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What ESC means to YOU


Monash University’s study on New Zealand and Australian car crashes has pointed out the benefits of electronic stability control (ESC).

And even in the couple of weeks it’s been out, dealers are reporting stronger interest in the feature that not long ago was found only in expensive luxury cars.

Among the Melbourne-based university’s conclusions were that cars with ESC have single-vehicle crash rates 25 per cent lower than those without. It also reported a 51 per cent reduction in single-vehicle crashes for 4WDs fitted with ESC. The high centre of gravity of these vehicles makes them potentially more likely to roll in an accident.

So, is ESC the motorist’s magic safety shield; does your car have it and if not, why not?
ESC was developed by Bosch as the next logical step beyond its electronic anti-lock braking, now widely known as ABS and standard on cars and many light commercials sold in New Zealand. Today, several other manufacturers also make versions of the stability system.

Stability control uses a variety of sensors to measure such things as steering and braking inputs, rotation (yaw) and individual wheel speeds. When the car’s computer senses something’s wrong, it works with ABS to keep the vehicle on its intended path by braking individual wheels. It may also reduce engine power. This all happens faster than most drivers can react – the system may be correcting even before the driver realises the vehicle is getting into trouble.

Stability control systems vary in scope. Some may be a straight ABS-ESC combo. Others layer on the options, including off-road-oriented traction control and roll stability control (RSC). The roll control uses additional sensors to detect a possible rollover, and then activates the antiskid system in a pattern to mitigate the problem. 

As good as stability control and associated systems may be, they can’t prevent all accidents involving skids. ESC is only another tool in the car’s utility belt – the driver still has to know the correct speed and appropriate behaviour for the road conditions of the moment.

Skilled drivers who like to use the entire dynamic range of their cars often dislike the “minder” effect of ESC. Some high performance cars have systems that intervene much later than they might on a typical family car. Some vehicles have a switch that disables, or partly disables, the system. There are some situations where this may be desirable, for example being caught in a muddy spot when momentum may be required to get out, but the ESC wants to throttle-back the engine revs.

ESC first appeared on the Mercedes-Benz S-Class – but has filtered down the pecking order to modest family cars, although sometimes as an optional extra. Hyundai recently announced it would include ESC on every car it sold in New Zealand, at no extra cost.As an historical aside, Mercedes was the first manufacturer to have ESC across its range in 1999, followed by BMW the following year.

Land Transport New Zealand estimates 60 per cent of new cars sold here has ESC – better than the Aussies who are around 40 per cent. World-wide, ESC will be pretty much universally fitted by 2015 at the latest. American legislation calls for it to be on every new vehicle by the 2012 model year.

Don’t assume that just because your neighbour’s Corolla (for example) has ESC, that yours will. It’s common for some models in a range to have ESC, while others don’t. You don’t have to drive your vehicle to the limit in a corner to see whether it will crash to find if it has ESC. Just turn on the ignition and when all those warning lights illuminate, look for one that has a graphic of a car skidding, or the letters ESC, ESP or whatever the manufacturer calls its system. Or you can always read the manual.

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