Have you ever been driving along and suddenly seen a yellow wrench icon pop up with the message “Service AdvanceTrac” on your dashboard display? As unnerving as mysterious warning lights can be, there’s no need to panic. This common Ford warning light is indicating an issue with your vehicle’s AdvanceTrac stability control system.
The AdvanceTrac system uses sensors to detect loss of traction and applies brakes automatically to help you maintain control. The “Service AdvanceTrac” light means there is a problem with this system that should be addressed right away.
In this detailed guide, we’ll cover what exactly the AdvanceTrac light means, the main issues that trigger the warning, and how to reset the AdvanceTrac system and warning light yourself or through professional service. Read on for a full break down of common AdvanceTrac problems like faulty wheel speed sensors, ABS issues, low brake fluid, and bad traction control modules. Let’s figure out why your Ford is telling you to “Service AdvanceTrac”!
Table of Contents
What Does the AdvanceTrac Warning Light Mean?
AdvanceTrac is Ford’s electronic stability control system used in many Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury vehicles. It builds on your Ford’s anti-lock brake system (ABS) by also optimizing traction control.
Here’s a quick overview of how AdvanceTrac works:
- Monitors your steering wheel angle and vehicle rotation using yaw and steering wheel sensors
- Uses ABS wheel speed sensors to detect if wheels are slipping
- Applies brakes to individual wheels and reduces engine power to help prevent skids and loss of control in turns
- Works closely with the traction control system to limit wheel spin, improve acceleration, and avoid getting stuck
So in plain English, the AdvanceTrac warning light indicates there is an issue with either the vehicle stability control or traction control portions of this important driving safety system.
Don’t panic if you see the yellow wrench pop up! It doesn’t necessarily mean you are in danger at that moment, but it does signal a problem that should be diagnosed and repaired promptly.
Let’s explore the main issues that trigger an AdvanceTrac warning.
Main Causes of the AdvanceTrac Warning Light
These four issues are the most common reasons why your Ford AdvanceTrac system has been disabled and needs service:
1. Faulty Wheel Speed Sensor
Wheel speed sensors are one of the most failure-prone AdvanceTrac system components. These sensors use toothed rings to calculate how fast each wheel is spinning. This input is critical so your vehicle knows when wheels have lost traction.
Common symptoms of a bad wheel speed sensor causing AdvanceTrac errors:
- Service AdvanceTrac warning message displaying
- ABS or traction control lights staying on
- One wheel on the vehicle locks up when brakes are applied
- Poor acceleration and lack of power
- Unusual noises when turning like clunks or bangs
Wheel speed sensors can fail due to normal wear and tear, debris or rust buildup on sensor rings, or damage from potholes.
Testing and replacing bad sensors resolves the issue in most cases. Sensors run under $50 individually. Pay a professional $80-$130 per hour to diagnose exactly which sensor needs replacement if you don’t want to handle testing yourself.
2. Low Brake Fluid
Letting brake fluid reservoir levels dip too low can also disable the AdvanceTrac system and trigger warning lights.
Your brake fluid level can become low for these reasons:
- Normal fluid loss through aging seals and components
- Leaks caused by worn brake hoses or calipers
- Failing brake master cylinder allowing fluid past pistons
- Neglecting fluid maintenance
Driving with inadequate brake fluid is unsafe and has these alarming symptoms:
- Longer stopping distance
- Spongy brake pedal
- AdvanceTrac, ABS, and brake warning lights
Checking fluid levels monthly catches low reservoirs early. Most vehicles have MIN and MAX lines molded into the translucent plastic reservoir – fluid should always sit between those fill lines.
Top up low fluid to the proper level using new, clean DOT 3 or DOT 4 brake fluid designed for disc/drum brake systems. Don’t mix fluid types. Address any leaks or component failures immediately before driving the vehicle again.
3. Antilock Brake System Issues
Problems with the antilock brake system (ABS) directly impact AdvanceTrac operation as well, causing warning lights when issues occur:
- Faulty ABS tone ring or sensor – Same components as wheel speed sensors. Damage triggers incorrect wheel slip data.
- Failed ABS Control Module – The computer brains behind ABS. Can cause a variety of fault codes.
- ABS hydraulic unit concerns – Contains valve solenoids needed for pressure modulation. Leaks or electrical issues affect performance.
