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10th December 2021

Superadmin

The Concept of Traction Control - what is it, and how is it used?

Introduction

In terms of physics, friction is the main force that affects how vehicles move on roads. In fact, without friction, vehicles would neither be able to move nor stop. The absence of this force on snowy or wet roads mainly causes tire slips and accidents. We don't see vehicles slipping or colliding with each other only because friction is at work. But there is another reason why slipping or collisions don't happen: our vehicles’ Traction Control System (TCS). Besides the differential, the traction control system assists us with making smooth turns on curves of roads. Without friction and the traction control system, the rear wheels of vehicles would be out of control, and we would get off-road all the time. Now that you know something about the Traction Control System in vehicles, you must wonder how these systems work and help vehicles stay on track. Keep on reading further to understand the meaning and mechanism of the TCS in vehicles.

What do traction control and tire slip mean?

The name “traction control” or “traction control system” is in itself quite self-explanatory. The Traction Control System (TCS) is mainly responsible for controlling the traction of a vehicle, that is, the wheels of the cars on the road, individually. But how can we define traction? In simple terms, traction can be described as the grip of any tire on the road. Traction is the friction between the road surface and vehicle wheels in scientific terms. Scientifically, traction is nothing but an instance of friction. It also has a specific formula. However, that is not important if you want a general understanding of traction. 

However, what is essential to understand is that according to the formula of traction in physics, it is dependent on two factors- the mass or weight of the vehicle, which is denoted by ‘m’ and the coefficient of friction. While the vehicle’s weight always remains constant, the coefficient of friction changes depending on which surface the car is being driven on. This also affects the amount of traction that a vehicle gets.

Besides the tractive forces, two forces act on vehicle tires, namely, lateral force and longitudinal force. The longitudinal force is that force that is caused by the torque applied on the tires by the engine. The lateral force plays a role when vehicles make turns. Tires slip when the combination of longitudinal and lateral force exceeds the total tractive force. In addition, tires slip because of the loss of traction between the road and tires. The driver loses control of the vehicle, which starts spinning and gets propelled off the road.

Why was the traction control system introduced?

In the past, when drivers lost control of the vehicle, they would simultaneously brake and accelerate to gain traction in case of a tire slip. But this method was found to reduce the life of tires. That is why the traction control system (TCS) was introduced. The TCS helped maintain wheel traction and avoid sleeping tires on roads, thus allowing safe driving experiences even on wet or snowy roads and while making turns. Now let’s find out how the traction control system works.

How does the Traction Control System (TCS) work?

The Traction Control System only slows the slipping tire to regain control on the road surface. The TCS does this in either of the two ways. Firstly, it may apply brakes to that tire. Secondly, it reduces the power delivery to the slipping tire. You must note that the TCS does not have any hardware of its own. Instead, it borrows the hardware of the ABS or the Antilock Braking System and functions. The control module of the Traction Control System is present within the ECU or Electronic Control Unit of cars. 

Delving further into the working of the TCS, a sensor monitors each tire and, as a result, the rotational speeds. The data from this sensor is then fed to an onboard computer (ECS) which compares the individual tire speeds and checks if there has been any sudden increase in the speed of any tire. If a tire slip is detected, the control module of the TCS sends a signal to the ABS or specifically to the hydraulic brake modulator so that brakes may be applied to the slipping wheel.

Conclusion

It is recommended that you always keep your traction control engaged to have a safer driving experience every time. However, it must be noted that turning off the traction control system would prove more beneficial in some situations. One such situation can be described as when your vehicle gets stuck in snow, mud or ice. In such a situation, the tires would need extra power to get out of the tight spot, but the TCS may be preventing this. In this situation, turn off the TCS. Restarting your car again after your tires are freed would reactive the TCS and allow you to drive safely again.

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