What are you supposed to do when the ABS and/or traction control light comes on? This is one of the more confusing dashboard lights because it often turns off shortly after turning on. For instance, maybe you hit a patch of snow or ice and slid momentarily. In this case, there isn’t anything to worry about. But sometimes, the ABS and traction control light can be more serious. Let’s take a look at those times, and note what should be done to keep your vehicle running smoothly.
Beginning in 2012, personal vehicles (not necessarily commercial ones) have been built with some form of traction control. Antilock brakes are one of the more common forms, particularly for pre-2012 vehicles, and birthed the term ‘ABS.’ When your ABS light comes on, it is referring to the antilock braking system in the vehicle.
Traction control doesn’t always refer to ABS, however. This can also be a control platform for driving, wheel-speed sensors, and sometimes wires and sensors relating to traction.
It is important to remember that your traction control system monitors the entire vehicle, not just one part. So, if the left tires go through a pothole but the right ones don’t the system will pick up on that. If there is ice on part of the road and only the right tires slide on it during a left-hand turn, it will notice that as well. Things like this can cause the light to turn on.
When there is a legitimate problem with the traction control system, the light will come on and won’t just turn off after a few seconds. Typically when this happens, it signifies that the traction control system is off and isn’t functioning as it should. This won’t affect your braking or steering in normal circumstances, but could cause problems in adverse conditions.
Here’s an example – your alignment is bad because of an icy situation that caused you to jerk the car. The turning of the wheels is therefore not entirely consistent. The ABS or traction control system will apply to the wheels that aren’t getting the right amount of pressure. In short, if something is impeding the system, the light is going to come on and will remain on until the problem is fixed and the light is reset. Don’t ignore it, the light is trying to tell you something.
If you live in a place where the roads are salted in winter or that has a particularly dirty climate, grime may get onto the traction control system and prevent it from working the way it is supposed to. This can cause the light to go on and remain on. The system is being prevented from doing its job by the grime, and you’ll need to either clean it yourself or take it into a shop.
It is recommended to use an OBD scanner to figure out exactly what is going on and if there are any other issues. If you do think that grime is the main cause, clean it! Take your car to a carwash or stop by a parts store and ask for advice.
ABS issues. If anything is wrong with your ABS system, the engine light will come on. If the ABS is kicking in, the light will also illuminate. For many vehicles, this is the most common reason for the light coming on. Problems can stem from the need to refill your ABS fluid reservoir with fluid.
Low brake fluid. Another of the fluid-related problems that can trigger the light is low brake fluid. Because traction control monitors braking so closely, anything that seems off with the braking system may trigger the light. Not sure if the fluid level is low? Pay close attention to your braking. If it seems off, it may be time to refill the fluid.
Dysfunctional wheel speed sensors. Another issue monitored closely by the traction control system is wheel speed. The light will come on if the sensors monitoring this aren’t working properly. This will likely happen relatively quickly, as the system will notice that the wheel speed isn’t being reported.
Not to be offensive here, but it is important that you check to make sure that the ABS and traction control system is turned on. Obviously, if this isn’t the case, you’re not going to get the benefits of the system. The light may illuminate here simply as a warning to the driver that the traction control system is being shunned.
When it comes to OBD readings and dashboard lights, there are many worse things that can happen to you than the ABS and traction control lights coming on. But it is still important that you take action when it happens to prevent further issues down the line. Typically, someone working at a parts store or mechanic shop can easily tell you what is going on and what needs to be done about it. If you have the best obd2 scanner on your home, you also find the code.
As far as driving when the light is on, that is typically safe for short distances and in decent weather. In winter, it may be more of a problem. Same if you are going on a road trip or plan to drive frequently before getting the issue looked at.
In general, get the issue taken care of quickly and it shouldn’t be too much of a nightmare.
We all know how annoying it is when those pesky lights come on. But hopefully this article helped to shed some light on the situation. In many cases, this is an issue that can be self-diagnosed. Use your gut instincts and determine if you just hid a skid in the road or if it seems like there is an actual issue at hand.
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