What Does the Electronic Throttle Control Light Mean & How Do You Fix It?

Along with the new technology has come the possibility of more problems and even a slew of other warning lights on our dashboards that correspond to the new issues. One of these newer lights refers to the Electronic Throttle Control (ETC) and this is the focus of today's article.

We will be taking a look at what the ETC means, when it may come on and also how we can perhaps fix the issues that arise. Warning lights we do not recognize can be a source of anxiety so it is always wise to familiarize yourself with the possibilities.

What Does the Electronic Throttle Control (ETC) Light Mean?

As with all warning lights basically the electronic throttle control light illuminates and remains on your dash when there is a problem with this system. This may include issues with your accelerator, wiring, sensors and actuators.

In older cars the throttle was controlled by a cable that ran from the pedals to the throttle body itself. It was a basic and simple setup with few possibilities when it came to breakdowns. The newer cars however do this same job using sensors that report to your car's Electronic Control Module (ECM).

The newer system does allow for more precise fuel to air ratios, better fuel economy and general engine performance. We do pay for this advancement however because there are more parts involved than before so essentially more things can go wrong. When they do we get the ETC warning light.

What Does the ETC Do?

You will likely not be too surprised to learn that the electronic throttle control does in fact monitor and control the throttle. This ensures that everything is working correctly and that if an issue arises we get a warning light to tell us to fix the issue.

As with all warning lights you will see the ETC light every time you turn the car on as part of the start up process but it should turn off like all the others very quickly. When the light stays on you are likely going to want to get your OBD2 scanner and check the trouble codes to discover what the problem might be.

What Are the Likely Problems That Can Cause an ETC Light?

It is good to find out what some of the most common causes are for any warning light that you may encounter. These may not be the only possibilities but if you know what causes the issue most often you can start to illuminate possibilities.

Faulty Throttle Control Sensor

We have made mention of the sensors already and these can often be the problem. In this case we are looking at the throttle control sensor. This sensor tells the ECM how much the throttle has opened allowing it to make adjustments to improve engine performance.

The ECM will have sent the message to open the throttle a certain amount but it does not assume that the part has compiled correctly. This is why the throttle control sensor is needed because it will double check that the throttle has done what it was told.

Essentially if the ECM tells the throttle to open a specific amount but the throttle control sensor reports that it did not do so you will get an ETC warning light. This can indicate problems like a stuck throttle but also may indicate the sensor itself has failed.

Often the sensor is not replaceable so if it does fail you may need a whole new throttle body. You will need to get this done however as without the correct data the ECM can not produce the best possible engine performance.

Accelerator Pedal Position Sensor

In old cars the cable that connected the accelerator pedal to the throttle was a simple and effective way for the throttle to open in response to the position of your pedal. When ETC is involved however we rely on sensors to tell the ECM how hard we are pressing the accelerator pedal.

This job is performed by the accelerator pedal position sensor which sends data about how hard you are pressing the pedal and subsequently how fast you want to go. Upon receiving this data the ECM will open or close the throttle appropriately.

If the sensor does not supply the correct information however then you will not get the correct amount of acceleration. If the ECM realizes there is an issue then it will trigger the ETC light letting you know that the sensor may be at fault.

Stuck Throttle Body

This problem can happen in old or new cars and does not have to be connected to the fancy newer systems. Physically the valve which should open and close has become stuck in position and no matter what you do it will not move.

There are a few reasons that this might happen but the most common by far is carbon build-up. An inspection of the throttle body should easily tell you if the valve is not opening or closing as it should. The problem may be fixed by removing any visible obstructions or using a quality carb cleaner.

If cleaning does not help then the throttle body may be damaged and you would have to replace it completely to get things back to normal.

What Happens if You Don’t Fix the ETC Issue?

As a general rule you should never ignore warning lights in your car because doing so can only make matters worse. The electronic throttle control is no exception. Although initially the result may be a small drop in performance eventually things will get much worse.

The throttle controls the air that enters the engine and if it does not get enough this can cause issues within the cylinders. Poor quality engine running can cause damage over time making a potentially easy fix into something more expensive if not ruinous to the engine itself.

What Does the ETC Light Look Light?

As like many warning lights the ETC is often represented with a symbol. In this case it is a very basic one but unless you know what it means you wouldn’t assume what it was by how it looks. It essentially looks like a lightning bolt contained between backwards parenthesis.


The electronic throttle control (ETC) light comes on when your car's electronic control module assesses there is a problem relating to your throttle. The throttle controls how much air enters the engine so this is an important part.

More complex than the systems used to be, the modern day ETC relies on sensors and actuators to work correctly. If a problem develops it is often related to one of these sensors and may require replacements to remedy.

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