What Is Electronic Stability Control and How Does it Work?
Don’t follow Oasis’ directions and “slide away.”
- Cars 101
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It’s banned in Formula 1, turned off by rally drivers, and you, yes you, entrust your children’s safety to it. No, I’m not talking about roll cages or nanny cams, I’m talking about electronic stability control! Woohoo!
All right, stability control isn’t exactly the type of thing that gets standing ovations from most folks, but the technology has helped keep drivers on the road since the mid-1990s and has only become better and better in the interim. It’s there when your skills fail or the road becomes treacherous and has likely saved countless lives, all without ever require thanking or much maintenance.
To better understand the technology, how it works, and how it’s kept you safe all these years, The Drive’s techno-babble interpreter editors have all the answers below. Ready to get schooled on how stability control has saved your butt?
What Is Stability Control?
At the most basic level, stability control is a series of electronic systems working in conjunction to keep your car driving in a straight line when weather or the road surface becomes inclement or slippery. Put plainly, it keeps your butt on the road when you’re on your way to the grocers for some Rocky Road in the middle of an ice storm.
How Does Stability Control Work?
Stability control works through a system of carefully positioned sensors throughout the vehicle. These sensors monitor pitch, roll, and yaw, and work in conjunction with the car’s traction control system.
In practical terms, stability control engages when the sensors detect that the driver is losing control of the car’s direction. When that occurs, the system limits torque and power and can activate the car’s ABS to reduce slip, i.e. when you’re trying to stop but the car begins to slide in one way or another.
What Is Traction Control?
At its simplest, traction control is an automated system that reduces the vehicle’s power to specific wheels when wheel slip is detected. So, when you floor it on snow and nothing happens, apart from the traction control light disco-ball flashing at you, that’s what’s occurring.
What’s the Difference Between Traction and Stability Control?
These two systems go hand-in-hand but aren’t the same thing, despite what you may have heard. As mentioned, traction control manages wheel slippage and helps maintain traction in low-traction environs. Stability control, however, maintains the vehicle’s yaw, pitch, and roll in a controlled fashion. Stability control keeps your car going in a straight line even in inclement weather or low-traction situations.
For most, these systems are there to save your butts when the weather goes bad, but for enthusiasts, they’re also there to make you feel like a driving god. Enthusiasts benefit from traction and stability control, as they’ll keep them on track, on the racing line, and out of the tire barriers or away from a road’s cliff, even with the wrong inputs.
What Are All-Season Tires?
All-season tires have been around since the late 1970s when Goodyear introduced a tire designed for year-round use. They’re capable of handling wet or dry roads, and can even perform safely in light snow. All-season tires are designed to operate in a wide temperature band, but not at the extremes in either direction.
What Are Winter Tires?
Winter tires are made from special rubber compounds that are designed to stay pliable and provide grip even when the thermometer dips below 45 degrees Fahrenheit. They typically feature deep tread patterns and several small grooves called sipes, which “bite” and grip in snow. Even without snow, winter tires provide better traction in cold weather.
What Are Performance Tires?
A performance tire is a type of tire with a blend of increased adhesive properties, accomplished through the chemical nature of the tire’s rubber compounds and its tread design, intended for performance vehicles. These specially crafted designs increase the tires’ responsiveness, handling, and traction.
There are, however, different grades of performance tires. While each manufacturer has its own name for the grades, they can be broken down into three distinct categories: Performance (good performance), Summer Performance (better performance), and R-compound (best performance).
Traction Terms You Should Know
Traction is the physical adhesion between the car’s tires and the pavement. Low-traction environments include rain, snow, sleet, gravel, and anything else that interferes with the contact between the two. High traction is when nothing interferes with that contact, such as in the summer. Ironically, you can also lose traction on a perfectly smooth and dry surface if the tires get too hot.
A car’s stability refers to whether or not the driver is in control of the vehicle’s trajectory, i.e. the side-to-side motion or lack thereof.
Yaw is the twist of a vehicle or its instability.
Pitch is how the vehicle moves forward and backward, reacting to the car’s braking and acceleration inputs.
Roll is the physical force that occurs when the car enters a turn and it leans toward the apex.
FAQs About Electronic Stability Control
You’ve got questions, The Drive has answers!
Q: So What Does the Stability Control Light Mean?
A: You’re out of control.
Q: Is That Bad?
A: Do You Like Concussions and Thousands in Mechanic and Doctor Bills?
A: There’s your answer.
Q: Ok, Then What Cars Have Stability Control?
A: Most new cars have stability control, so you’re pretty safe in purchasing a new car.
Q: Alright, Then Can I Drive With Stability Control Off?
A: Sure, you absolutely can. You just won’t have those systems to help you if your car begins to slide out of control.
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