Why Is My ABS Or Traction Control Light On? What Should You Do?

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abs and traction control light on

What are you supposed to do when the ABS and/or traction control light comes on? This is one of the more confusing dashboard lights because it often turns off shortly after turning on. For instance, maybe you hit a patch of snow or ice and slid momentarily. In this case, there isn’t anything to worry about. But sometimes, the ABS and traction control light can be more serious. Let’s take a look at those times, and note what should be done to keep your vehicle running smoothly.

abs and traction control light on

abs and traction control light on

What is the ABS and traction control light systems?

Beginning in 2012, personal vehicles (not necessarily commercial ones) have been built with some form of traction control. Antilock brakes are one of the more common forms, particularly for pre-2012 vehicles, and birthed the term ‘ABS.’ When your ABS light comes on, it is referring to the antilock braking system in the vehicle.

Traction control doesn’t always refer to ABS, however. This can also be a control platform for driving, wheel-speed sensors, and sometimes wires and sensors relating to traction.

It is important to remember that your traction control system monitors the entire vehicle, not just one part. So, if the left tires go through a pothole but the right ones don’t the system will pick up on that. If there is ice on part of the road and only the right tires slide on it during a left-hand turn, it will notice that as well. Things like this can cause the light to turn on.

When there is a legitimate problem with the traction control system, the light will come on and won’t just turn off after a few seconds. Typically when this happens, it signifies that the traction control system is off and isn’t functioning as it should. This won’t affect your braking or steering in normal circumstances, but could cause problems in adverse conditions.

 

What causes the light to stay on?

Here’s an example – your alignment is bad because of an icy situation that caused you to jerk the car. The turning of the wheels is therefore not entirely consistent. The ABS or traction control system will apply to the wheels that aren’t getting the right amount of pressure. In short, if something is impeding the system, the light is going to come on and will remain on until the problem is fixed and the light is reset. Don’t ignore it, the light is trying to tell you something.

If you live in a place where the roads are salted in winter or that has a particularly dirty climate, grime may get onto the traction control system and prevent it from working the way it is supposed to. This can cause the light to go on and remain on. The system is being prevented from doing its job by the grime, and you’ll need to either clean it yourself or take it into a shop.

It is recommended to use an OBD scanner to figure out exactly what is going on and if there are any other issues. If you do think that grime is the main cause, clean it! Take your car to a carwash or stop by a parts store and ask for advice.

Main reasons that cause the light to come on

ABS issues. If anything is wrong with your ABS system, the engine light will come on. If the ABS is kicking in, the light will also illuminate. For many vehicles, this is the most common reason for the light coming on. Problems can stem from the need to refill your ABS fluid reservoir with fluid.

Low brake fluid. Another of the fluid-related problems that can trigger the light is low brake fluid. Because traction control monitors braking so closely, anything that seems off with the braking system may trigger the light. Not sure if the fluid level is low? Pay close attention to your braking. If it seems off, it may be time to refill the fluid.

Dysfunctional wheel speed sensors. Another issue monitored closely by the traction control system is wheel speed. The light will come on if the sensors monitoring this aren’t working properly. This will likely happen relatively quickly, as the system will notice that the wheel speed isn’t being reported.

Not to be offensive here, but it is important that you check to make sure that the ABS and traction control system is turned on. Obviously, if this isn’t the case, you’re not going to get the benefits of the system. The light may illuminate here simply as a warning to the driver that the traction control system is being shunned.

Can I drive with the ABS and traction control light on?

car-disc-brake

Car Disc Brake

When it comes to OBD readings and dashboard lights, there are many worse things that can happen to you than the ABS and traction control lights coming on. But it is still important that you take action when it happens to prevent further issues down the line. Typically, someone working at a parts store or mechanic shop can easily tell you what is going on and what needs to be done about it. If you have the best obd2 scanner on your home, you also find the code.

As far as driving when the light is on, that is typically safe for short distances and in decent weather. In winter, it may be more of a problem. Same if you are going on a road trip or plan to drive frequently before getting the issue looked at.

