ESP Light – Meaning, Function & Causes (What to do?)

The ESP is a stability control system manufactured by Volkswagen. Here's what it means and what makes it illuminate

car esp light

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

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 similarly. Each manufacturer has its 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 light

The Electronic Stability Program (ESP) warning light indicates there is a problem with your electronic stability program system or that you are driving on a slippery surface. When you drive 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.

RELATED: Slip Light – What Does It Mean & Causes

How does the ESP system work?

esp off

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.

If one wheel slips, the ESP will control the other wheels by reducing power and applying brakings to correct your car’s stability.

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 the icy ground, but there is no traction on the wheels. Power will be reduced; hence, enabling you to have more grip on the wheel.

RELATED: ESC Light (Electric Stability Control) – Causes & Information

6 Causes of an ESP warning light

The most common reason the ESP light illuminates is because of a faulty ABS sensor or ABS ring. It can also be caused by issues like a bad throttle body, brake pedal switch, or steering sensor. If it’s blinking while driving on a slippery surface, it’s working correctly.

The ESP works together with the ABS. This makes it hard to identify the main cause of the problem immediately.

To determine the problem causing the ESP light, it is always recommended to check the trouble codes with a diagnostic scanner.

Here is a more detailed list of the most common causes of an ESP light.

1. Faulty wheel ABS sensors

car abs sensor

The wheel sensors send information about each wheel’s speed to the ABS control unit. The ABS control unit then measures this information and applies necessary solutions when one or more wheel slips.

If one ABS sensor fails, it may think that one wheel slips but it doesn’t, which will cause the light to come on.

2. Faulty ABS rings

broken abs ring

The same thing applies to the ABS rings. The ABS sensor measures the wheel speed from the ABS rings, and it happens that these rings break, which will cause it to measure the wrong speed.

3. Faulty Throttle body

throttle body

The throttle body is used to control the power output for the ESP system when your car slips. If there is anything wrong with the throttle body, it will cause the ESP light to come on.

4. Faulty Brake Pedal Switch

brake pedal push

The ESP system needs to know when you are pressing the brake pedal. For this function to work properly, there is a brake pedal switch installed on your brake pedal.

If this switch is faulty and sending out wrong information, it may cause the ESP light to come on.

5. Faulty Steering Angle sensor

steering angle

The ESP system does also uses the steering angle to calculate what to do in a slipping situation. If your steering angle sensor is becoming worse or is not programmed correctly, it may cause the ESP light to come on.

RELATED: BMW DSC light – Causes, Information, and Fixes

6. ABS wiring issues

abs broken wiring

You do also have wirings from the ABS control unit to each wheel sensor at each wheel. These wires move a lot because of the suspension, and this can often cause the wirings to become worse when your vehicle becomes old.

The easiest method to see this is to measure the ABS sensors from the connector plug at the control unit. To do so, you need to check a repair manual for the correct pinout.

What to do if the ESP light comes on?

If your ESP light comes on you need to check the trouble codes with an OBD2 scanner to see what is causing the ESP light to come on. By just guessing and replacing parts, which you think are faulty, will only cause you to waste all your money if you are lucky.

You can either check the trouble codes at a workshop or do it yourself at home with an OBD2 scanner.

Written by:

Magnus is the owner and main author of MechanicBase. He has been working as a mechanic for over 10 years, and the majority of them specialized in advanced diagnostics and troubleshooting. He has also been a motorsport (drifting) driver for over 5 years.