Traction control light on and car shaking? Here’s what it means

Traction control enables modern cars to avoid potential accidents by preventing slippage due to loss of traction. Though this safety feature has proved to serve its purpose well, it can also be associated with many problems in your car, leading to many questions.

For example, can traction control cause a shake?

The short answer is yes. If you have the traction control light on and the car shaking, the most probable cause of this kind of movement is traction control. This safety feature usually acts up in this manner when the wheel speed sensor is bad.

For starters, the wheel speed sensor (WSS) is a sensor that reads the speed of a car’s wheel rotation. This information is essential to other special safety features that work together with traction control.

Think about the anti-lock braking system (ABS) and electronic stabilization program (ESP)/Vehicle dynamic control system (VDC).

Causes of Shaking In a Car With a Traction Control Light On

Before looking at all the possible causes of shaking in a car with a traction control light on, let’s first try to understand what the traction control light means and how traction control works.

Now, when the TC light comes on, it signifies that traction control was activated because the wheels lost some traction or grip.

How Traction Control Works

Now, Traction Control largely relies on the data provided by the wheel speed sensor. Though TC will remain active throughout when engaged, this safety feature will only intervene when the data warrants it.

For example, when you are trying to brake on a slippery surface, the wheels will without a doubt slow down slower than normal. In other words, the braking performance of your wheels will diminish.

This behavior will be detected by the wheel speed sensor which will, in turn, send the data to traction control.

Determining that it’s time to take action, TC will immediately go to work to boost the wheels’ braking performance. There are many ways it can intervene to save the situation, depending on the car.

For example, it can opt to apply brake force to one or several wheels or reduce(suppress) the spark sequence to one or more cylinders in the engine.

Alternatively, it can resolve to lower fuel supply to one or several engine cylinders or close the throttle valve(if the car is fitted with drive-by-wire throttle). If not, it may opt to actuate the turbo boost control solenoid if the engine is turbo-boosted.

Now, if the wheel speed sensor sends wrong wheel speed data(e.g that the wheels have lost traction when in reality they haven’t), traction control is going to wrongly engage other systems it uses to optimize the braking performance.

This is going to result in a conflict that may manifest in the car as a shaking movement. For example, TC may abruptly boost the brake force or suppress the spark sequence either unnecessarily or when the car contrarily needs the opposite effect.

Alternatively, it may instantly lower the fuel supply to the engine, close the throttle valve, or actuate the turbo boost control solenoid either for no reason or when the vehicle, on the contrary, requires the opposite action.

It’s this confusion that’s going to cause shaking and the coming on of the traction control light when the car is moving.

Other Causes Of a Shaking Car

A traction control system hooked to a faulty speed sensor is not the only cause of a shaking car. In other words, many other problems can cause your car to drive while shaking.

One of them is problems with your wheels or tires(including damaged wheels, uneven tire wear, incorrect wheel or tire balance, separated tire tread, out-of-round tires, and loose lug nuts).

The rest include but are not limited to axle problems(like having a dented or bent axle) and engine problems(e.g bad spark plugs and engine air filter).

How to Fix a Shaking Car with a Traction Control Light On

As I said earlier, a shaking car with a traction control light on is often a problem caused by a traction control system connected to a faulty wheel speed sensor. The most common way to fix it is to replace the speed sensor.

On average, a new wheel speed sensor costs between $143 and $172. And the average cost of labor is $62 and $78. That means you can expect to pay a total of between $205 and $250 for a wheel speed sensor replacement service.

Can I Drive My Car with the Traction Control Light On?

It can either be safe or unsafe to drive with the traction control light on. It all depends on whether you see other lights on your dashboard as well e.g the ABS light or the ESP/VDC one.

You probably know that the traction control light coming on means your wheels lost some traction or grip and therefore traction control is engaged.

Now, traction control doesn’t work alone. Instead, it collaborates with other safety features such as the anti-lock braking system or electronic stabilization program/Vehicle dynamic control system to restore your maximum braking power.

If your traction control light comes on solo, it may be safe to drive the car. But if it comes on alongside the ABS light or the ESP/VDC light(depending on your car), this can mean that your braking system is significantly compromised. In that case, it would be very unsafe to drive the car.

Can You Drive When the Car Is Shaking?

The answer depends on what’s causing the car to shake. Some causes can be minor and other causes serious problems that require urgent attention.

Either way, a faulty speed sensor that affects the functionality of traction control is a severe car shaking cause that needs to be addressed immediately. So are wheel/tire, axle, and/or certain engine problems.


Traction control is a safety feature in modern high-end cars that helps restore your car’s traction or grip performance on slippery surfaces.

If the traction control light comes on, it means that the car has lost some of its natural traction or grip and therefore traction control is activated.

This safety feature works with other related systems within your car such as the wheel speed sensor to prevent slippage. Unfortunately, if the sensor is bad, it can cause the car to shake whenever traction control kicks in.

This is because of the wrong signals that it will send to traction control, leading to certain conflicts or confusion between TC and the systems that it normally triggers when active.

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