What Does ESP Mean In A Car?

ESP on a car refers to the Electronic Stability Programme and it uses a number of sensors to detect a loss in traction, which makes it a true game-changer in car safety. Within this article, we discuss ESP in further detail and why its become mandatory in modern cars.

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what is esp on a car
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ESP can be found on most modern cars and there are many studies and statistics that shows how it reduces accidents. Although many car manufacturers fine tune and call the technology different names, it’s still the same thing and below we walk you through everything you need to know regarding ESP in a car.

What Is ESP On A Car?

ESP (Electronic Stability Programme) on a car can be found in most modern vehicles and it’s designed to prevent car accidents caused by loss of control. This is made possible by a number of sensors that detect a loss in traction.

If the sensors detect a loss in traction, it’ll react by reducing the engine’s power and applying individual brakes to help the driver regain control of the car. It’s important to note that the system itself is effective on both the front and rear axles.

Since November 2014, ESP became a mandatory requirement and it’s now fitted in most modern passenger cars. However, ESP was found in cars many years prior to 2014 and Mercedes were the first to introduce the world to ESP with their S Class and SL models that came into production from 1995.

How Does It Work

In order to work correctly, ESP works alongside other safety technology within a car such as traction control and ABS (anti-lock braking system). Often confused as the same thing, traction control is designed to maintain traction of the “drive” wheels (FWD or RWD) during acceleration whilst ABS stops the wheels from spinning whilst braking.

Therefore, working in conjunction with traction control and ABS, ESP works by monitoring the steering wheel angle with the actual direction of travel. Therefore, if the car was to lose traction, ESP would reduce the engine’s power and apply individual brakes to force the car to follow the steering angle and help the driver regain control.

what does esp mean in a car

Is There Any Difference Between ESP & ESC

As you can imagine, many manufacturers have their own names for ESP and ESC (Electronic Skid Control) is a great example. In short, ESC is the same as ESP and it’s just a different way of saying the same thing.

Other examples include DSC (Dynamic Stability Control), which can be found in BMW’s, PSM (Porsche Stability Control), which is of course found in Porsche’s and there are many others too.

What Causes The ESP Light To Come On?

As with many other control units within a car, ESP has its very own dashboard warning light. Depending upon the car you drive, it’ll either be a simple yellow warning triangle or a yellow car with skid marks underneath.

Whilst you are driving, the ESP light shouldn’t illuminate unless it caused by the following:

  • ESP has been switched off (solid light)
  • The ignition is on but the engine hasn’t been started (solid light)
  • It has been activated by one of the wheels starting to slip (flashing light)
  • There is a fault with the system (solid light)

If you find that there is a fault with the ESP system, you may find that it just needs to be reset. The ESP can be reset in most cars by holding the button down for 5 seconds but if it doesn’t turn off, you may have a fault.

what does esp mean on a car

From our experience dealing with ESP faults, the ESP light staying on can be caused by either of the following:

  • Brake light switch malfunction (cheap and relatively simple to fix)
  • Steering angle sensor
  • Low battery voltage (easily fixed with a new car battery)
  • ABS wheel sensor, ABS ring or ABS module
  • Faulty throttle body

To avoid any guesswork, we strongly recommend using an OBD2 scanner to find out the exact cause of the ESP fault.

Why Would You Turn Off ESP?

You’ll find that in the majority of cars, you’ll have a button that’ll allow you to turn off ESP. Therefore, you may be wondering why you would want to turn it off but there are some scenarios where this may be the case.

For example, if you are on a race track, you may want to test the limits of your car by performing a number of powerslides and drifts. It can also be helpful to turn it off if you are stuck (i.e. in snow or ice) because it’ll allow the tyres to spin and gain traction. However, once you are moving again, you’ll want to turn it back on

There is a common misconception that you should turn off ESP whenever you drive upon ice or snow but this isn’t the case. You should always keep ESP on whilst driving upon snow or ice unless you are stuck (as mentioned above). The road conditions would’ve been a major factor to consider during the development of ESP and it should ideally remain on at all times.

what is esp in a car

It’s important to note that many car manufacturers offer a number of ESP settings for driving upon ice or snow because these may allow limited wheel slip to gain traction. They also allow consideration for those driving with winter tyres and snow chains because they can cause adverse effects to the ESP system..


There has been countless studies that show the importance of ESP and it’s technology that’ll remain on all cars going into the future. Hopefully our above guide regarding ESP in a car has walked you through everything you need to know. However, if you need further information, feel free to get in touch and we will try to provide our assistance where possible.

If you want to see a video of ESP on a car in action, Bosch have a great demonstration as shown below:

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