Getting To Grips With Traction Control

Tyre on Tar

The Importance of Traction and Driving

Regardless of the car you drive, traction is important as without friction between your car tyres and the road surface, you won’t be able to go anywhere. According to Continental, “Overall, traction control is meant to maximize your forward or reverse tractive capabilities.”

Traction plays a vital role when driving in all types of weather conditions including rain, snow and ice. They can all reduce the amount of friction between your tyres and the road. Thankfully, modern cars have a way to battle the elements with traction control which is specially designed to help drivers get a better grip. While not all cars have traction control, it’s good to know what it entails.

What Is Traction Control?

Traction control helps limit tyre slip when accelerating on slippery surfaces in particular. In previous years, drivers had to play with the pedals to prevent the drive wheels from spinning out of control. Today, many vehicles use electronic controls to limit the amount of power to help counter wheel slip and help drivers accelerate with better control.

During the 1960s, some of the powerful rear-wheel-drive cars had a primitive form of traction control known as a limited-slip rear differential, often referred to as Positraction. This limited-slip rear axle would mechanically transfer power to the rear wheel with the most traction resulting in less wheel spin but not eliminating it completely.

Many cars today still have limited-slip rear axles but it does not eliminate wheel slip which is where today’s modern and sophisticated system comes into play.

How Does Traction Control Work?

Fact is, there are several ways that traction control functions and one method are through engine management. When the system detects slippage, the vehicle’s control computer can cut the power to the wheels which will reduce spin with the aim of improving traction.

Another way that traction control operates is through braking. Brake traction control works similarly to a locking differential except that the car uses the brakes in order to control slippage. By tapping into the ABS (anti-lock brake) system, the traction control can automatically apply brakes to only the wheel that is slipping. From there, a standard, open differential will reroute power to the opposite wheel which will hopefully have more grip.

While all of this works fine with front or rear-drive vehicles, all-wheel drive is as important as the system can transfer torque to the front or rear of the vehicle. This is undoubtedly a massive advantage when it comes to effective traction.

Regardless of the car or drive system, the objective remains the same and that is to find a suitable grip. Some drivers even disable traction control when in a slippery situation to allow wheel spin hoping for some grip but this doesn’t always work. Even though the concept is viable, today’s traction control systems are actually designed to allow for some wheel-spinning to try and find grip.

To summarise then, the traction control can manage wheelspin through engine management, the vehicle’s own braking system or a special part known as a centre differential on some cars.

Does Traction Control Help When Driving Off-road?

A common misconception is that traction control is like having four-wheel-drive which is simply not the case. Unlike four-wheel-drive, traction control does not increase traction as it only attempts to prevent wheels from spinning. Motorists who often drive in snowy and icy conditions must have traction control, anti-lock brakes, and snow tyres as these are vital safety features.

While there are scenarios where drivers should disable traction control, they are limited and don’t come without risk. For those who frequent race tracks – disabling traction control can enhance performance but the added speed comes with more risk.

For the most part, the only time you should turn off traction control is when your car is stuck in mud, snow or on ice. Even though the system is advanced, it can limit your ability to get out of a low-grip situation. Turning off traction control could find enough grip to carefully get out of a sticky situation. It goes without saying though that once you are back on solid ground to re-engage traction control.

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