In general, get the issue taken care of quickly and it shouldn’t be too much of a nightmare.

Conclusion

We all know how annoying it is when those pesky lights come on. But hopefully this article helped to shed some light on the situation. In many cases, this is an issue that can be self-diagnosed. Use your gut instincts and determine if you just hid a skid in the road or if it seems like there is an actual issue at hand.

If you’ve enjoyed this article, please share on social media. Education is key to staying on top of vehicle maintenance! Feel free to leave any comments down below.

 

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Mike Cross
Mike Cross
You have to look for teachers. If you want to be a mechanic, go hang out with mechanics.

57 thoughts on “Why Is My ABS Or Traction Control Light On? What Should You Do?”

      1. I have a 2012 Hyundai Sonata GLS I had snow chains on my tires and the right one came off ABS light came on traction control light came on and I also see that I have brake fluid leaking ended up driving about a hundred miles to get home and I noticed this morning when I came to work that my steering seemed a little stiff do you have any idea of where I should start looking and what I should do

      1. Anthony Womersley

        Ford Ranger Wildtrak ABS traction control light is on taken to a MOT garage they say possible front left sensor not working, they are replacing it £201. However if this does not cure it, it could get a whole more expensive apparently.

  1. If the traction control sensor is defective will the light go on. Noticed a clunking noise like the abs engaging but traction control light did not come on. Mechanic claims new sensor needed. 600.00 bill

  2. Hey great article. Question tho. I have a 2008 Equinox, 1 year old to me, with the traction control and stabilitrak msgs up. Dealership says to try the EGR valve ($$$) but articles I’ve read say it doesn’t help this problem. Check engine on for the EGR valve too. I don’t really want to/can’t spend unnecessary money. Do you have suggestions? Would they have automatically checked the sensors you talk about? Could it possibly be as simple as a blown fuse? What happens if the fuses blow for abs system or abs motor?

    1. Hello!
      If you have a ‘check engine’ light in addition to traction control and stabilitrak errors, than it is most probably fault with EGR.
      Thing is, your EGR triggers the ‘check engine’ light. And the car is designed that when this is on, traction control and stabilitrak are dissabled.

      To be on the safe side, you should read the stored codes.

    2. I have a 2005 equinox and need to replace the EGR Valve. Check with O’Reilly or even partsgeek.com. it’s not the expensive and you can replace it yourself.

  3. I just purchased a used car and both lights came on at some point between leaving the car lot and driving an hour to home. This was valued information.. Thanks

  4. Hello. Our ABS light came on last night in our 2004 f150 and husband said it was making a clunking noise. Once again it did it tonight on his way to work. Curious as to what we could be facing

    1. Hi Amanda!

      First of all, does the clunking noise appear only when braking? Or when going over bumps?
      This might be not realted to ABS system, like worn out or broken suspension part.

      As for the ABS, this models sometimes have a loose connector on ABS modul, just bellow air cleaner box (in the engine bay), so check that first.
      Also, vehicle speed sensor or its wiring can brake, too.
      Last, but not the least – check brake level fluid. Low level will trigger ‘ABS’ light.

      Hope it helps. Let me know what you have found out!

  5. Info was helpful. My ABS and a message “Trac off” lights up once in a while when I start my 2005 Monte Carlo and it stays on til I get to my destination. When I shut car off and restart it, the messages are not on. I don’t drive it that much. It has 30,000 miles on it. What could be the problem?

    1. Hello Wendi!

      ABS in most cases fail because of a broken vehicle speed sensor. There is one for each wheel, mounted in the wheel hub near the brake disc. Cable can be damaged, too. Check the connectors as well. They can be loose or full of water. This woul cause sporadical problems as you have.

      If all sensors are OK, other possibility is an ABS module internal fault.

  6. I would like to ask can a problem with your half shaft the axle half shaft if it is going out or dysfunctional will that make your abs traction light stay on also?

