Back in the day, your vehicle’s throttle body had a wire that connected to the pedal. When you pushed the pedal, you opened the throttle body, and you increased the amount of air that enters your engine. But in as technologies advanced, physical linkages were replaced with sensors and actuators.
While this system allows for better air to fuel ratios for better fuel economy and engine performance, the tradeoff is that if a sensor or actuator breaks, you lose control of your throttle. That’s why vehicle manufacturers packed their vehicles full of sensors and an entire system to monitor your electronic throttle control.
But what does it mean when your throttle control light comes on, and what should you do? More importantly, is it safe to drive your vehicle, or do you need to take it straight to a repair shop? We’ll answer all those questions and more here.
Electronic Throttle Control Light Meaning
The electronic throttle control light illuminates when there is an issue with the throttle system. The throttle system includes the throttle body, accelerator pedal, and the wirings between them.
The electronic throttle control system control and monitors the position of the throttle. While older vehicles use a cable that’s linked directly to the throttle body, most modern cars accomplish this feat through sensors and your vehicle’s ECM.
While there are plenty of advantages to this, if everything isn’t working the way it should, then you’re not going to accelerate the way you should.
Electronic Throttle Control Light Function
Your electronic throttle control light monitors the throttle control system to ensure that everything is working the way it should. When it’s not, the light turns on to let you know that there is a problem.
The only other time you should see the electronic throttle control light is when you turn on your vehicle. At this point, your vehicle is completing a system check, and when everything checks out, the light should turn off. However, if the light stays on, you have an underlying problem that you need to address.
The easiest way to narrow down where you need to look is to hook up an OBD-II reader. While these tools can’t tell you with 100 percent certainty what the problem is, they can give you a good place to start your search.
Electronic Throttle Control Light Causes
The most common causes of an electronic throttle control light are a faulty throttle control sensor or a faulty throttle accelerator pedal position sensor. But while those are the most common causes of an electronic throttle light, they aren’t the only things that could be going on.
We’ve taken a deep dive into the three most common problems below.
1. Faulty Throttle Control Sensor
Just because your vehicle’s ECM tells the throttle to open a specific amount doesn’t mean that the ECM trusts that it will. It actually relies on the throttle control sensor to tell it how far the throttle has actually opened and makes fuel-to-air ratio adjustments based on that.
As every good mechanic knows, you need to trust but verify. This is exactly what your ECM is doing by listening to the throttle control sensor. So, when everything doesn’t come back the way it expects, it throws an electronic throttle control light so you can check out what’s going on.
2. Faulty Accelerator Pedal Position Sensor
There are a few different parts to your electronic throttle control system, and an integral one is the accelerator pedal position sensor. This sensor communicates with your vehicle’s ECM to let it know how fast you want to go.
From there, the ECM tells the throttle how much to open or close. But if the ECM can’t get an accurate reading from the pedal due to a faulty sensor, you’ll never get the acceleration you want. If the computer recognizes that something is wrong with the sensor, you’ll get an electronic throttle control light.
3. Stuck Throttle Body
It doesn’t matter if everything on the electric side of the house is working correctly if the physical throttle body is stuck. There are plenty of reasons that the throttle body can get stuck, but a common one is carbon build-up.
Take a look at your throttle body and ensure that it can easily open and close. If it can’t, see if you can’t remove any obstructions and try cleaning it with a high-quality carb cleaner. If that still doesn’t work, you might need to replace the throttle body.
Is It Safe To Drive With an Electronic Throttle Control Light?
It is not safe to drive with an electronic throttle control light. While you might be lucky and only have a drop in fuel efficiency or a slight drop in acceleration, the problem can quickly get worse if the sensor readings continue to go awry.
The throttle body controls how much air enters the engine, and if your vehicle’s ECM can’t keep accurate tabs on this, then it can quickly lead to an out-of-control engine. If you have an electronic throttle light that’s on, you can quickly damage your engine, which can lead to even more expensive repairs when you get it to a repair shop.
This is true even if you don’t notice significant drops in your throttle response or vehicle performance. That’s because the air to fuel ratio isn’t what it should be, which can lead to premature engine wear over time.
While you might feel that everything is getting more complicated in modern vehicles, these complicated features have huge benefits. Not only do you get better fuel economy, but you get a more powerful and a more responsive engine.
So, while you might be cursing the electronic throttle control light now when you get everything back to working as it should, you’ll be glad you have it. And despite what the crusty mechanic at the shop might tell you, the old linkage systems used to act up from time to time too.