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How does an Electronic Stability Programme work?

January 15, 2013

Firstly, each automotive manufacturer calls this safety system by a different name, here are a few:

ESP: Electronic Stability Programme
: Vehicle Stability Assist
: Dynamic Stability Control
: Vehicle Stability Control Systems

Basically an on-board computer detects when a vehicle is not taking the intended path as dictated by the steering angle input from the driver and then does something about it. It helps to correct ‘oversteer’ and ‘understeer’ with no additional input from the driver.

On-board sensors measure what the vehicle is doing compared with what the driver is asking it to do. These sensors can measure acceleration, braking, vehicle speed, direction, steering angle and any sideways forces. There’s a ‘yaw’ sensor installed at the centre of gravity in the car, approximately under the drivers left elbow when seated in the car. If the computer detects that the vehicle is taking a different path to that intended, the computer will intervene and make a correction – all done far quicker than the driver and generally so sensitively that the driver may be unaware.

The system does this by applying braking to individual wheels and/or by removing or reducing acceleration forces. The computer will decide on the course of action required.

When the system operates it’s important to note that the dashboard ESC warning light will flash when the system is operating. This is usually an amber-coloured light. There are circumstances where ESC can cause problems, pulling away on slippery surface for example, ice or snow; in this case the system can be switched off. When off the amber warning light remains on all the time. ESC should be switched back on when the situation improves.

The default setting for ESC is ‘on’, so when the engine is switched off and then restarted, the system automatically resets to the ‘on’ position.

ESC and other safety systems fitted to modern cars are no substitute for safe driving. Remember, all skids are driver induced, so if the vehicle is being driven inappropriately it may still crash.

The above information is only a guide, the specific vehicle handbook must be consulted for more information.

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