ESP light – Causes, Information and Fixes

esp lightIt 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. In the same cars, the manufacturers have 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.

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 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.

For example, if you are driving on a slippery surface you may find it hard steering, 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 faulty ESP light

car skidThe 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 hence 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 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 in slippery or icy roads.

Faulty wheel sensors

abs sensorsThe wheel sensors send information to the ABS and this will help you steer the car during bad weather roads. 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 off 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 on 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 them 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 keen on the road. Most of the road accidents are caused by driver errors and drunk driving.


The ESP works in 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 having 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.

Categories Brakes
1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (2 votes, average: 3.00 out of 5)

Leave a Comment

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!