Traction Control System
Anyone who has seen a race where cars with big horsepower engines compete is likely to have seen some serious tire spinning and lots of smoke coming from the tires when a car is taking off from a stop or pushing down the gas after coming out of a tight corner. If you try that with a modern car, it is likely that you won't be able to do it unless the car comes either without, or with a toggle for, a traction control system. The traction control system is a very important safety feature that rates up there with antilock brakes. A vehicle with a traction control system is safer to drive, especially on slippery roads.
Traction control systems piggyback on the antilock braking system, commonly abbreviated as ABS. The traction control system uses the same sensors your ABS does to monitor wheel speeds. The computer system that manages the traction control system in a vehicle uses wheel speed to find out when one wheel is spinning faster than others. When the system identifies a wheel that is spinning too fast, under acceleration, it will instruct the braking system to slow the wheel down. This helps prevent a wheel from losing traction and creating a loss of vehicle control.
If a wheel begins spinning too fast, it can lose traction on the road surface. If you have ever seen an amateur drag race and then viewed one that is done by professional drivers, you may be familiar with the difference between vehicle performance with and without good tire traction. Not only does a tire spinning too fast lose acceleration potential, but it also can cause sliding. Commonly seen in amateur drag races, a driver will get excited and give the vehicle too much gas when coming off the starting line, causing the tires to start spinning at a rate that causes a loss of traction. This leaves them almost sitting in place and can cause the tail of the vehicle to sway from side to side. If they recognize the problem, they let off on the gas until the tires slow to a speed where they can gain enough traction to stop spinning and regain vehicle stability. In a normal on-the-road vehicle, a traction control system helps prevent this problem. Racers in controlled environments can afford to have a little too much power go to their wheels, but on a normal street it can be a big problem with potentially deadly results.
The traction control system in your vehicle isn't just for keeping your lead foot from spinning your tires when you accelerate. The traction control system also helps if you enter a skid that you are accelerating through or encounter a slippery surface that could cause a tire to spin too fast and whip your front or rear end to one side. Steady and even acceleration is just as important as the steady and even braking provided by the ABS system in your vehicle. Slipping tires, either through acceleration or braking can result in loss of vehicle control.
Traction control systems can encounter problems and malfunctions, just like any other system within your vehicle. Because it uses the same wheel sensors that the ABS in your vehicle does, you can quickly isolate a problem by looking to see if your ABS is also experiencing a problem. There are many problems that can occur with either system, and a professional should be consulted, but you can typically get an idea of the general area a problem lies in by determining if both your traction control system and ABS have a problem. When both of these systems have a problem, one of the most common causes is a broken or dirty wheel speed sensor.
Because of the safety concerns with your traction control system, it is advisable to have a certified automotive technician diagnose and service any problems that you don't have extreme confidence in being able to fix yourself. You should be able to find any part related to your ABS or traction control system in an online store but, because of the complexity and safety importance of these systems, you should consult with someone who is highly trained and qualified before purchasing a part for either system.