Article Updated: September 27, 2022
How to Fix Chevy “Service StabiliTrak” & “Service Traction Control”
Early to mid 2000’s Chevy trucks and suburbans have a common problem with the stabilitrak and traction control service lights appearing on the dash. For most truck owners, the warning lights occur frequently when the truck is idling and then disappears and reappears while driving. The “Service Stabilitrak” light will usually appear first and then the car will turn traction control off. Once traction control is turned off, the transmission beings to shift very hard and rough.
Additionally, the warning light most commonly appears in cold temperatures. Loss of engine power and or limp mode are also symptoms in addition to very hard shifting. While not isolated to these engines, the problem is very common in 2007-2013 trucks with the 5.3 Vortec and AFM.
With that being said, the Stabilitrak and Traction Control lights are common on just about any GM vehicle with the Stabilitrak system for a few reasons. Below we will discuss what Stabilitrak is, what causes the lights, and how you can diagnose and fix the issue.
Here is a video from us describing the issue with Stabilitrak and how to diagnose and fix the issue.
What is Stabilitrak?
Traction control obviously help you gain traction on low-traction surfaces, such as snow and ice. Stabilitrak is another “electronic stability control” system, but it serves a different purpose than traction control. Traction control will limit power to various wheels to help your Chevy go from stop to start when there is low traction on the road.
Stabilitrak helps your car go in a straight line once it is already moving. The system uses sensors to determine the position of the steering wheel and tires compared to the direction the car is moving. If you are on a slippery road and begin to fishtail, Stabilitrak will kick-in to help correct your path. If your car is fish tailing to the right, but you have your tires and steering wheel pointed towards the left, Stabilitrak will apply the brake on the outside front tire to straighten the car out.
Stabilitrak is connected to your Chevy’s stability control system, your wheels and steering wheel via sensors, and to your brakes. Because its a connected system, multiple issues can cause the “Service Stabilitrak” light to appear in your Chevy.
What Causes the Service Stabilitrak Light?
The Stabilitrak system is controlled by a combination of the steering, the brakes, and the wheel speed sensors. However, there are nearly a dozen or more problems that can lead to the system turning off because of the safety functionality built into it.
Both traction control and Stabilitrak have a safety functionality built into them which is the primary cause of the lights going off. Both of these systems need consistent power, or consistent engine speed, to function properly. Anytime the engine isn’t providing a consistent engine speed, Stabilitrak and traction control automatically disable. Basically anytime you experience a misfire, rough idling, or some other performance related issue that causes RPMs to jump around, these systems will disable automatically.
So, to narrow things down we are going to group the causes (and solutions) into two buckets:
- Issues with the Stabilitrak System itself
- Other performance related issues that cause RPMs to be inconsistent
1) Issues with Stabilitrak itself
Stabilitrak is controlled by a number of sensors so it is possible for your issue to actually be with this system, and not from an underlying issue. The three main components that can go bad within the stabilitrak system are:
- Wheel speed sensors (one on each wheel)
- Steering wheel sensor
- EBCM (electronic brake control module)
- There is a relay that is usually the cause
- ABS sensor failure (not a part of stabilitrak but part of the braking system)
Usually when the issue is actually with the Stabilitrak system you will get a check engine light and a fault code. All of these sensors and the EBCM have individual fault codes so an issue with one of them would appear in a check engine light and with a scan from an OBD reader. You usually won’t have any underlying performance issues like loss of power, rough idling, hesitation, misfires or so on.
Because issues with Stabilitrak itself don’t cause any performance issues, it is a pretty easy fix. However, the most common cause of the Stabilitrak light is actually from other performance issues and not from the system itself.
2) Performance Issues Causing RPMS to Fluctuate
The safety functionality kicking in from an ignition or fueling related problem is actually the most common cause of the lights to come on. And while a lot of people tend to notice various symptoms when these lights come on, the symptoms actually aren’t caused by the Stabilitrak system. Instead, they are caused by whatever other issue there is with the engine.
This is where the list of potential issues is long. But, ignition and fueling tend to be the most common causes. Here is a list of potential causes in order of highest likelihood:
- Spark plugs
- Ignition coils
- Clogged or dirty fuel filter
- Bad fuel pump
- Bad or dirty throttle position sensor
- Dirty throttle body
These problems are pretty much always going to be accompanied by some symptoms of decreased performance. Misfires, hesitation, sluggish acceleration, rough idling, and so forth. If you are misfiring it is possible to get a check engine light and P0300 misfire codes. A bad TPS sensor could also throw a check engine light and code. However, a number of these symptoms and causes might not throw any codes at all.
