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 most common in 2007-2013 trucks with the 5.3 Vortec and AFM.
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?
Despite the system being steering, braking, and traction related, a number of engine and other problems can cause this warning light. Overall, we have seen Service Stabilitrak caused by a handful of issues. And the correct fix here seems to vary widely by vehicle. Here are the most likely causes, in my best attempt to rank them in order of frequency:
- E85 Fuel: many people report their service stabilitrak light disappearing after running their tank dry on E85 fuel and changing back to traditional gasoline
- Changing the fuel filters might fix it as well
- Active Fuel Management: try turning off AFM (view our guide here on how to turn off AFM)
- Failed Throttle Position Sensor or defective Throttle Body Assembly
- Bad Steering Wheel Position Sensor
- Throttle Position Sensor
- Tire Pressure Monitor Sensors
- ABS Sensors
- Brake Switch
- Body Control Module
- Engines Misfires / Old Ignition Coils and Spark Plugs
- Bad Fuel Pump: doesn’t appear to be very common
- Lifter Failure: also less common
Unfortunately, the dealers are relatively unhelpful when it comes to diagnosing the issue. Codes generally do not appear for this issue and the problem is very intermittent making it difficult to diagnose. Additionally, as shown above, a number of things have been know to cause this issue and the fix tends to vary.
It appears most issues are caused by fuel, AFM, or something around the throttle body. However, years later there still isn’t really one known cause or fix for this issue unfortunately. E85 fuel appears to be the most common culprit so my first recommendation is to try using regular gasoline for a tank or two and then turn AFM off it keeps appearing after that.
There are thousands of forum threads on this. I did my best to synthesize all of the information. Considering this problem is still a mystery today, there could be a number of other issues causing service stabilitrak but I did my best to include all the common culprits I could find.
Symptoms of Stabilitrak and Traction Control Issues
- Hard shifting
- Warning lights appearing
- 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
- *Getting no engine codes is common*
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.