Behind the Traction Control Light: Meaning, Causes, & Fixes

Tim Miller
Traction Control Light


If the light flashes, it indicates the traction control system is active. If the light stays on, there is a malfunction in the traction control system.

Traction Control Light


  • Faulty Wheel Speed Sensor
  • Different Tire Types and Sizes
  • Electrical or Wiring Issues



Easy to fix


What Is Traction Control System?

The traction control system is designed to prevent wheels from spinning during acceleration. This commonly occurs on slippery surfaces like snow or wet roads, where the wheels are not able to generate enough traction to move the vehicle forward. 

Traction control systems use wheel speed sensors to monitor the rotational speed of the wheels. When detecting any slip between the tire and the road, the system slows the wheel by applying the brake or reducing the torque to that wheel until it is able to generate the required amount of friction for the vehicle to move.

What Does the Traction Control Light Mean?

The traction control light is also called the swerving car light. Its meaning varies depending on its state:

  • The light illuminates briefly when the engine is started. This is considered normal as a self-check in the system.
  • If the light flashes, it indicates the traction control system is active.
  • If the light stays on, there is a malfunction in the traction control system. Thus, the system has been disabled.

Note: Most car manufacturers use the same light symbol for the traction control (TC) system and electronic stability control (ESC) system. Both systems are designed to enhance the stability and safety of the vehicle. While the TC comes into play when accelerating on slippery surfaces like snow or wet roads, the ESC assists drivers in navigating difficult steering maneuvers, such as cornering or sudden lane changes.

What about the traction control OFF light?

The traction control OFF light comes on when the traction control system has been turned off by pressing the TC/ESC button. If the TC system is off, wheel spin is not limited. Adjust driving accordingly.

Can You Drive With the Traction Control Light?

Yes. As I mentioned above, when the traction control light flashes while accelerating, it indicates that the system is active. You might hear buzzing or clicking sounds from the system, which is normal. In such a situation, you should ease up on the accelerator and apply as little throttle as possible.

In case the traction control light stays on, the system malfunctions. While you can still drive, it’s important to take caution, especially in slippery road conditions. And remember to have the TC system inspected and repaired promptly.

For a diagnosis of the cause behind the traction control light, consider using a scan tool. The tool can access the onboard computer system, retrieve error codes, and provide invaluable insights into the issue. Investing in one will help ensure accurate troubleshooting and timely repairs.

Why Is the Traction Control Light On?

The traction control light may illuminate for various reasons. While system activation is a common and normal occurrence, it’s important to pay attention to potential underlying causes. Here are some factors to consider: 

Faulty Wheel Speed Sensor 

The traction control system uses wheel speed sensors to monitor the rotational speed of each wheel. If a sensor becomes damaged, dirty, or malfunctions, it can disrupt the system’s operation and cause the traction control light to illuminate.

Additionally, the ABS also uses the same wheel speed sensors. While the ABS focuses on maintaining traction and stability while braking, traction control prioritizes preventing wheel spin during acceleration. Hence,  if there are any issues with the wheel speed sensors, you might see the traction control and ABS light appearing at the same time.

Different Tire Types and Sizes 

Different tire types and sizes lead to variations in rotational speed between the tires. The traction control system interprets these variations as potential wheel slip or loss of traction. Consequently, it may activate the traction control system, which triggers the illumination of the traction control light on the dashboard. 

Electrical or Wiring Issues

Faulty wiring or loose connections between the traction control components, such as the sensors or control module, can disrupt the communication and operation of the system. This can lead to the traction control light staying illuminated.

How to Reset the Traction Control Light

Step 1: Check tire types and sizes

Make sure to use the same size and type of tire and the air pressures as specified.

Step 2: Inspect for loose or damaged connections

Ensure that all electrical connections related to the traction control system are secure and free from corrosion. Loose or damaged connections can disrupt the system’s operation.

Step 3: Use an OBD2 scanner to read the trouble codes

When the check control system detects a malfunction, the information about the malfunctioning part is stored in a diagnostic trouble code (DTC). That’s why we need an OBD2 scan tool to read the codes. They may give you a better idea of what has failed in the system if you want to perform the repairs at home. 

  • Turn off the engine.
  • Connect the scanner to the OBD2 port. Most scanners have a cable that plugs into the port, while others may be wireless.
  • Turn on the ignition.
  • Follow the scanner instructions.
  • Select the “Read Codes” function on the scanner.

Next, figure out what the codes mean by using the DTC Lookup Library on the scanner or going to the OBD2 Codes Lookup.

Step 4: Repair malfunctioning parts

If you are unsure how to do it, ask a qualified mechanic for help.

Step 5: Reset the traction control light

Once the underlying issue is addressed, it’s time to reset the light by using the scanner to clear the trouble codes.

  • Select the “Clear codes” function on the scanner.
  • Restart your car and drive for 50-100 miles. The light then automatically goes off.

How to Turn the Traction Control System Off/ On

The traction control is an active safety system, but it may be necessary to turn the TCS off in some cases:

  • When your car gets stuck in mud, dirt, or snow, the system may reduce power from the engine to the wheels. Turning the system off may make it easier for you to rock the vehicle to free it.
  • When using tire chains, disabling the system allows the tire chains to have full contact with the road surface without interference from the system. 

So, how to turn the system off/on:

  • Locate the traction control button and press it until the traction control OFF light appears.
  • Press this button again to turn the system back on.

What’s Next?

Overall, the traction control light plays a vital role in promoting road safety and should never be disregarded.

Feel free to share your experiences or any specific situations with the traction control light in the comment section below.

Learn more:

Why Is My ESC Light On? 3 Causes & Fixes

Complete Guide to Auto LSD

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Information sourced from the owner's manual.