Service StabiliTrak: What it means and what to do

Ugh. Your Service StabiliTrak light is on. Don’t worry. It’s not the end of the world. In this article, I’ll explain what service StabiliTrak means, what might be wrong with your car, and what you need to do to fix it.

What Is StabiliTrak?

Stabilitrak is what General Motors calls stability control.

I’m sorry…. But I think this is dumb.

The management people at General Motors asked their marketing team to come up with a name that makes their stability control system sound better than the stability control systems of other car manufacturers.

What’s next? Movement Cessation Control Apparatus? (formerly known as brakes)

Brakes are brakes. And stability control is stability control.

I digress.

Now that you know StabiliTrak is just a fancy name for stability control, let’s talk about what stability control is.

What is Stability Control?

Stability control is a safety system that helps you control your car in slippery conditions or emergency situations. 

Stability control constantly monitors your car’s speed, steering angle, and direction. So when you go around a corner too fast and the ass of your car starts to slide, stability control applies brakes and/or power to different wheels to prevent you from spinning out.

It’s like magic!

My Audi allroad is the first car I’ve owned with stability control. I was blown away by how well stability control prevented my car from sliding when driving in slippery New England winter conditions. 

If you’re a visual learner, check out this video by Jason at Engineering Explained. He always does a great job explaining how things work in cars.

Why Is My Service StabiliTrak Light On?

Finding the root cause of a Service StabiliTrak light in a GM vehicle can be tricky. Here’s why…

There are two different reasons why the Service StabiliTrak light turns on. 

The first reason is logical – you have a problem with one or more components that make up the StabiliTrak system. 

The second reason has nothing to do with your StabiliTrak system! Your Service StabiliTrack light can turn on because your car has a problem with its ignition and/or fuel system.

Huh?

You just learned stability control systems (including StabiliTrak) constantly monitor your car’s speed and movement. And if the system detects a situation where you might begin to slide, it kicks into action and works to keep your car going in a straight line.

This process has very little to do with ignition and fuel. So what gives?

One of the data points GM’s fancy StabiliTrak system monitors is consistent power flow. 

If StabiliTrak detects a disruption in power but the car isn’t spinning out of control, the system farts and doesn’t know what to do. 

So it stops working and turns on the Service StabiliTrak light to brighten your day. Luck you.

The irony here is that your StabiliTrak system is now disabled when there’s nothing wrong with it!

This really doesn’t make sense, right? Consider this…

If consistent power is one of the data points StabiliTrak monitors, and something goes wrong with your fuel system causing RPMs to jump around, you can see the reason why StabliTrak shuts down. But it’s not a good one.

Maybe GM should spend less money coming up with cute product names like StabiliTrak and throw that money to the engineering department. Just sayin’.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these possible reasons for a Service StabiliTrak light in depth.

Problems With the StabiliTrak System

The Stabilitrak system relies on several sensors and components to function correctly. If there is a problem with any of these elements, the Service StabiliTrak message might appear on your dashboard. 

The most common problems with the Stabilitrak system itself include:

Faulty ABS Sensors

StabiliTrak uses your car’s ABS sensors to monitor wheel speed and make adjustments to your car’s stability and traction control systems. Therefore, any issues with the ABS sensors can affect the overall performance of the StabiliTrak system, leading to the warning light being illuminated.

Malfunctioning Steering Wheel Position Sensor

When the steering wheel position sensor malfunctions, it can disrupt the StabiliTrak system’s ability to accurately interpret the driver’s steering inputs. Think about it… if the system doesn’t know what you’re doing with the steering wheel, it can’t  make appropriate adjustments to your car’s stability.

Issues with the Electronic Brake Control Module (EBCM)

The EBCM is the brain of your car’s anti-lock braking system (ABS) and traction control system, both of which are integral components of the StabiliTrak system.

When the EBCM experiences issues, your ABS and traction control systems won’t work properly… and these two systems play a big role in how StabiliTrak works.

