car esp light

ESP Light – Causes, Information & Fixes

In Brakes by Magnus Sellén16 Comments

It is hard to find any modern car that does not have an Electronic Stability Control.

The ESP has been attributed to the reduction of many road accidents on the roads.

However, many people get confused when they hear DSC, VSA, ESC or VDC, but all these terms function the same. Each manufacturer has their own system.

For example, Volvo uses dynamic stability & traction control (DSTC) while the ESP system comes from Volkswagen, but the systems are very similar.

What does the ESP light mean?

ESP Stands for Electronic Stability Programme and is made by Volkswagen. When you are driving through slippery surfaces, the ESP light will turn on and flash on your dashboard when it’s working. If the light is constant, you have a problem associated with your Electronic Stability Program.

esp light

You can differentiate the light by the presence of two skid marks with a car on top. When the light is activated, you will find that you have more grip on the wheels as the onboard computer will activate the ABS. There are those moments when you are driving on good tarmac but the light keeps coming on and off.

In this instance, the sensors could be faulty and may need replacement. Some modern cars have a button that lets you turn off the ESP. Many racing drivers will opt to switch it off as it gives them greater control of the car. However, if you are driving on the highway, you should keep it on for emergencies.

How does ESP work?

The ESP does not work alone. It works in conjunction with the traction control and the anti-locking brakes (ABS). Modern cars have an onboard computer that monitors most of the car’s functions. As you steer and apply brakes, information is constantly being relayed to the onboard computer and instructions are set to rectify the problem you are facing.

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For example, if you are driving on a slippery surface, you may find it hard to steer; the onboard computer will recognize this and send the necessary help. The information can be sent, for example, to the ABS so that additional grip is applied to the tires. The system can also recognize when one of the wheels has less traction and vary the braking force.

The ESP can also inform the car’s engine to reduce power if your car is steering dangerously. This will then influence the power that is being supplied to individual wheels. This comes in handy when, for example, you keep revving the car on icy ground but there is no traction on the wheels. Power will be reduced; hence, enabling you to have more grip on the wheel.

Causes for a faulty ESP light

car skid

The ESP works together with the ABS. This makes it hard to identify the main cause of the problem immediately. When the ESP starts malfunctioning, you will start experiencing challenges accelerating.

Most of the problems with the ESP are a result of faulty sensors. The engine, ABS and steering angle sensor can get filled with dirt, hindering their performance. You will also need to check your wiring.

To fix your ESP light, you will need to carefully check your manufacturers’ manual and check for particular error codes. In this instance, the error code can lead you to the ABS, transmission or steering control unit. To properly diagnose the error code, you will need an OBD2 scanner. Most of the scanners are inexpensive and you can easily purchase one.

Alternatively, you can take your car to the mechanic and they will diagnose the error codes for you. It is extremely dangerous to drive a car with a faulty ESP because you will have limited control of the car when driving on slippery or icy roads.

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Faulty wheel sensors

abs sensors

The wheel sensors send information to the ABS and this will help you to steer the car during bad weather. If the wheel sensor is faulty, the ABS light will also come on. The ABS light can also come on when you have worn out brake pads or the ABS pump is malfunctioning.

You can sometimes fix faulty wheel sensors and the ABS rings by cleaning out the sensor to get rid of dirt particles. This prevents them from sending the right information to the ESP and ABS. When the wheel sensor is faulty, you will experience problems applying pressure to your brakes.

The ABS uses brake fluid to ensure that the brake calipers properly grip the wheels. Wheel sensors on each wheel will relay this information to the ECU and it will, in turn, send information to the ABS about how much pressure to apply.

The ESP also controls the traction control. In most cars, this light is off which means the traction control is doing its work. However, you can choose to switch off the traction control and the light will turn on. If the wheel sensors are not working well, then the traction control light will remain on. Fixing the sensor will solve this problem.


