What Does the Esc Light Mean & How Do You Fix It?

In this article we are going to look at one such safety system, the Electronic Stability Control (ESC) system. We are going to look at what it means if we get the ESC warning light on our dash and of course what we can do to fix the issue.

What Does The ESC Light Mean?

You are likely to see the ESC light illuminate and remain on when there is some issue related to the electronic stability control system. This is a system that works in conjunction with your traction control to help you keep control of your vehicle in rough road conditions.

This system is often confused with traction control but they are distinctly different systems. In cars that have ESC the system will incorporate the traction control. If you do not have ESC you may just have traction control which has fewer features than ESC does.

The warning light then is to inform you that either the ESC system is not working and that you no longer have the assistance of this system or it is actively working at that moment. This light will actually illuminate to let you know that it will be making adjustments to help you deal with the slippery road conditions it has detected.

It is hard not to notice if the system is working because you should be able to feel the car actively applying brakes to specific wheels. This is to prevent you accelerating over a patch of ice and losing control of that wheel and possibly the car.

If the light comes on when road conditions are fine then the chances are there is an issue with the system that needs to be looked at.

What Can Cause the ESC Warning Light?

There are a number of potential reasons for the ESC light to come on to indicate a problem, some of which are very simple to fix while others are far more complicated.

The System Is Turned Off

When we get in our cars sometimes we have things with us that we may toss on the passenger seat. Things can get bumped, buttons can get pressed and it is very possible you inadvertently turn off your ESC system.

If you turn off the system it will keep you informed of this by leaving the ESC warning light on. It may look like there is an error but actually you simply turned it off. The thing is manufacturers know their customers sometimes like to try and drive without these extra aids so they give you the option to shut them off.

So before you assume that there is something broken check that the system is not switched off. If you don’t know how that works for your car, look it up in your manual. As silly as it sounds you might simply just need to turn it back on.

Better to spend a few minutes testing to see if it is switched off than go to the mechanic and have them tell you it was just off. Worse still they may even claim something was wrong because not all mechanics are honest.

Wheel Speed Sensors

The ESC system knows there is an issue with slippery roads thanks to the wheel speed sensors located on the tires. These sensors can pick up on the tires spinning and not getting traction. This will send a message to the car's computer which will send out a message to adjust power or braking to the wheel that is slipping.

This happens in less than a blink of an eye and can literally be a life saving adjustment. If the sensors do not function they will not send the necessary information so the ESC can not do its job. Depending on your car you can either have 2 or 4 sensors so make sure these are all working.

Steering Angle Sensor

Another sensor that might be at fault could be the steering angle sensor. Not only does the ESC system need to know the speed of the tires' rotation it also needs to know in what direction the tires are pointing. These are both vital to applying the right braking force to prevent the potential skid.

If the ESC system doesn’t get a report from the steering angle sensor then simply turning will fool it into thinking that the tires on one side of the car are slipping on ice. This is because the outside wheels rotate faster than the inside wheels as we make a turn.

Wiring and Electrical Problems

This is obviously a system that requires electrical power and solid wiring. The problem with cars however is that by their nature they are not easy on wiring so loose connections can develop as can damage to the wires.

Because the wiring needs to carry all the information and messages around the system, if there are any issues anywhere within it then the ESC will not work. It is less likely to be a wiring issue however but it can not be discounted.

You also should make sure that your car's battery is functioning as it should. There is sometimes the possibility that there is just not enough current available to run the ESC system properly.

Is It Safe to Drive Without ESC?

This is a good question because realistically you could consider it an extra driver's aid and potentially not an essential system. Although this is technically true the system has control over the antilocking brake (ABS) system.

When it is working it uses the ABS to perform individual braking on specific wheels. If the system is not working it may still attempt to adjust individual brakes but at the wrong time. This can be extremely dangerous and may result in a crash.

How Do You Fix an ESC Issue?

The first step is of course to make sure you actually have an issue that needs attention. If the light comes on in slippery road conditions and you actively feel an individual brake engage then all is well the system is doing what it is supposed to.

If you have not even driven away yet and the light comes on your first thought should be to check that the system is turned on. It is entirely possible to disengage the system accidentally and a few simple steps may turn the ESC system back on.

If there is clearly an issue then a great diagnostic starting place would be to use an OBD2 scanner tool to check your car's computer for trouble codes. The light coming on will correspond with a trouble code being recorded and you can read these codes with a scanner.

You will need your user's manual to tell you what the codes mean but they should be able to point you toward a sensor issue or wiring problems. You may also see battery issues as well if the cause is power supply related.

Once you know what the issue is you can decide on your next course of action. If you have the skills to replace wiring and sensors then you can do this or you may want to go to a mechanic to get a professional opinion.


The ESC system is a driver's aid that has literally saved lives and will continue to do so. When it is not working correctly this means we do not have the extra support against slippery road conditions and may be at risk of an accident. When you know there is an issue you should look into having this fixed as soon as possible.

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  • "What Does the Esc Light Mean & How Do You Fix It?". Tow Ratings. Accessed on March 25, 2023. http://towratings.net/blog/what-does-the-esc-light-mean-how-do-you-fix-it/.

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