Diagnosing whether the root cause is a mechanical ABS component like a wheel sensor vs an electrical control module problem determines the repair approach. Module replacements run $450-$900 for parts and labor. Techs can also perform module recalibrations in some cases to restore proper functionality without replacing the entire unit.
4. Bad Traction Control Module
The traction control module is the other computer that works hand-in-hand with ABS. It processes wheel slip sensor data then reduces engine throttle and applies brakes automatically to avoid uncontrolled wheel spins.
Signs your traction control module has failed:
- Persistent AdvanceTrac or traction control warning lights
- Wheels spin excessively trying to accelerate
- Burning rubber smell when trying to gain speed
- Lack of vehicle speed control on wet/icy roads
Like other modules, sometimes software errors or calibration issues cause codes vs an actual bad component. Diagnostic testing at a shop can read live sensor data to spot flaws. Replacement modules cost $200-$400 from Ford. Programming and installation labor adds $150-$350 to the job.
Okay, now that we know the main culprits behind that pesky AdvanceTrac warning light, let’s talk about options for resetting the light and getting back to normal operation.
How to Reset an AdvanceTrac Warning Light
Don’t just clear the pesky light and think you’re good to go! It will just come back on almost immediately if you don’t address the underlying problem first.
Here is the proper process:
- Diagnose and Repair Issues – Fix any failed components causing AdvanceTrac faults based on the previous section. This gets the system working properly again.
- Perform AdvanceTrac System Reset – Once repairs are complete, resetting the light is as simple as turning the ignition on-off-on-off-on and holding the last on for 30+ seconds. This clears codes and recalibrates.
- Test Drive – Take a 20+ minute drive with safe cornering, accelerating, and braking mixed in. If the light stays off, you fixed the problem! If not repeat troubleshooting.
- Clear Any Returned Codes – If new codes popped up indicating an unresolved fault, clear codes one final time. Retest until light remains off.
Pay attention following resets – if the light comes back on right away don’t keep ignoring it or think clearing it “fixed” the underlying problem. The same component failures covered earlier would require repair to give a true fix. Resetting procedures just reinitialize the system following corrections being made.
5 Pros and Cons of the AdvanceTrac System
Before we wrap up – is all this AdvanceTrac hassle even worth it? Here are 5 pros and cons to consider regarding Ford’s stability program:
- Enhances vehicle control and safety in bad weather and swerving maneuvers
- Reduces fishtailing or spin outs in turns and slippery conditions
- Engine power reduction helps avoid wheel slip when accelerating
- Braking assist shortens stopping distance in emergencies
- Technology improves yearly with smarter sensors and faster calibration
- Costly repairs from $150 – $900+ when sensors, modules or components fail
- Complex system with 10+ potential failure points
- Electronic nitpicks can disable over truly dangerous conditions
- Mixed effectiveness reported in extremely muddy/snowy scenarios due to sensor occlusion
Many argue lifesaving benefits outweigh the cons of added maintenance costs for these extensive safety systems. At minimum, properly addressing AdvanceTrac fault warnings should remain high priority. Your skilled service tech can optimize the system’s protection during icy months when it matters most!
Key Ford AdvanceTrac System Specifications
|1996 (4th gen Explorer platform)
|Anti-Lock Brake Module, Traction Control Module
|Steering Angle, Yaw Rate, Wheel Speed
|Throttle Position, Lateral Acceleration, Brake Pressure
|Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS), Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD)
|Pump, Valves, Hydraulic Unit, Wheel Speed Tone Rings
|Ford, Mercury, Lincoln vehicles with stability control
We’ve covered a lot of ground explaining the meaning behind Ford AdvanceTrac warning lights, what triggers them to come on, and how to reset and repair underlying issues. The main takeaways:
- Don’t panic initially but also don’t ignore the AdvanceTrac message for long
- Faulty wheel speed sensors, ABS problems, low brake fluid, and bad control modules account for the majority of causes
- DIY fixes are possible but seeking professional diagnoses of check engine codes often makes repairs smoother
- Reset procedures restore normal operation once your car is fixed
Armed with guidance from this in-depth troubleshooting guide, you can confidently handle that cryptic “Service AdvanceTrac” warning light. Now get wrenching and stay safe on the roads!