Nobody likes to see warning lights pop up on their dashboard. But these lights are more than just an annoyance; they’re your car’s way of letting you know there are issues that need to be taken care of.
Now, every so often, you might encounter not just one but two warning lights flickering in unison: the Check Engine light and the Traction Control light. When that happens, it’s like your car is sending out an SOS. You’ve got a situation that needs your immediate attention.
Drawing from years of experience in the garage, I’ve seen countless cases where both the Check Engine and Traction Control lights come on at the same time.
Each vehicle comes with its own unique story, but some patterns have emerged over time. There have been situations where these lights come on when your car is at high speed, on a slippery road on a rainy day, or even just on a regular day, where you just start your car and notice these lights on.
In this article, I will explain in detail all you need to know and do in situations where you have your check engine light flashing and traction control light on simultaneously.
Trust me, as someone who’s been wrenching on cars for years; this is knowledge you need to have; it will definitely come in handy.
What is The Importance of These Warning Lights?
Ignoring warning lights on your dashboard is risky behavior. The Check Engine light serves as a general indicator that there might be a variety of issues with your vehicle, some minor and some potentially severe. Immediate attention is required to determine the cause, as neglecting it can lead to more extensive damage and costly repairs down the line.
On the other hand, the Traction Control light focuses on your vehicle’s stability and handling. When this light is on, it suggests that your car’s traction control system is either deactivated or experiencing issues. This is a significant concern, particularly in adverse driving conditions, as it directly affects your vehicle’s ability to maintain grip on the road.
When both the Check Engine and Traction Control lights illuminate, it’s a signal that you’re facing multiple issues simultaneously, potentially affecting both vehicle performance and driving safety. Therefore, it’s imperative to address these warnings as soon as possible to ensure both your safety and that of your vehicle.
What a Flashing Check Engine Light Means
Having your check engine light flashing is not something to take lightly. While a steady Check Engine light suggests you should schedule a visit to your mechanic soon, a flashing light screams, “Get this checked out immediately!”
It indicates that your vehicle is experiencing a condition that could lead to immediate and severe damage. Driving any further in this state isn’t just risking a more expensive repair; it’s risking irreversible damage to your vehicle.
An engine misfire can happen for a variety of reasons, like faulty spark plugs or fuel injectors. When your engine misfires, it doesn’t burn the air-fuel mixture in one or more cylinders. This can lead to higher emissions and potentially damage your car’s catalytic converter, a costly component to replace.
We’re talking about serious issues here, such as a malfunctioning oxygen sensor, a failing catalytic converter, or even issues with the powertrain. These are not problems that can wait—they require immediate professional attention to prevent further damage to your vehicle.
What a “Traction Control Light On” Means
When the Traction Control light illuminates your dashboard, it’s directly related to your vehicle’s stability and handling. The traction control system is engineered to prevent wheel spin during acceleration, helping you maintain grip, especially in slippery conditions. It works by reducing engine power or applying brake force to specific wheels, ensuring that you stay on your intended path.
In some instances, the light will come on to signify that the system is actively working to maintain grip. This usually happens when you’re driving in conditions where traction might be compromised, like wet or icy roads.
If the light stays on and you’re driving in normal conditions, it’s likely indicating a problem with the system itself. This could be due to a faulty sensor, an issue with the brake system, or other underlying problems that could compromise your vehicle’s stability.
Reasons Why You Can Have Your Check Engine Light Flashing and Traction Control Light On
If you have your check engine light flashing and your traction control light on, it could indicate an engine misfire, wheel speed sensor issue, low tire pressure, TCS turned off, or an ABS malfunction. Here’s a closer look at some common reasons why both lights might come on at the same time:
1. Engine Misfire Affecting Traction
An Engine misfire can wreak havoc on your car’s performance and have a ripple effect that can impact other systems, including your Traction Control System (TCS). When the engine misfires, the vehicle may struggle to maintain stability, thereby triggering the Traction Control light.
In essence, your car’s TCS identifies that the power imbalance might cause wheel spin, and it raises the red flag by causing both the check engine light and traction control light to come on.
2. Wheel Speed Sensor Issue
The wheel speed sensors are crucial components that inform the Traction Control System about the rotational speed of each wheel. If one or more of these sensors are faulty, it can throw off the TCS, causing the light to come on.
A malfunctioning sensor could also potentially trigger the Check Engine light, as the engine control unit (ECU) and TCS are often closely integrated.
3. Low Tire Pressure
Low tire pressure is more than just an annoyance; it affects your car’s grip on the road and, by extension, its traction. Poor traction can set off the Traction Control light.
In some vehicles, a significant discrepancy in tire pressure can also trip the Check Engine light, which could indicate a problem affecting vehicle stability.
4. TCS Turned Off
Believe it or not, sometimes the Traction Control System is turned off manually, either accidentally or intentionally. If the system is off and you’re experiencing another unrelated issue that triggers the Check Engine light, both will illuminate simultaneously.
5. Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) Malfunction
The ABS and Traction Control systems often share components and sensors. A malfunction in the ABS, like a faulty ABS sensor or module, can cause both the Traction Control and Check Engine lights to come on. Both systems are integral to your vehicle’s overall safety and performance.
Immediate Steps To Take When The Check Engine and Traction Control Lights are On at the Same Time
When both the Check Engine and Traction Control lights come on, your car is essentially calling for help. It’s crucial to respond promptly to prevent the situation from worsening. Here are some immediate actions you should take:
1. Pull Over Safely
The moment you notice both lights illuminating, find a safe spot to pull over. Don’t try to make it to your destination with the lights on; you’re not just risking a more expensive repair but potentially compromising your safety as well. Once parked, turn on your hazard lights to alert other drivers that you’re experiencing difficulty.
2. Check the Owner’s Manual
Your car’s owner’s manual is valuable in times like this. It will offer insights into what these warning lights signify and may provide initial troubleshooting steps.
Some cars have built-in diagnostic capabilities that can offer a first-aid solution. Remember, though, these are just preliminary measures; you’ll still need to consult a professional for a comprehensive diagnosis and repair.
3. Conserve Engine Power
If both the check engine and traction control lights are on, your car is under stress. Turn off all non-essential systems like the air conditioner, radio, and any other electronic accessories to alleviate the load on the engine.
This will help you conserve engine power and potentially reduce further complications until you can get professional assistance.
Professional Steps for Diagnosis and Repair
Once you’ve taken immediate action and consulted your owner’s manual for preliminary guidance, the next course of action involves getting professional help.
1. Code Scanning
Your vehicle’s On-Board Diagnostics-II (OBD-II) port serves as a gateway to its internal health. Connect an OBD-II scanner to this port to pull error codes from your vehicle’s computer.
These codes offer insights into what triggered the warning lights, whether it’s a sensor malfunction, engine misfire, or any other potential issues. Knowing the exact error code(s) is crucial for targeted repairs, thereby saving you time and possibly reducing repair costs.
2. Get a Professional Mechanic Inspection
While code scanning provides a starting point, it’s not the end-all. You might need to have a mechanic conduct a detailed inspection to confirm the scanner’s findings and possibly uncover additional issues that the scanner may have missed.
For instance, electrical issues or mechanical failures may not always generate an error code. You need an expert’s hands-on inspection for a comprehensive understanding of what’s really going on.
3. Traction Control System Test
Given that your Traction Control light is on a mechanic might need to carry out specialized tests on the Traction Control System (TCS). These tests would include road tests under controlled conditions to observe how the system responds during driving.
This could also be done using specialized software to simulate different driving conditions while the car is stationary, further investigating how the TCS is performing. This can reveal if the problem lies in the sensors, the control module, or other components.
Common Mistakes to Avoid When You Have Your Check Engine Light Flashing and Traction Control Light On
1. Continuing to Drive
One of the biggest mistakes people make is to continue driving with the Check Engine and Traction Control lights on. This is a gamble you don’t want to take. The risks range from damaging your engine to losing control of your vehicle.
2. Ignoring the Lights
Trust me, ignoring these lights would lead to more severe problems down the road and of course, put you at risk of an accident. Your vehicle is clearly communicating that something’s not right, and you shouldn’t underestimate the seriousness of these two indicators.
3. DIY Fixes without Proper Knowledge
The internet is replete with DIY fixes and workarounds, but tackling these issues without proper knowledge can make it worse. You might think you’re saving money by trying to fix the problem yourself but the moment you get something wrong, you’ll probably spend more eventually.
4. Skipping Professional Diagnosis
Some folks rely solely on the error codes from a consumer-grade OBD-II scanner and skip the detailed professional diagnosis. While these scanners can offer valuable insights, they are less comprehensive or accurate than professional diagnostic tools.
A full professional diagnosis is indispensable for a thorough understanding of your vehicle’s issues.
5. Disabling the Traction Control System
I’ve come across people who manually disable their Traction Control System, thinking it might “solve” the problem. This is a risky and ineffective approach.
The Traction Control light is on for a reason; disabling the system could make your car even less stable and more prone to skidding or accidents.
When you have your Check Engine light flashing and Traction Control light on, it’s usually a sign of serious issues like engine misfires, wheel speed sensor problems, or even ABS malfunctions.
These are not warnings to be ignored or taken lightly. Your best course of action is to pull over safely and consult a professional mechanic for a thorough diagnosis and repair.
Ugo is a passionate car enthusiast with a Bachelor of Electrical and Electronics Engineering degree and hands-on experience in troubleshooting and fixing automobiles.
I combine my electrical and mechanical engineering knowledge with practical skills to address car-related issues.
My love for cars and dedication to educating others led to the creation of Fixandtroubleshoot.com!