Editorial

Be Careful, Traction Control Might Be Out To Get You

And your little engine too.

Picture it: You’re driving home on awinding road, in the dead of night, amidst towering trees blocking out the fullmoon. You’re coming around a turn, but there’s water in the road, and yourright foot doesn’t lift. Suddenly you’ve got too much power going to the wetwheels, so they spin in a circle and because you’re a badass who drives a RWDcar the rear tires spin you off the side of the cliff in a heaping mess. Thisis where traction control comes into play. Rather, not after the accident but during. Otherwise, it's even more worthless.

For those of you who don’t know, traction control is a now-electronic system designed to cut engine power when the drive wheels lose traction. For all intents and purposes, it is a safety and not a performance feature, and can come in many forms such as the car applying brakes for you or as stated earlier, cutting engine power. It started a long time ago with a thing called LSD (limited slip differential). In short, a differential takes engine power and distributes it to the drive axle. There are two ways a differential can operate, one is what’s called open slip where only one wheel with traction gets the power, or what’s called a limited slip differential which distributes power to both wheels.

There are different versions of each, but basically they operate on the same principle. So by definition, LSD attempts to control the traction of a car, but its purely mechanical.

The first electronic form of traction control came from the early 1970s Buicks and was called MaxTrac. Only Buick offered it, and it was designed to detect spin on the drive wheels and modulate engine power. Now there are lots of merits to traction control, but it can still come back to bite you in the ass. It appears in that Toyota Sienna (see video) the type of traction control it had was the kind where it brakes for you. As you can see, since it is electronic, it can fail. With the nature of how traction control can operate, some really dangerous things could happen if it were to malfunction. Are carmakers trying to kill us?

No, probably not, but like all things traction control can fail just by its nature. These days traction control seems to be almost too prominent, and now it’s in just about every car under the sun. But really, do you need it on your moms Nissan Versa? Not likely. It would be better to learn the way your car behaves. Then you won’t need things like traction control to potentially cause major accidents. Suddenly cutting power isn’t necessarily a good thing either. Cutting fuel and spark could cause the engine to run lean, which means the fuel mixture will have too much air and not enough gas. That could make your engine run too hot and burn the pistons, and before you know it you’re rebuilding an engine because of traction control.

The flip side is the kind that applies brakes but think about it while going 70 mph down the highway. That could be pretty bad, especially if it causes your brakes to fail. That said there have been several accidents that occurred when geniuses turn traction control off. But think about it; how else will we be able to do burnouts?

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