  7. Hi Mike, took my 2014 Cadillac (90,000 miles) to a certified mechanic for front brake work. Two weeks later the ABS & Traction control image lights came on. It’s been 5 days on and now it’s making a noise when I turn the wheel. The roads have been icy and I have started from a stop on a long icy patch. Have had to do a hard acceleration to merge during this time period . I don’t have another car and my appt is Tuesday. I drive 38 miles one way to work. And 45 miles to the dealership mechanic. Should I check the brake fluid first? Is it safe to drive and how much will this problem cost me? What do you recommend?

  8. Excellent diagnosis. It was easy to understand. It eased my fears and let me know what was going on. Thanks.
    Keep up the great work.

  9. William Ray Furman

    I replaced the hub assembly and cv axle on a 08 g5. Abs and traction control lights came on. How do I reset them

  10. I got a 2013 Jeep Patriot and the abs light has come on the traction control light and the engine light what could cause that

  11. Mike. Coming down the interstate at about 75 mph. Both lights came on and engine started losing power and running rough. This rough engine lasted about 2 miles and cleared up. Both lights stayed on. It did this about 2 weeks ago also. I have just recently replaced the front struts, could that have anything to do with it

  12. Good Morning,
    I have done a rear brake pad / rotor replacement, then I started getting the ABS/Traction control/stabilitrak system lights come on. After a mechanic saying now I need to do front breaks I decided to do my investigating leading to the conclusion (and code check) it’s left rear WSS cleaning or replacement needed.
    I have been trying to get it out of the HUB knuckle and a easy job is turning into just the opposite… It is stuck! I have gotten the bolt 1/2 off then it snapped leaving the long piece with wire attached still.

    I didn’t think it was necessary to remove the caliper again since I could reach it… Am I missing something I need to do? Is the caliper holding it locked or something?

  13. I’m decent shadetree mechanic but I’m a newbie to all these electronics like ABS & trac control.I definitely learned something by reading this.Also,I love your quote about finding teachers.I always tell young gearheads “your pride has no place under the hood.sometimes the best mechanic in the world just needs a fresh set of eyes to realize what the problem is”.
    Thank you!

  14. Mike,

    Thanks for the artical. Both ABS, ADVTRAC light comes on in a 2005 Lincoln Aviator. They do not come on at startup and there has been a day or two when they didn’t come on. The seem to both appear on newly paved roads at 50 plus mph. They go off once i turn the car off. So far everything is pointing to ABS speed sensor as the brakes are working fine. The only thing is, I do not know which one sensor. Any advice?

  15. Hello Mike,

    My BMW 1 Series has just started juddering on start up I am having to re-start the engine so it re-sets itself. Also the Icon with the circle with an A in the middle is flashing and the car has started to almost judder to a holt as if I am braking inconsistently, any ideas?? – I rang a garage who said it could be the injectors or the Traction Control? Any help would be appreciated.

    Kind Regards
    Karen

  16. I’ve just had my car MOTED and they put me 2 back tyres on . And now I have the ABS & Traction control lights on and they stay on and I don’t know why . Help please

  17. I have a 2001 Cadillac El Dorado ESC that had been garaged and not driven for about 5 years. This was a one original owner car from an elderly person. I replaced Tires, best oil change, water pump, new battery but I have the ABS and Traction Control lights that come on and off. Then on the dashboard message it is saying “Service Stability Systems.” What can it be?

  18. I was driving when my ABS light came on for the 1st time. Then I wasn’t able to accelerate. When I try it feels like I am holding my foot when my brake pedal and trying to accelerate in the tires just will not go anywhere now my traction stability light is 1 what could cause this my car is stuck in my driveway and I have no way to get to repair shop

  19. My 2006 325i, abs, traction control, brake no radio, no cigarettes lighter electricity.about 2 months ago a guy changed my starter, but starter was not the problem, than he did some wiring work with fuel pump. After that work all these light coming in dash board. What could be the possible problems?
    Please help me with this.
    Thank you

    Charles
    MD

  20. Hello, I have a 2005 Honda Accord and my TCS light came on after a collision center repaired my bumper. I’m not sure if the repair center did something wrong or not. Can you offer any suggestions?

