Car Rental Safety Driving: Electronic Stability Control – Frequently asked questions

Electronic Stability Control (or ESC) is a system found on several recent vehicles that will help you stay in control of your vehicle when you need to swerve or brake suddenly to avoid an obstacle

When your steering does not match the direction of your vehicle, ESC will automatically brake one or more wheels for short periods of time, reduce engine power, or both. ESC is “ON” whenever you start your vehicle. Some vehicles have a manual ESC Off switch for certain situations such as when you are stuck in snow.

Why should I have ESC on my vehicle?

Recent studies show that ESC can greatly reduce the number of fatal or serious crashes; for example:

  • In Canada, Transport Canada’s analyses show that ESC could reduce the number of crashes involving a loss of control by light-duty vehicles by 29%;
  • In the United States, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that ESC could help avoid 41 per cent of single-vehicle collisions while a study by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that ESC could cut down the number of single-car collisions by 35%;
  • In Europe and Japan, various studies report that ESC could reduce the number of crashes significantly.

In Canada in 2006, 768 drivers or passengers died and 2578 were seriously injured in vehicle crashes involving loss of control. Transport Canada estimates that there would have been about 225 fewer deaths and 755 fewer people seriously injured on our roads if all passenger vehicles had been fitted with ESC that year.

My vehicle has an “ESC OFF” button; why would I want to switch ESC OFF?

ESC has many sub-systems. Two are Traction Control and Skid Control:

  • Traction Control minimizes the spinning of driving wheels by cutting down engine power and/or applying the brakes as necessary.
  • Skid Control keeps the vehicle stable, especially in emergency situations such as when you need to suddenly steer to avoid an obstacle.

Most vehicles include an “ESC OFF” button to disable Traction Control when the vehicle is stuck in fresh snow, mud or sand; or is being operated:

  • with snow chains;
  • off road in deep snow or sand; or
  • with the compact spare tire.

On some systems, turning off ESC will disable more than just Traction Control. It will also disable Skid Control. Skid Control is very important for maintaining vehicle control during emergency situations. Disabling Skid Control could result in you losing control of your vehicle and crashing, especially on slippery surfaces. When ESC is switched off, an “ESC OFF” light will appear in the dash or a message will appear in the message centre. This will remind you to turn ESC back on as soon as you return to normal driving conditions. Review the section on ESC in your owner’s manual to learn more about when it may be useful to turn off ESC and what effect this will have. Contact your dealer if this information is not in your owner’s manual or if you still have questions about what happens when you push the ESC OFF button.

Will ESC affect my fuel consumption?

ESC will slightly increase your fuel consumption. Why? Because an ESC system will add about 4kg to the mass of a vehicle, which we expect will increase fuel consumption by about 0.1%, (one more litre of fuel for each 10,000km of travel if one assumes an average fuel consumption of 10 L/100km). Because ESC includes several components already present in Anti-Lock Braking Systems (ABS), adding ESC to an ABS-equipped vehicle adds only 1kg to its mass, and requires only one extra litre of fuel for each 40,000km of travel.

How much does ESC cost?

ESC is sometimes sold as an optional feature on new vehicles, so costs can vary widely. For example, in 2009, the cost of ESC alone was about $450, but rose to several thousands of dollars when it was combined with luxury items such as a plush interior, a high-end sound system and high-intensity discharge headlights.

Are there issues or challenges with ESC systems?

As is the case with many safety features, ESC can give you a false sense of safety. Even if your vehicle is equipped with ESC, you must continue to drive carefully. This technology does not and cannot change the laws of physics. If you drive too fast for road conditions, you can still lose control – even with ESC. Keeping your tires and brakes in good condition is important too. The best ESC system can do little if your tires are worn-out, under-inflated or overloaded. You also need tires suitable for driving in winter conditions.

What is Transport Canada’s position on ESC?

We want Canada to have the safest roads in the world. That is why we explored ways to make ESC available on new passenger vehicles sold in Canada as quickly as possible. In fact, we have introduced a new Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standard that will require that an ESC system be installed on most vehicles with a gross vehicle weight of 4536kg or less and manufactured on or after September 1, 2011. This will reduce the number of collisions where the driver loses control of the vehicle. Canada also helped develop a global technical regulation for ESC under the United Nations World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations (WP.29), which was adopted in June 2008. Canada’s standard for ESC is harmonized with that of the United States and very similar to that developed by WP.29. This will help promote international trade. Transport Canada encourages the manufacturers to offer ESC as standard equipment on all their vehicles. We have already negotiated an agreement with light-duty vehicle manufacturers to ensure that ESC is offered voluntarily on the same vehicles in Canada as in the United States. Letters of commitment and of agreement were signed by the two Canadian motor vehicle manufacturer associations, which will allow Transport Canada to:

  • monitor the fitment rate of ESC before the standard is implemented; and
  • provide information to consumers on the availability of ESC on Canadian vehicles.

Finally, the department encourages all Canadians to ask for ESC when they shop for their new vehicle.

Who should I contact with concerns about my ESC system?

Contact your dealer first and have the ESC system checked. If you believe that your vehicle has a safety defect:

Call Transport Canada at 1-800-333-0510 or

E-mail at



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