Traction Control: When to Deactivate It

Traction control is one of the most useful electronic safety systems found in modern automobiles. It serves as a watchful eye that constantly assesses road conditions and works to prevent wheel spin while you’re driving. That means less stress and more confidence in difficult weather such as snow or rain, or on loose surfaces like dirt and gravel.

There are some situations, however, where traction control can be more of a hindrance than a help. Let’s take a look at when and why you might want to hit that disable button on your traction control system.

How Does Traction Control Work?

First, a quick primer on how traction control systems work. By linking a computer controller with the wheel speed sensors used by your vehicle’s anti-lock brake system, special software can keep track of whether the drive wheels are starting to spin. When that happens, there are two options for getting things back under control:

  • Apply braking to that individual wheel to reduce spin and get it back in line.
  • Reduce throttle so that less power is being sent to the wheels.

In some cases, traction control systems will do both at the same time.

When Should I Turn Traction Control Off?

In the vast majority of driving situations, traction control is going to keep you safe. It’s an important system that you should keep activated nearly 100 percent of the time you are behind the wheel.

There are specific circumstances, however, where traction control will cause problems. Specifically, in winter conditions at very low speeds, traction control systems can make it difficult to gain the momentum needed to pull out of a parking spot, head up or down a driveway or move through deep snow.

When you’re driving slowly over slippery surfaces such as snow, ice, or even mud, some wheel spin is normal—necessary, in fact, to maintain forward motion. Perfect traction simply isn’t possible in these situations. A traction control system doesn’t know that, however. All it sees is a wheel or two spinning more quickly than it should. Once it clamps down the brakes, or pulls power back from the drive wheels, you’ll very quickly find yourself stuck. In some cases, traction control may not allow any movement at all.

By disabling traction control, you can generate enough wheel spin to grab the grip you need to get out of a difficult situation.

Remember to Turn It Back On

Once you’ve made it out of the worst of the slippery stuff, remember to turn your traction control system back on. Even if there’s still snow on the ground, at normal driving speeds, you want your vehicle to behave as predictably as possible. Since you’re used to driving with traction control activated, turning it back on puts you back in your comfort zone and gives you the best chance of making it to your destination safe and sound.

Check out the wide range of electronic products available at, or trust one of our  600 NAPA AUTOPRO shops for your vehicle routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on traction control systems, chat with an expert at your local NAPA AUTOPRO service centre.

Benjamin Hunting