If you have bought a new car within the last ten years, it’s highly likely to be fitted with ESP. All cars currently being manufactured in the EU come with the system as standard following a 2014 ruling. As the motor trade is constantly adding new systems with different acronyms, we look at what ESP is, and do you need it?
ESP stands for Electronic Stability Programme. It is also known as Electronic Stability Control (ESC) and there are several other names for the same concept, each with its own set of initials. Some car manufacturers have their own proprietary system and have produced their own acronyms for their version of ESP.
Modern cars feature a large number of interlinked electronic systems, with onboard computers constantly monitoring and analysing your vehicle’s speed, direction, power output, acceleration and more to keep you safe and in control. Other factors that can be detected and acted upon include road conditions and air temperature, to name just two.
ESP works in conjunction with two of these systems: ABS (antilock brakes) and traction control. ABS automatically release and applies the brakes if your vehicle begins to skid under harsh braking, while traction control prevents wheel spin and skidding when you accelerate.
The Electronic Stability Programme monitors the inputs you make to your car’s steering, as well as collecting data from all four wheels. If what you are asking your car to do doesn’t match up with what it is actually doing, or if your steering is exceptionally violent, the system detects a potential skid and takes over. By controlling the power and braking at each wheel individually, ESP lets you corner or steer more safely, especially if the road surface is wet, icy, or otherwise offers poor traction, for instance on gravel or spilled oil.
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Rather than keeping you safe when an accident is already in progress, ESP acts as an insurance policy preventing your car from losing control. You may not even notice it has been activated, although a dashboard light should alert you when conditions are such that ESP is needed. However, research in the UK suggests that ESP can reduce the chances of a fatal accident by 25%, Swedish statistics raise this to 32% in bad weather.
If you take your car on a track day or off road, it may be possible to disable your ESP temporarily, giving you a more challenging real-world driving experience. However, on the road you will be far safer with the system up and running.
ESP and ESC represent such a significant step forward for safety on the road that if you’re thinking of changing your vehicle, it’s well worth looking out for one of these features on new and used cars.