Electronic Stability Control and ESC Failure

ESC prevents accidents and cuts insurance rates

If you've been driving for any length of time, you probably know what it feels like to lose control of your vehicle. Whether you've been in an accident or bad weather led to a momentary skid, nobody enjoys that sinking feeling that sets in as thousands of pounds of metal suddenly careen out of control.

Systems like traction control and anti-lock brakes help you maintain control during acceleration and braking, but electronic stability control (ESC) is designed to prevent you from losing control in other circumstances.

Two-car accident showing damage

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What's the Point of Electronic Stability Control?

ESC is supposed to keep a vehicle moving in the direction that the driver wants to go.

Like anti-lock brakes and traction control, electronic stability control is an added safety measure. These systems won't protect you from careless driving, but they help keep you on the road under adverse conditions.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), electronic stability control reduces the risk of multi-car, single-car, and rollover accidents. The reduction in fatal single-vehicle rollovers is the most dramatic, and drivers with ESC are 75 percent more likely to survive those accidents than drivers who don't have ESC.

How Does Electronic Stability Control Work?

Electronic stability control systems consist of sensors that compare a driver's input with the way a vehicle is moving. If an ESC system determines that a vehicle is not responding correctly to the steering input, it can take corrective measures.

The ESC can activate individual brake calipers to correct oversteer or understeer, modulate the engine output, and take other actions to help the driver retain control.

What Happens When Electronic Stability Control Fails?

Since electronic stability control is an extension of the anti-lock braking system (ABS) and traction control system (TCS), it's typically safe to drive a vehicle that has an ESC malfunction. Electronic stability control systems can activate brake calipers and modulate the engine power, but malfunctioning systems usually fail to operate at all.

If you notice the DSP, ESP, or ESC light come on, it's a good idea to have it checked out by a qualified mechanic. However, you should be able to continue driving the vehicle as if it didn't have stability control.

If you continue to drive the vehicle, be especially careful on wet pavement and sharp corners. If your vehicle starts to oversteer or understeer, you'll have to back off and make the corrections on your own.

What Vehicles Are Equipped With ESC?

Electronic stability control is a relatively new innovation, and it isn't available on all vehicles.

For a vehicle to have ESC, it must also have ABS and TCS. Traction control and stability control systems are built on anti-lock brake systems, and all three technologies use the same wheel sensors.

All the major automakers offer some type of ESC. These systems can be found on cars, trucks, SUVs, and motorhomes. However, some manufacturers offer the option only on specific models.

Search by a vehicle's year and make to see whether it offers ESC as a standard or optional feature.

  • How do you know if you have electronic stability control?

    If your vehicle comes with ESC you should see an indicator for it on the dashboard. There might also be a switch for temporarily disabling the feature. Also, consult your owner's manual to see if ESC is included with your vehicle.

  • Why would you ever turn off the electronic stability control in your car?

    Some people believe turning ESC off gives them more control of the vehicle and greater speed. Turning off ESC can be handy if you have a high-performance car and you race on a track. For the vast majority of people, however, there's no reason to disable electronic stability control. Doing so could increase your chances of an accident.

  • What other name is used to describe an electronic stability control system?

    Electronic stability control is also sometimes called an electronic stability program (ESP) or dynamic stability control (DSC).

  • What was the first consumer vehicle to have electronic stability control?

    The Mercedes-Benz S 600 Coupe was the first to come with electronic stability control in 1995. Toyota released its vehicle stability control (VSC) system the same year in its Crown Majesta model.

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