Traction control is an innovation intended to assist drivers in maintaining traction under adverse conditions. Traction control is oftentimes misunderstood. While anti-lock brake systems (ABS) are designed to assist under extreme braking maneuvers, traction control is designed to assist the driver when extreme loss of traction is encountered. Most vehicle are equipped with low-speed traction control that only activates during low-speed maneuvers. However, more automakers are turning to all-speed traction control that functions at all times. The primary benefit to traction control is its ability to assist with getting a vehicle moving under slippery conditions. Many drivers know all too well how easy it can be to spin the wheels in rain, snow, or icy conditions. Long technical story short, if a drive wheel begins to slip during these conditions the traction control engages to assist to maintain traction.
When engaged, traction control acts as a safety feature that attempts to compensate wheel spin by slowing the wheel movement through the automatic application of the brake on the wheel that has lost traction and by diverting torque to the opposite drive wheel. It does this by utilizing the same sensors as the vehicle's ABS system. More sophisticated traction control systems will offer additional torque control through throttle manipulation, up-shifting the transmission, adjustment of spark timing, and fuel delivery control. For safety reasons, traction control is automatically disengaged at speeds over 25 miles per hour on most vehicles.
One of the few conditions under which traction control will be a hindrance is when the vehicle becomes immobile due to being stuck on a very slippery surface, such as in snow or ice. The traction control will limit the driver's ability to control the car in a manner that may allow extraction from the predicament. Vehicles equipped with traction control are often fitted with an on and off switch just for this purpose. Whether or not to activate traction control is a personal choice based on driving style and preference. A driver who has been driving for many years in the snow and ice without traction control may not enjoy the limited driver input afforded by automatic traction adjustment. For many new or for drivers who are not accustomed to slippery conditions, it is advisable to turn the system on, forget about it, and let it do its thing.
It should be noted that traction control only concerns itself with traction front-to-back, straight line traction down the center of the vehicle. Related systems, such as stability control, will aid the driver in maintaining control under lateral traction loss, in other words from side-to-side. Anti-lock brakes, traction control, and stability control were all developed by Robert Bosch GmbH, headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany. In 1978 Bosch developed the ABS system which can now be found on just about every new vehicle made. Traction control was developed as an add-on feature to the ABS system in 1985. The most current feature developed by the Bosch company is the stability control, which debuted in 1995 as an add-on to the traction control system. All of these traction systems rely on the fundamental ABS system for operation.