  21. dear Mr.
    good day
    I have problem with my ford escape 2008 ABS and battery light’s are on.
    I need to talk the batter wire off the safe power. and it will stop working after 2 to 3 mins

    please cave me any bits of advice to try to solve the problems

  22. Have had this problem with mine and after replacing sensor and wheel bearing found it to be a bad GROUND off of the battery

  23. Could the ABS, Brake System light and Traction control lights come on to alert you to replace the brake pads by any chance?

  24. 2012 polo check engine light traction control and abs light on but car seems to be driving fine not sure what to do? Any help would be appreciated!

      1. Hi there 2010 Lincoln MKZ has abs and advance trac control light coming on. It does go off though. 43k miles only. Took to ford dealer they say need a head module and and ecu module. Estimate is over 2k. Brakes seem to work fine. Car in Florida no Ice or patches they claim the computer punted to needing new master wire system… could this be easier issue than that? They r known for ripping off with high bills. But the only local ford/Lincoln dealership. Please advise if you can. I would appreciate any advice or tips you have. Thank you

  25. Hello… My master warning light came on on my 2012 Toyota Prius then a minute later the slip indicator light came on which caused my car to cut off. When the master warning light came on I was told on my display to Check Hybrid System Stop The Vehicle In A Safe Place. But when that slip indicator light came on it immediately cut off. What could be the problem? Please help

  26. Hello so I have a 08 Chevrolet Equinox ls and on my dash is says Service my brake system service my stability track and traction control I was told that it could be a sensor by the wheel or my brakes not sure what it is but I don’t want to spend money replacing something that didn’t need to be fixed so can you please guide me in the right direction

  27. I have a 2005 Pontiac Grand Prix GTP. Tyring to figure out why whenever I put my vehicle in gear my traction control and my anti locking breaking system lights come on and traction control cuts off without me even turning it off. Can someone help me please on what could be causing it to do that.

  28. I changed the from brakes on my 2011 1500 Silverado and now the service traction control light is coming on and I have to press harder on the break pedal to go into gear

  29. Hi Mike
    Recently I changed all 4 wheel bearing on my 2011 Honda accord. Two of them were bad. Both on the driver side front and rear. Because my work is on the outer island. I travel back and forth every other week. Therefore doing all 4 or just 2 was not practical not to mention all good equipment to make the job easier isn’t here. Anywho long story short. I should have been patient and wait till I can fix in pairs but nooo. Now abs/traction control light don’t wanna reset. I tried 2 different obd scanner and both say nothing is wrong. I even bought a multimeter to help me. Am I not seeing the big picture here? Probably will take it to the shop but I’d like to learn something here.

  30. So my abs and traction light are on and just today my check engine light came on I got a right rear speed sensor put on but the abs and traction light never turned off I was told if I put on a certain amount of miles that if that was the problem then the abs and traction light would go away they haven’t and now the check engine light is on I’m not sure what it could be also. It says service traction control service brake assist and service stabiltrak come across the dash board I was told that when the first Mechanic that when he put it on one of the little machine that they hook up to something inside the car that the parking aid sensor malfunction all 4 not sure what any of this is that is going on with my car but I hope you can tell me what it can be

  31. I got the right rear wheel speed sensor put on November 26,2019 and I have 82556 miles on my car and they told me that I had to get it to 82606 for the abs and traction control light to go off if that was the problem I was told that it could be the hub assembly haven’t done anything yet except got the rear wheel speed sensor put on all those lights on my dash board are driving me nuts

  32. I have a 2002 Hyundai Santa fe… it showed abs,Tcs and break lights on and locked the wheels… now I dnt knw what to do… please help

  33. Hi there I have a saab 93 tid diesel 54 plate the traction control failure is coming up on the dash and it will not start I turn the fob key lights come on the dash but nothing else is happening any ideas cause I am pulling my hair out here

  34. my ABS and traction light keeps coming on whilst driving. i am not on a slippery road or even in winter conditions. it was happening before i got the MOT done on my car in November and i think a sensor was changed however that was only november and it is happening again. Any info how to fix this?

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