnings pointing to a problem with the ESC. Of course, these warnings depend on your car’s model and design.

Lastly, when using the onboard diagnostics system, you’ll discover active fault codes. The codes will help you pinpoint the problem related to the ESC.

2. Traction Loss

Remember: The electronic stability control system is designed to help the driver regain and maintain control of their vehicle in dangerous situations, particularly those involving loss of traction.

So, if the ESC isn’t working, and you find yourself in an oversteering, understeering, or similar condition, the system won’t help you regain control.

In other words, you’ll experience traction loss when manoeuvring your vehicle dangerously, with no help forthcoming from the ESC.

3. Problematic Brakes

As you saw earlier, the ESC is closely related to your car’s anti-lock braking system (ABS). Because of that, a problem with the ESC can also spill over to the ABS, causing your vehicle to experience braking problems.

You might notice this as an ABS warning, even though the ESC is the root cause. Similar to the malfunctioning ESC, your brakes will work normally. However, you might need more assistance when braking in an emergency, and your brakes might lock up.

4. Loss of Control

In more severe cases, a failure in your ESC will cause you to lose control of your vehicle entirely. That might happen when you oversteer or understeer around corners or try to avoid colliding with a hazard on the road.

The danger of that happening is even greater when driving in bad weather or if you're tailgating the vehicle in front of you.

If you make sudden movements with your car, a failing ESC won't help you regain control.

Is It Safe to Drive with a Failing Electronic Stability Control (ESC)?

With caution, yes, you may continue driving your car even if you suspect a failing electronic stability control (ESC) system. Remember the time when cars didn’t have ESC’s? Some cars still don’t, and that doesn’t stop them from running on the road.

However, going for too long without fixing the ESC is not advisable. You can think of the ESC as a backup or insurance for your car. It doesn’t do anything when you’re driving normally, but you wish your car has it when your vehicle is in a dangerous situation.

When that happens, an ESC can save your life.

So, if something tells you that your ESC is failing, you must take it to your workshop immediately. Solving it sooner rather than later will help keep you and other road users safe.

Need some help checking your car’s electronic stability control (ESC) system but don’t know where to go? Check out the Directory at CarpartAU. It’s got easy-to-use menus that help you locate nearby automotive businesses and then narrow down the ones that can help you with your problem.


By Ray Hasbollah

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