Problems With Ignition and/or Fuel Systems

As you learned earlier, StabiliTrak monitors consistent power and uses this data point to function properly. If Stabilitrak senses inconsistent power, it will stop working and turn on the Service StabiliTrak light.

Unfortunately, there’s a whole bunch of problems that can occur with ignition and fuel systems that can create a condition of inconsistent power. And StabiliTrak doesn’t like this. Ugh!

Here are a few ignition and fuel system problems that can cause the power in your car to “blip.” 

Dirty or Clogged Fuel Filter 

A clogged fuel filter can inhibit the constant flow of fuel to your car’s engine. Without a constant flow, power will dip. 

Bad Fuel Pump

Just like a clogged fuel filter, a bad fuel pump won’t deliver a constant flow of fuel to your car’s engine and, you guessed it, power can go down.

Malfunctioning Throttle Position Sensor 

Your throttle position sensor tells your car’s on-board computer how hard you are pressing on the gas pedal. The computer uses this information to regulate air intake and fuel mixture. If this sensor is broken, the computer has no idea of how fast (or slow) you want the car to go. The confused computer can cause power dips and spikes.

Bad Spark Plugs

Bad spark plugs can lead to symptoms such as rough idling, engine misfires, and a lack of power during acceleration… all things StabiliTrak doesn’t like.

Dirty Throttle Body

Even something as simple as a dirty throttle body can piss off your StabiliTrak system! A dirty throttle body can get in the way of proper air intake and cause power fluctuations. 

These are just a few of the common ignition and fuel problems that can trigger a Service StabiliTrak message. There are several other possible problems with these systems that can cause problems with StabiliTrak. This list is meant to give you a sense of some of the possible things you need to look at.

How to Pinpoint the Source of Your Service StabiliTrak Light

Finding the source of the problem when your Service StabiliTrak light turns on can be a frustrating process because there are many possible causes. 

Using an OBD2 scanner to find out what codes are being thrown is a good place to start troubleshooting. 

A lot of people I’ve talked to didn’t believe the codes they received could be the reason why their Service StabiliTrak light is on.

Think about it… What would a P1101 code (mass air flow sensor out of range) have to do with StabiliTrak? Nothing, right?

But as you just learned, a problem that causes a disruption to power can piss off your StabiliTrak system. And several of the reasons why a P1101 trouble code is being thrown can cause power disruptions.

Is It Safe to Drive With the Service Stabilitrak Light On?

So is your car safe to drive when the Service StabiliTrak light is on? 

StabiliTrak isn’t critical to the operation or safety of your car.

However, StabiliTrak comes in very handy when you find yourself in an emergency situation.

You don’t need StabiliTrak until you need it!

We never know when a dangerous situation will present itself. And it makes good sense to be ready for an unexpected emergency if one should come your way. So I recommend getting your StabiliTrak fixed as soon as you can.

Power Fluctuations

If a power fluctuation is the reason why your Service Stabilitrak light is on, you should get it fixed fairly quickly. 

Problems with fuel and ignition systems can become problematic pretty quick and cause your car to become disabled. Not fun!

Use your discretion here. If you’re sure the problem with your StabiliTrak system has to do with the system itself,  there’s no need to pull off the road or call a tow truck.

But if the problem is because of your fuel or ignition system, you should get it fixed sooner than later. Otherwise, you might end up needing that tow truck!

Conclusion

The reason why you see a Service StabilTrak message generally falls into two main categories. The first category involves problems with the StabiliTrak system itself and the second involves issues with your car’s fuel or ignition system.

A StabiliTrak problem can be frustrating to diagnose. I hope this article helped you understand your problem and gets you on the right path to finding what’s wrong with your StabiliTrak system.


About the Author

Kevin

Hi I’m Kevin and I’m a car guy. I first got the bug as a kid when I helped my dad rebuild the motor in his 1969 Mustang. I shadowed him for countless hours doing all kinds of hands-on work in the garage. As I got older, I started working on my own cars – from new transmissions to stereos to fine detailing. I started this website to share some of the things I’ve learned over the years.

header image courtesy of kbear951 on Camaro5 forum

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