ESP and Traction control: We explain how these critical car safety technologies work

Safety has become an essential aspect while buying a new car. Manufacturers now understand this, and they are offering many safety equipment as standard nowadays. One of the critical safety features of some of the new vehicles is traction control and Electronic Stability Program or ESP. Because both of these safety features are a bit expensive, only the higher variants are equipped with them. Both of these technologies are designed to prevent your car from skidding, and they can be a difference between life and death. So, let’s understand what they are and how they work:-

What is traction control?

Traction control comes into the picture when the car loses its traction or ability to grip the surface. It usually happens in heavy rains or snow where the cars are more prone to skidding. Traction control can work in numerous ways. It can use an ABS sensor, engine, or an active differential to reduce the speed of the wheel that has lost traction. It senses that the driver is giving too much throttle input that the tyres have started to lose the grip, and then it takes various steps to gain back traction.

Traction control takes the help of the speed sensors that are also used by the ABS. If it detects that one wheel is spinning at a much faster rate than the other, the system applies the brake, which reduces the speed and restores the traction.

Traction control can take the help of an active differential by channeling the power to the outer wheel while turning to ensure the car does not veer off its desired path.

Traction control also works by cutting off the engine power or shutting down cylinders of the engine, which suddenly reduces the torque output significantly, causing the tyre to lose the power.

What is stability control?

You can think of stability control as the big daddy of traction control. Stability control helps in regaining the control over a skidding car. The stability control uses a variety of sensors, including the speed sensor from the ABS to take a picture of the car going towards its “intended path.” If the car’s actual path does not meet its intended path, then the stability controls come into the play. For instance, the steering input is on the full lock or the steering angle is sharp and still, the car is going in a forward direction; this means that the vehicle is understeering and the stability control will intervene and correct it. Whereas the traction control can only limit the power and restore traction, the stability control can manipulate the handling of a car.

The stability control does so by redirecting power, cutting the power, or by applying the brakes. All of this helps in restoring control of the car. Some manufacturers even let you turn-off the ESC. But this is mostly done on high-performance cars and it should only be done while driving on a race tracks rather than busy everyday roads. Turning the ESC off helps professional drivers to continue a drift or a power slide, wherein normal conditions the stability control would have intervened and corrected the course of the car. Some of the manufacturers also introduced “Sports” mode for the stability control, which allows the driver to let a little slip before stability control kicks back in.

Many manufacturers use stability control with different names. Some call it Dynamic Stability Control, Vehicle Stability Assist, Vehicle Dynamic Control, or Vehicle Stability Control. But what’s important is that they are using them, which increases the sense of security for us as consumers. It is in our best interest to never turn off the traction control as well as the stability control because they are meant to save our lives if the car gets out of control.