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What Is StabiliTrak?

Posted by Auto.com Staff | Jan 3, 2019

StabiliTrak is the name given to GM’s proprietary Electronic Stability Control (ESC). StabiliTrak is considered a standard safety feature on all cars sold under the GM family. But what does that mean for you as a driver? First, let’s talk about what ESC is and how it works.

The first thing to know about traction control is this: All electronic control systems are a type of traction control, but not all traction control systems are electronic stability control systems. Traction control is any system that uses a sensor or series of sensors to tell the car when one wheel is slipping. The car then applies the anti-lock brakes to the slipping side. This diverts power to the non-slipping side in order to keep you moving forward. 

An electronic stability control system does that and more. GM's StabiliTrak is an ESC system that can apply the brakes to not only stop wheel slip but can actually alter the trajectory of the vehicle. Utilizing a series of sensors, the StabiliTrak system can even identify when the person driving has lost control of the vehicle. The system then applies a combination of engine power and brake pressure in order to avoid an accident. The key difference between the two is this: traction control systems only stop wheels from spinning. Electronic stability control systems can actually influence vehicle steering.

A great example of ESC systems like StabiliTrak is driving in ice or snow. If you lose traction while driving around a corner, the system can sense that the driver is steering the vehicle, but the car is not moving in the intended direction. StabiliTrak will apply the brakes to whatever wheels need it, so that the car stops slipping and you can resume driving in the correct direction. This whole process happens quicker than most drivers can react, meaning that as a service StabiliTrak can save lives. 

And it is true: electronic stability control systems like GM's StabiliTrak improve vehicle safety. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that 1,949 lives were saved in 2015 thanks to Electronic Stability Control systems. This is why federal laws were passed so that, as of 2012, all new cars are required to have a traction control system as a standard safety feature. Keeping that in mind, remember that not all traction control systems are created equal. GM's StabiliTrak is a step above your average traction control system. This is why it is important to clarify what kind of traction control system is available on the vehicles you are looking at.