It is estimated that ESP helps reduce car crashes by up to 35%. The system was first developed for the Mercedes S-Class and this made it one of the safest cars. The technology later moved to other car models like BMW. Today, almost any modern car has ESP. According to the NHTSA, larger cars using the technology are less likely to get involved in crashes.

However, the ESP does not remove the need for drivers to be careful on the road. Most of the road accidents are caused by driver errors and drunk driving.

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The ESP works along with the ABS and the traction control. Wheel sensors are able to detect when the wheels are skidding and this information is passed on to the ECU. The ECU will then determine the amount of pressure being sent to the ABS.

The first time cars started being fitted with ESP was in 1995 and from there, we have seen almost all new cars being fitted with the technology. The ESP is critical for regulating power and steering when the car starts veering off the road. The NHTSA will test all cars that are being introduced to the market.

They will run the car through a series of tests that includes driving the car at over 50 mph and then applying emergency brakes. The transport will then check the responsiveness of the systems.

16 thoughts on “ ESP Light – Causes, Information & Fixes ”

  1. Astra turbo model for 2013 having the problem with the ESP SIGN even you go forward and REVERSED

    1. My esp light has come on and the car is shuddering as i accelerate. It has a new mot and i think they sorted the codes out

  2. Had front us tyre changed for part worn, since then skiddy wheel light
    Tends to stay on

    1. Esp light comes on after 10 mind of driving normally quickly followed by steering light on vw golf mk 5.
      Sometimes other faults quickly follow.
      I’ve had faults checked and most show intermittent communication.
      Car is vw golf mk5 I’ve had different suggestions from faulty ecu to steering angle sensor.
      Can’t a ford to spend fortune on guessing.

  3. Just had my 2012 Renault 1.6 Diesel Grand Picasso, over a week, and when veering left, the esp light comes on and then goes off when you take the stearing
    To the right, under warranty but concerned, what could this be?

  4. hi i also have the esp light on the dash on which means the trackon controll system is off i replaced the rack and the ecu and motor combine the abs does not light up so iam guessing its okay it drives okay no lose of power i have ddone the aniclock wise and clockwise turn of the motor and take the key out but no change i am thinking it may be the angle touge sensor in the steering rack or the speed rings on the front drive sharfts its a peugeot 2010 /207 1.6 and also a code comes up c1388 thanks

    1. Yes, the esp will just be turned off but the abs will still work as normal.

  5. I have a 2004 mercedes kompressor c180 and it isnt starting might be an esp error but not too sure

  6. Hi I am desperate a woman alone in miami
    No honest mechanic at all no English speaker and also not good mechanic experience ( lucky if you find a sincere one I have a Ml 350 2006 Dont live time and car park close to ocean so get all rusty
    I get back I change break to this mechanic and disappear never call back

    And after change break on the front ABS AND ESPN LIGHT CAME OUT. I bet scared as car get as stuck in the middle of the street and only after I drive 4 miles thanks God I was not in freeway

    I am tired of be ripped off and tow and wonder if is also cause a spy of second battery of Mercedes come out as I change one 2 year ago but cause they change transmission and lot of money I change only one battery put away cable when went to Europe for 6 months then I put back work fine and after few time no drive this spy both come out mechanic say change break but 2 times I drive and ceck engine and what I state above come
    Out and scared if will get stuck in the street the car again and I have car on the back

    1. I’ve a very similar problem thst ism looking it to fixing for someone else what was the solution for your car pls

  7. Esp light came on ford Mondeo.
    Stayed on untill I stopped.
    Turned engine off and removed key
    Restarted car and no light and has been fine since.
    Why would this have happened.

  8. Got insignia 2.0 diesel 13plate
    Since having clutch and slave cylinder done my service air bag and service ESP come on when first start then go off after ,20, mins
    Any ideas why please

  9. Have a 2005 jeep grand Cherokee 5.7 hemi the esp diable light came on loosing power . Pull over shut car off wait 5minutes starts up no problem , This can last 3-5 days then happens again . repeat shut can off restart fine 3-5 days what gives? John

  10. My Audi just write ESP on the dashboard and switched off now it refuses to start.

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