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When Should I Turn Off My Car's Traction Control System? Or Should I?

CarPart  ·  March 13, 2023

When Should I Turn Off My Car's Traction Control System? Or Should I?

Late-model vehicles come jampacked with new features aimed at increasing overall safety. The traction control system, or TCS, is a perfect example. But should you always keep it on? Or are there times when turning it off is best?

The traction control system in a car works by reducing or disabling power to a wheel that’s about to slip. Simultaneously, it can also apply the brakes to help the wheel regain traction. However, it’s best to disable the system if your vehicle is stuck or you're driving up a long, wet hill. 

As you read this guide, you'll gain a deeper understanding of the traction control system, how it works, and how it differs from other systems. Then, you'll learn when it'll be best to turn the system off.

What Is the Difference Between Traction Control and ABS?

Modern cars have plenty of onboard systems to maximise their safety. In fact, there are so many of them that it's easy to get confused trying to figure out which system does what.

So, let’s start this guide by understanding the traction control system and how it works. Then, we can explore how it differs from other systems like the ABS.

As the name suggests, the traction control system (TCS) takes care of a vehicle’s traction or grip on the road. It is designed to detect traction loss in tyres when one or more are not gripping the road as they should.

Traction loss is dangerous, to say the least. If it happens to several tyres simultaneously, your vehicle could slip on the road and get into a horrible accident.

When the traction control system senses that condition, it intervenes by automatically doing one or two things. It applies the brake to the affected tyre or reduces the power that the engine sends to it.

Doing so minimises or eliminates slipping in the affected tyre and helps keep your vehicle safe on the road.

The traction control system (TCS) is often confused with two other systems, namely the anti-lock braking system (ABS) and the electronic stability control (ESC).

The ABS also prevents slipping but does so when you apply the brakes. For example, suddenly applying the brakes in your car can cause the vehicle to slip if the wheels lock up entirely. 

The ABS prevents that by pulsating (i.e. rapidly reducing and increasing) the brakes, ensuring that an optimal level of braking is applied to the ground. That way, your car will slow down without the wheels locking up or the car slipping. That's significantly different from how the traction control system (TCS) works.

Meanwhile, the electronic stability control (ESC) also prevents a car from sliding out of control, but it only activates when it senses you’re losing control of your vehicle.

The ESC uses several sensors, including yaw rate, lateral acceleration, angle, and wheel speed sensors, to determine if you’re still in control of your car. 

The ESC knows you’re losing control of the vehicle when the car’s turning angle doesn’t match how you turn the steering wheel. So, it helps by automatically applying brakes to one or more of your wheels. As a result, the system helps to bring the car back under your control.

You can think of the traction control system, anti-lock brake system, and electronic stability control system as having the same general purpose. That is to ensure you always have control of your car, whether you have a Volvo traction control system or that of any other brand.

Having said that, remember too that each system functions differently and only under specific conditions.

What Is the Purpose of Turning Off the Traction Control System? 

All drivers must understand that their vehicle’s traction control system (TCS) can be disabled. But should you ever turn it off?

Yes, there are times when turning off the TCS will be a better and safer idea for you and your car.

Two driving conditions warrant turning off your car’s TCS, which are:

1. Vehicle Gets Stuck

The first and most crucial time to turn off your traction control system (TCS) is when your car gets stuck and one or more wheels spin. For example, the vehicle might get stuck in the sand or snow, or in such a way that one wheel is not touching the ground.

In those conditions, the TCS will interpret the spinning wheel as a loss of traction. The system will then react by cutting power and applying the brake for that wheel.

That will make it much more challenging for you to get your car unstuck. So, turning off the TCS is the best option.

2. Driving Up a Long, Slippery Hill

The TCS can also be a problem when you're driving on a long and slippery hill. As in the previous example, your tyres might slip, causing the system to cut power to the affected wheel.

Remember that driving up a long, wet hill requires momentum, so getting stuck due to the TCS preventing your wheels from turning can be problematic, if not dangerous.

Disabling the traction control system (TCS) is advisable in this situation.

Does Traction Control Use More Fuel?

No, enabling your traction control system (TCS) does not cause your car to use more fuel. In other words, turning it off won’t save you gas.

If you’re concerned about the money you’re spending at the servo, there are more effective ways to save fuel.

Bottom Line: Should I Turn Off My Car’s Traction Control System?

Keep the TCS in a car turned on by default, as it can save your vehicle from dangerous situations. However, you should also learn when it’s best to turn it off. That way, you can disable it quickly when the TCS works against you, like when the car is stuck or going up a long, wet hill.

Got a problem with your car’s traction control system? Find the nearest automotive professional to help you troubleshoot it—use CarpartAU’s Directory! It is a useful tool for locating workshops and other businesses in your area!


By Ray Hasbollah

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