If you don’t have any codes then checking these parts above is the best step.
Additional Causes and Solutions to Fix Stabilitrak
While the two buckets above contain the solution for probably 90% of people with this issue, there are a few random causes and some random solutions that might help. We’ve dug around all the forums to find the random tricks that have fixed this issue for the people who have gone through all the above steps with no luck.
- Bad TPMS Sensors: your tire lights will be going off if you have this issue but it won’t throw a check engine light or any codes
- Brake Switch: this is the switch that causes your “BRAKE” light to appear on the dash
- Body Control Module
- Lifter Failure: probably the least common issue
Solutions to Fix Stabilitrak Light
- E85 Fuel: many people report their service stabilitrak light disappearing after running their tank dry on E85 fuel and changing back to traditional gasoline
- This is usually a sign of an issue with your fuel filter so if this fixes the problem we recommend replacing the fuel filter
- Disabling AFM: check out our guide on how to disable AFM
Symptoms of Stabilitrak and Traction Control Issues
A lot of the symptoms experienced when the Stabilitrak and traction control lights come on aren’t actually caused by the Stabilitrak system. As we mentioned earlier, these systems automatically turn off as part of the safety feature when engine related issues are detected. So a lot of times these symptoms come from issues with an underlying engine problem which causes RPMs to jump around which then causes Stabilitrak and traction control to disable.
- Hard shifting
- Warning lights appearing
- Rough idling
- Loss of power / limp mode
- Trouble codes that have appeared alongside the issue:
- C0561: ABS Disabled
- P0011: Camshaft Positioning A
- P0521: Engine Oil Pressure Sensor
- P0121: Pedal Position Sensor
- P0300: Misfires
- *Getting no engine codes is common*
Since there are so many things that can cause these systems to turn off the best place to start is with the symptoms you are experiencing. If you are getting misfires and rough idling, you probably want to look into your ignition and fueling components like spark plugs, coils, fuel filter, and so on.
Starting with a code reader and determining the codes is always the best first step. Since all of the Stabilitrak components have fault codes any issues with the system itself should be easily determinable. The codes will tell you where you should be looking for problems. If you have no codes at all, this can be caused by a dirty throttle body, a dirty TPS sensor, a clogged fuel filter, and so on.
Can I Keep Driving with the Stabilitrak Light On?
Your Chevy truck is still drivable with both the stabilitrak and traction control lights on. However, you may notice a lack of power and 90% of the time the problem is accompanied with hard shifts. While still drivable, hard shifts are not good for a transmission.
Hard shifting usually occurs from low transmission fluid, which means the metal components inside the transmission are rubbing on each other with a lot of friction. However, in the service stabilitrak situation, it generally has nothing to do with low fluid levels. Nonetheless, the internal transmission components are rubbing hard against each other which is what causes the “hard shift” feeling.
Why the transmission hard shifts with stabilitrak issues is still unknown. With that being said, driving while hard shifting can cause serious wear and tear on your transmission and is not recommended.
If your symptoms are just misfires and some rough idling then there won’t be too much damage that can be done by continuing to drive on it.
GM Service Stabilitrak Summary
GM’s Stabilitrak system is a traction control related technology designed to help your car “stabilize” and keep going in a straight line when traction is lost. It is controlled by the steering wheel position sensor, the wheel speed sensors, and the EBCM. When the car detects a variation in wheel speeds and the steering wheel is at a certain angle, it uses the EBCM to apply brake pressure to wheels on an individual basis to try to control the car and help stabilize it.
The Service Stabilitrak and Service Traction Control lights frequently appear on the dashboard of all GM vehicles with this system. This is because of a safety feature built into it that causes it to disable when RPMs fluctuate. Therefore, diagnosing the issue can be broken down into two buckets. The first is issues with stabilitrak itself. In this case you will probably have a check engine light and a fault code for the steering or wheel sensors or the EBCM relay. The second is ignition or fueling related issues that cause RPMs to jump around which then kicks in the safety feature and disables the systems. In this instance, issues are predominantly caused by spark plugs, coils, fuel pump, fuel filter, and the throttle body.
In the instances where you don’t have any check engine lights or fault codes you will need to take a look at your underlying problems and determine what can cause them. There are some random sensors that can cause the issue and some random tricks that can fix it like disabling AFM or running a tank of E85 fuel.
Ultimately, there are a number of issues that can cause a Stabilitrak light on the dash. Figuring out what the actual problem is that is causing it will require a bit of digging.