What Does the Chevrolet Malibu Traction Control Light and Check Engine Light Mean?

The Chevy Malibu has several warning lights that indicate loss of stability or traction. Keep reading to learn more about the traction control light and more.
Written by Jessica Gibson
Reviewed by Pat Roache
Like almost all cars made in the last 30 years, your Chevrolet Malibu has a traction control system. If you see the traction control light flash, it means the system has detected a loss of traction, and it’s working to prevent skidding. But, if the light stays on, the system is malfunctioning and you need to diagnose and repair a bigger problem.
The traction control light is a bit like the check engine light. Both can appear on the dash because any number of problems can trigger them. Most of the time, warning lights illuminate when you start the engine and then turn it off. This reassures you that the car’s safety features are working!
In this guide, we’ll go over situations that cause the Chevy Malibu traction control light to come on and stay on, and what the potential
car repair
will entail. Let’s get started!

Why your Chevy Malibu traction control light turns on

You’ve likely seen the
traction control (TCS) light
appear on your dash. This icon of a car with wavy lines coming from the tires briefly flashes every time you start your Malibu’s engine. If the system is working correctly, the light turns off, and you can safely go on your way!
Traction Control (TC or TCS) uses a complex set of sensors in your car’s wheel bearings that track how fast the wheels are going and can detect a loss of traction. For instance, if you’re driving and hit an icy patch, the sensors instantly send this information to the traction control module. Then, the car can limit how much power goes to the wheels so your vehicle doesn’t skid. This is when you’ll see the TCS light flash repeatedly on the dash.
Your Malibu is also equipped with a stability system called Stabilitrak. While TCS stops you from skidding as you move from stop to start, Stabilitrack uses sensors in the steering wheel and tires to sense what direction you’re trying to drive. If your car begins to fishtail, Stabilitrack immediately applies a break to a specific tire to straighten the car out. 
TCS and Stabilitrack use the same icon on the dash. Remember, if the light turns on and off, these programs are working correctly. If they flash occasionally, the stability systems are engaged. But if the light appears on the dash with the word “OFF” underneath, you need to get your Malibu serviced.
Several situations can cause the
traction control to malfunction
. Here are a few examples.
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Temporary loss of traction

This is the most common time you’ll see the traction control light up. Don’t worry—it’s a good sign! The flashing TCS light means the system is preventing the Malibu from sliding on a slick or wintery road
You’ll also notice that the warning light turns off once you drive past the slick spot. If, for some reason, the light stays on or the check engine light also comes on, take your Malibu to a mechanic for a
traction control light inspection

Faulty wheel speed sensors

Since the stability sensors are on the wheels, they can wear out over time, especially if they’re frequently exposed to rough conditions or extreme weather. If even one of these sensors wears out, the TCS light will stay on.
Head to your local Chevy dealership or repair shop to have them scan for related trouble codes, like
engine code C0040
. They can also replace faulty wheel speed sensors so you can be on your way.

Anti-lock braking system (ABS) malfunction

anti-lock brake system
goes hand in hand with the traction control system because they use the same control module. As you can probably guess, if there’s a problem with the brake system, it can trigger the TCS light.
The anti-lock brake light is a circle with ABS in the center and parenthesis on the sides. If it illuminates along with the TCS light, you’re probably looking at a necessary repair, so
take your car to a mechanic
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Low tire pressure

Because the stability sensors are mounted on the tires,
low tire pressure
can trigger the TCS light to switch on. You’ll probably see the tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) light illuminate, too.
Fortunately, it’s a quick fix! Check your tire pressure and inflate the tires as needed. When you start the engine, the light should turn off.

Broken TCS/ABS control module

Occasionally, the traction control or anti-lock brake system module itself breaks and triggers the TCS light. You’ll also see the
check engine light
pop on at the same time.
You need a Chevrolet technician or mechanic to inspect the control module and repair or replace it.

Traction control system turned off

If you
turned off the traction control system
because you were driving in sand, mud, or snow, the TCS light will appear on the dash to remind you that it’s not operating. To switch it back on, turn off the engine, wait 15 seconds, and restart your Malibu. The system should be back on!

Can you drive with the traction control light on?

You will still be able to drive your Malibu, but it might not be safe to drive in inclement weather.
If you’re driving on a slick road and your traction light briefly flashes, that’s fine! It just means the car’s stability system is working as it should. But if the light comes on and stays on, it’s important to get your car checked out because the stability system isn’t working. You don’t want to lose traction or have trouble braking on an icy road.
A Chevrolet technician or trusted mechanic can diagnose error codes and do the repair work, so you can safely be on your way!
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