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If you’ve ever been in a car that has lost traction during heavy acceleration, it probably doesn’t have a Traction Control System (TCS). In the same way that Anti-Lock Brake Systems (ABS) are designed to prevent skids during braking, TCS is meant to loss of traction during acceleration. These systems are essentially two sides of the same coin, and they even share a number of system components.

Precursor technology
The first attempts at traction control were made during the 1930’s. These early systems were referred to as limited-slip differentials (LSD) because all of the hardware was located in the differential. The way they work is that when a limited slip differential senses that a wheel is spinning, it will automatically transmit more power to the wheel that has more traction. In other words, LSD’s will not divert 100% of the power just to one wheel.

How Does Traction Control Work?
Thanks to our friends at Bob Fisher Chevrolet of Reading, a local Chevrolet dealer in Reading, PA, we have had traction controls expertly explained to us. Basically, traction control systems function like “reverse” anti-lock brake systems. Anti-lock brake systems release the brake on a skidding wheel so it can grab some traction again. TCS’s do the same thing, but they do it when a vehicle is accelerating instead of braking. They use the same sensors to determine whether any of the wheels have lost traction.

If a TCS determines that a wheel is slipping, it can do a number of things. If the wheel needs to be slowed down, the TCS pulsing the brakes just like the ABS does. However, TCS are also capable of slowing down the engine speed.

What is the Benefit of Traction Control?
First concept: In order to retain control of your vehicle, all four wheels should maintain traction. If they break loose during acceleration, the vehicle can go into a slide. Under those circumstances, most people ease off of the accelerator. This works, but a TCS has a finer level of control over engine and brake operations.

Can I drive faster?
Traction control isn’t an excuse for reckless driving, but it does help out when you need it. If you frequently drive in wet or icy conditions, traction control can really come in handy. For example: rapid acceleration is sometimes necessary when merging with freeway traffic and in other situations where you could lose traction.

How Do I Take Advantage of Traction Control?
Traction control systems are great if you’re driving on a road that’s wet or icy and your vehicle starts to slip as you drive. However, if you are stopped, traction control will most likely be useless. TCS and ABS systems only apply or release the brakes, they don’t add power to any wheels.

Is It Safe to Drive with the TCS Light On?
In most circumstances, an illuminated TCS light means that the system isn’t functioning. That means you won’t be able to rely on it. It’s usually safe to drive the vehicle, but you should have your local mechanic check it out. Depending on your vehicle, the TCS light may also illuminate whenever the system goes into action. In those cases, it will usually shut off when traction is restored.

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