Electronic stability control (ESC), also called electronic stability programme (ESP) or dynamic stability control (DSC), is a computer technology that improves a vehicle's stability by detecting and reducing loss of traction (skidding). ESC automatically applies the brakes to each of the car's wheels, thus preventing the vehicle from spinning or spinning out. This technology cannot increase traction on the road, but it helps you keep your car under control during extreme manoeuvres. But if the sensors notice that your wheels are turned to the left, but the car is steering to the right, it knows you're skidding sideways.
To help you out of it, it uses some or all of the components of the ABS and traction control systems, including targeted wheel braking and engine power reduction to bring everything back into alignment with the direction of the wheels and get the driver back in control of the vehicle. It works when the front or rear wheels lose traction and the vehicle begins to skid. It continuously monitors the vehicle, in all weather conditions, and activates automatically when necessary. It can be temporarily deactivated on some models, but will re-engage by default the next time the engine is started.
If you are driving in slippery conditions and the light keeps coming on, reduce speed to make the car easier to control. Stability control uses components and sensors from other vehicle safety features, such as anti-lock brakes (ABS). Any problems that prevent stability control from working should also be addressed as soon as possible. Stability control is a safety system, so its operation is continuously monitored by the on-board diagnostic electronics.
If you are in a normal car with no terrain modes that gets slightly stuck in sand or snow because the system kills power at the first hint of wheel spin, disabling the traction control part of the system may allow the wheels to spin enough to burn through the snow or sand to a grippier surface underneath and get the vehicle moving again. You may see it advertised with terms such as Vehicle Stability Assist (Acura), AdvanceTrac (Ford), StabiliTrak (General Motors) or Vehicle Dynamic Control (Nissan), among others. The difference between traction control and stability control is like the difference between a GED and a Masters or PhD in vehicle safety. While electronic stability control can help you avoid loss of vehicle control, it cannot do everything for you.
However, be aware that the esc light may be an indicator that you are driving on a slippery road, and you may need to slow down to improve your control. If one of the wheels is spinning faster, which may indicate that you are on a slippery surface, the traction control system will activate the brake on that wheel, and may also momentarily reduce engine power, helping the spinning wheel to regain its grip. It is important to understand how your particular control system works, because the ESC light on the dashboard can have multiple meanings. In addition, ESC has a control unit that tracks the angle of your car's steering wheel, along with the rotation around the vertical axis of your vehicle.
Stability control is nothing more than traction control with more vehicle education (computer programming) and better tools (a more powerful processor and more electronic sensors). Anti-lock brakes do the same thing, but they electronically apply and release much faster than any driver can, helping to keep the vehicle stable when stopped.