ESC Warning Light: What does it mean, and why is it on?

ESC warning light
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The ESC warning light can indicate that the electronic stability control is active, turned off, or there is a malfunction within the system. If this warning light is flashing, the ECS system is active, but if it's constantly on, the system is most likely not working.

ESC is an important element in modern car technology, and its failure should not be ignored. In this article, we will shed some light on how the electronic stability control system works and what it means when the ESC warning light is on or flashes.


ESC Function

The ESC system (Electronic Stability Control) helps the driver manage critical driving situations when the vehicle skid. This system monitors wheel speed, steering wheel position, vehicle acceleration, and other parameters to determine whether the vehicle is in the optimal position on the road.

When the ESC system detects a loss of traction, it automatically processes the information from the ABS and the steering wheel rotation sensor. Then it individually brakes the car's left/right rear or left/right front wheels.

However, this does not only happen when braking but also when accelerating and going through a corner, whereby the ESC system keeps the vehicle from skidding. In addition to the ABS system, this system also uses the ASR system.

ESC Warning Light Flashes

In the case of a flashing ESC light, this is not a problem—quite the opposite. The electronic stability control is active. You probably got into a difficult driving situation, and the ESC system intervened and stabilized the vehicle.

In difficult situations, such as sharp turns or sudden braking, this warning light may flash and then light up. In this case, the ESC system intervenes in the steering to stabilize the car. If the system is working properly, the warning light will go out as soon as the car stabilizes.

ESC Warning Light Is Constantly On

ESC / ESP / VDC warning light

If the ESC warning light is constantly on, even when not experiencing difficult driving conditions or risk of skidding, there may be the following causes:

  • The ESC system was turned off using the button (with an icon in the shape of a warning light above and the inscription OFF below it) or through the interface on the dashboard

  • There was a malfunction of the ESC system itself

  • There was a malfunction of the sensor and respectively electronics malfunction

Some cars do not allow the ESC system to be turned off, but if you have such an option, the light on can signal the electronic stabilization system being turned off on purpose.

We, therefore, recommend trying to turn off/on the ESC system. If nothing happens with the ESC warning light when you do so and the light is still on, it will most likely be one of the mentioned faults.

However, it is impossible to solve these faults yourself, as in both cases, it is necessary to carry out vehicle diagnostics. So the best thing to do is to take the car to the repair shop immediately.

Electronic Stability System Markings

Car manufacturers use different abbreviations when labeling the electronic stability system, but the principle of operation of these systems is the same. In the case of this system, you may encounter the following labels:

  • ESC (Electronic Stability Control) - general name for electronic stabilization system, but used by Škoda, Fiat, Hyundai, Tesla, Luxgen, and Proton

  • ESP (Electronic Stability Program) - designation used by Audi, Chrysler, Dodge, Hyundai, Jeep, Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Saab, Suzuki, Lamborghini, and Smart

  • ESP (Electronic Stabilization Program) - the designation is used by Volkswagen (the abbreviation is the same as the previous one, the minor difference is only in the full name)

  • VDC (Vehicle Dynamic Control) - designation used by Subaru, Nissan, and Infiniti

  • DSC (Dynamic Stability Control) - designation used by Aston Martin, BMW, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mazda, and Mini

  • VSA (Vehicle Stability Assist) - designation used by Acura and Honda

  • VSC (Vehicle Stability Control) - the designation used by Lexus and Toyota

  • VDIM (Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management) - the designation used by Lexus and Toyota

  • ASC (Active Stability Control) - the designation used by Jaguar and Mitsubishi

  • DSTC (Dynamic Stability and Traction Control) - designation used by Volvo

  • PSM (Porsche Stability Management) - the designation, as the name implies, is used by Porsche

  • M-ASTC (Mitsubishi Active Skid and Traction Control) - the designation used by Mitsubishi

  • StabiliTrak - designation used by Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet (most models), GMC, Pontiac, Saturn, Isuzu, and Hummer

  • AdvanceTrac - designation used by Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury

  • Active Handling - designation used by Chevrolet (Corvette)

Some manufacturers use multiple designations, as the designation may not apply to the entire brand but to a specific model.

ESC Warning Light Shapes

As well as the markings of the ESC system, the ESC warning light may have a different shape depending on the manufacturer and the specific model. In addition to the shape of the warning light in the main picture (above), you can also come across the following shape of the indicator light: a triangle with an exclamation point in an almost complete circle.

ESC / VDC / DSC warning light

Some models have the identical shape of the ESP and ESC lights. The point is that these systems are identical. The difference is only in the name.

ESC Warning Light - OFF

ESC/VDC OFF warning light

Depending on the model and manufacturer, this light may indicate a disabled ESC or traction control. If your vehicle allows the system to be turned off, the button may have the same shape as this light.

ESC Warning Light FAQ

Question 1: Can I drive with the ESC light on?

Yes, you can, but it is necessary to find the cause of the warning light coming on as soon as possible and solve the problem. Driving with the ESC warning light on can mean that the vehicle's handling is poorer, which can lead to dangerous situations on the road.

So if the ESC light is on, drive carefully, especially on slippery surfaces, and avoid sharp turns or sudden braking if possible.

Question 2: Can the ESC light come on even if there is no problem with the ESC system?

Yes, the warning light can come on even if there is no problem with the electronic stability system. The causes can be various, such as a fault in the electrical system or a problem with the sensor. In this case, performing a car diagnosis and eliminating the cause is necessary.


The illuminated ESC warning light should not be ignored, that is, unless you deliberately turn off the electronic stabilization system.

As of 2012, the NHTSA requires all new passenger cars sold in the US to be equipped with electronic stability control. Conversely, according to the European Commission, all new passenger cars must have electronic stability control in the EU.

Video comparison with ESC on and off on a VW Golf Sportwagen