You may have heard the phrases “traction control”, “ESP” and “ESC”.
Fellow driving enthusiasts may have even talked about “turning off the traction control” to make the car “go faster”.
But what are these systems and what do they do in your car?
WHAT IS TRACTION CONTROL?
In a nutshell, traction control helps drivers maintain control of the car in slippery conditions.
At its very basic level, when it detects that one of the driven wheels is slipping, it reduces the engine’s power output to prevent a skid.
More sophisticated systems (on more expensive and/or luxury cars) can do things like re-route power to the wheels with more grip.
However, this is more likely to be on four-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive vehicles.
Re-routing more power to another wheel on a front-wheel-drive or rear-wheel-drive vehicle may cause understeer or oversteer, putting the driver at greater risk of an accident.
WHAT ARE ESP AND ESC THEN?
ESP (electronic stability programme) and ESC (electronic stability control) are names given to more advanced traction control systems.
Apart from reducing engine power to the slipping wheels, they are usually programmed to do things like brake the inner or out wheel or wheels.
This not only improves grip, but overall stability, too.
It can even be programmed to provide some level of steering assistance, too.
WHY THIS TALK ABOUT “TURNING OFF TRACTION CONTROL”?
Because it is designed to enhance a vehicle’s stability, ESP or ESC systems can slow a car down.
This is especially true on a racetrack.
When traction control reduces engine power to maintain stability, it hinders the ability of a racecar driver to push the car.
For racing drivers, some degree of slip is necessary to eke out faster lap times.
If traction control cuts in, he or she loses power and time.
SHOULD I SWITCH IT OFF TO GO FASTER?
Unless you’re on a racetrack, no.
Today’s vehicles are a lot more powerful than before.
And turbocharged/supercharged cars deliver a lot of torque at low rpms, too.
Without traction control, the risks of an accident are much higher.
Even an F1 driver will tell you to keep it on if you’re driving on-road.
The only time you need to switch it off is if you’re driving off-road and get stuck in the mud.
Even then, it might be more advisable to get one of your fellow off-road junkies to just winch you out.