What is TCS in a Car?

Owning a car is not uncommon, nor is it difficult. However, maintaining your vehicle is a far more difficult task. There are certain things that you have to manage and monitor yourself, like maintaining clean oil and wiper fluid or keeping your tires properly inflated. But others are done by the vehicle itself, and a car’s traction control system is one of them. A well-performing traction control system is vital to a vehicle’s ability to drive properly.

So let’s say one afternoon you walk out to your car, get in the driver’s seat, and attempt to start your ignition. Your vehicle starts, and upon observing your dashboard, you notice that a yellow light named “TCS” has appeared. What does this mean? Is my car broken? Will my vehicle be damaged if I drive it? How much will it cost to fix this?

A litany of questions may be running through your head, but there is no need to panic. We will teach you everything you need to know about the TCS light in your vehicle and guide you through what you need to do if it turns on in your vehicle. But first, let’s discuss what exactly your TCS is.

What is the traction control system (TCS)?

The traction control system, or TCS, is engineered to ensure the safety of both you and your vehicle. The TCS is designed to become active in the event that your vehicle loses traction of the wheels. To perform this function, the power that is supplied to the wheels by the vehicle is limited by the traction control system. This action adjusts the power so that traction can be applied on the wheels, in turn stopping their spinning.

Every road has a particular amount of traction that applies, and the TCS ensures that your vehicle utilizes it correctly. For instance, whenever your vehicle is passing over a road with low friction, the TCS will engage in order to maintain proper traction. The TCS is present in nearly every single modern vehicle, being that it is and is a primary safety feature for a car or truck.

What does the TCS light mean?

The traction control system works together with the anti-lock braking system (ABS) as well as the (ECS). The TCS monitors the speed of all the tires on your vehicle, and when one or more wheels is slipping and rotating at a different speed than the rest of the tires, the TCS system reduces the engine power to slow down the other wheels with the help of the ABS unit (though this varies depending on vehicle). In most vehicles, this action is initiated through the use of an ABS sensor and an ABS ring on each wheel. Both the ABS sensor and rings work together to check the speed of each wheel. This is the reason that you often find the TCS light illuminated at the same time as the ABS light.

What Causes the TCS Light to Turn On?

There are a number of different reasons that your TCS light may come on. If you find that your TCS light has turned on, here are a few things to check out:

  • Certain TCS lights turn on as a result of rainy or snowy weather, and then the light turns off after the bad weather has subsided. In this instance, the TCS light is indicating that the system is activated due to low-traction road conditions (i.e. rain, snow, or ice) and is currently assisting the vehicle to maintain traction. It’s best practice to study the owner’s manual of your vehicle to ensure you know how the TCS works for the specific make and model of a car. This way, you are prepared and know what to expect in certain conditions. Something to keep in mind is that if the light is turning on and off, and flickering at times during this process, it is an indication that your TCS is activated and is properly functioning.
  • If the TCS light briefly comes on for a moment and then quickly turns off, you may not have a huge problem on your hands. Sometimes, the TCS may simply not be functioning quite as it should, but it is not severe enough that the light stays illuminated. Or perhaps you may have hit a momentary road slick or wet spot. On these occasions, monitor the light as you drive, and if it starts flashing or flickering when you can clearly feel your car has traction, you should get a mechanic to inspect your vehicle’s TCS. A small repair or even preventative maintenance is sure better (and cheaper) than repairing a completely failed system.
  • In the event that the TCS light comes on and remains on without flashing or flickering, or if your vehicle’s TCS light indicator reads "TCS off" and remains illuminated, this may be an indication that the TCS is no longer working. In this instance, if adverse weather occurs, your vehicle will not have any traction control. Take extra caution while driving in this situation. Once you arrive at your destination, you should contact a mechanic and have them inspect and repair your traction control system before driving the vehicle again (if possible). Keep in mind that certain vehicles allow drivers to manually turn the traction control off, in which case the "TCS off" light would also be on. Experienced drivers do so at their own risk, and this practice is not advised unless performed by an experienced or professional driver.

Is It Dangerous If Your TCS Light Is On And You Keep Driving?

As outlined, your TCS light can come on for a variety of reasons. But in some form or another, it is indicating that your TCS needs attention of some kind. Being that the traction system is one of the most critical systems of the car, this is not an alert to take lightly and should be addressed in a timely manner.

An improperly functioning TCS can cause the spinning motion of your wheels to be hindered, and they could potentially begin moving freely on slippery surfaces. This highly increases the risk of accidents but also can damage the surface of our tires and your engine’s overall performance. If both the TCS and ABS lights are on, the traction, you need to have them inspected immediately. Failing to do so can result in the inability to apply the brakes quickly enough to avoid accidents or injury. Proper oversight and action are necessary to keep your TCS operating as it should, and keep your journey’s on the road safe.