What Does the Toyota Traction Control Light Mean?

Your Toyota’s traction control light might mean the system is working correctly, but it could indicate a malfunction. Here’s what to know.
Written by John Davis
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
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Your Toyota's traction control light appears in a couple of different situations. If it quickly turns on and off while driving in slippery conditions, you can take it as a sign that the system is working properly. However, if the light stays on or turns on with other lights, you most likely have a traction control system malfunction on your hands.
It can be alarming when a warning light shows up on your dash, and often, your first instinct may be to hurry to the
car repair
shop for an inspection. However, not every warning light is cause for alarm—some lights are there to tell you when a specific system is active. Today, we'll focus on your Toyota's traction control light, so you can understand what it means and how to proceed if yours appears.

Why your Toyota traction control light turns on

Your Toyota's
traction control light
is part of the Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) and Traction Control (TRAC) systems that help prevent you from losing control of the car in adverse weather. The light will briefly illuminate on your instrument panel when either or both of the systems are active, then turn off. However, the symbol also acts as a warning light, notifying you that there's a TRAC/VSC system malfunction. 
The TRAC/VSC systems in your Toyota use a system of sensors to monitor your speed, steering wheel direction, and traveling direction. A control module interprets this data and uses it to help keep you stable on the road by selectively braking individual wheels and adjusting the engine power output as needed.
The VSC/TRAC light in your Toyota looks like a car with swerving tire trails behind it in a white box. You might also encounter the "VSC OFF" light—which appears mostly identical to the standard light, with the absence of the white box and the word "OFF" appearing beneath the tire trail marks—and the "TRAC OFF" light. To see pictures of these symbols and read more detailed information about their meanings, consult your owner's manual.
Your Toyota's VSC/TRAC systems may malfunction and display the warning light for several reasons. Additional lights, such as the check engine or ABS lights, may also appear and may help you identify the source of the issue. 
What follows are some of the most common reasons for Toyota
traction control malfunctions
.  
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Temporary loss of traction

Your Toyota's traction control light is meant to turn on during some forms of regular vehicle operation—like when you're driving amid rough road conditions. Inclement weather, like sleet, snow, rain, and mud, can create slippery conditions that lead to your Toyota's wheels losing traction, triggering the TRAC/VSC systems.  
If you notice your car's traction control light flipping on and off while driving in similar conditions, don't panic—it means your vehicle's TRAC/VSC systems are working to keep you safe
But if the light doesn't turn off, or if another warning light turns on with it, you should take your Toyota to a mechanic for an inspection

Faulty wheel speed sensors

A frequent cause of traction control malfunctions is a faulty wheel speed sensor. These sensors sit near your car's brake rotors and, because of this position, are subject to damage from the elements and road debris. They regularly wear out—and when they do, you'll likely notice your traction control light appears.
These sensors should be one of the first items you check when your TRAC light appears on the dash. You can inspect them yourself, hire a mechanic to look for damage, or use an OBDII scanner to search for error codes associated with the wheel speed sensors. 

Anti-lock braking system (ABS) malfunction

Another common cause of TRAC/VSC system malfunctions is a problem with the
anti-lock brake system
. The TRAC/VSC and ABS systems in your Toyota are closely related, and they can even share some of the same components, like their control module. Because of this, when there's a malfunction with one system, it's common to see the warning lights for both.
If your Toyota's ABS and traction control lights appear at the same time, the smartest move is to visit the auto shop as soon as possible.

Low tire pressure

Your Toyota's traction control malfunction might also be caused by low tire pressure. This occasionally happens because the TRAC/VSC control module sometimes misinterprets low air pressure as traction loss in slippery conditions. The same problem can occur if your car has a problem with its tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS).
Fortunately, checking your tire pressure is a pretty easy troubleshooting task. If your traction control light is on, your tire pressure is one of the first things you should check before heading to a mechanic. 
MORE: How low can your tire pressure go?

Broken VSC/ABS control module

The TRAC/VSC systems in your Toyota share a control module with the ABS. If this module becomes damaged or has a malfunction, you'll likely notice both systems' lights appear on your instrument panel. If the control module is damaged, there's a good chance your check engine light will also appear
If all three of these lights are illuminated on your dash, you need to visit a professional mechanic right away. 

The traction control system was turned off

Your Toyota's TRAC/VSC systems should always remain on as a default—unless, of course, you
turn it off
by pressing the button that is usually located near your center console controls. 
Before you take a costly trip to the mechanic, verify you didn't accidentally turn the TRAC/VSC systems off yourself. 
MORE: Recommended maintenance schedule for a Toyota

Can you drive your Toyota with the traction control light turned on?

Your Toyota is still drivable with the traction control light turned on, but you'll need to be extra careful if you're driving in wet or slippery conditions.
The traction control light is supposed to turn on and off briefly while driving in harsh weather. But if it stays on or other lights come on with it, your Toyota most likely has a TRAC/VSC system malfunction. When that happens, there’s a greater chance you could lose control of your car. 
To keep yourself and your passengers safe, it’s best to take your Toyota to the dealership or a trusted independent mechanic for proper diagnosis and repair when the service traction control light appears. 
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