Do You Turn Off Traction Control When Off-Roading?

Imagine this. You’re on a trail in the middle of the night. It’s raining, and you’re feeling the tires slip a little. You’re about to put your vehicle in 4-wheel drive, but notice your traction control is on. So, do you turn off traction control when off-roading? That’s what we’re here to answer.

Traction control off button in a vehicle

In most cases, traction control helps keep your vehicle safe and moving forward. It is beneficial when driving on wet or slippery roads. However, if you encounter mud, snow, or sand sections during an off-roading trip, you must turn off the traction control to keep you moving forward.

This article will discuss some questions about traction control and when to turn it off. 

First, we will discuss when you should turn off traction control and why. Next, we will discuss what happens when you turn off traction control. Finally, we will briefly discuss the differential lock(or diff lock), equivalent to traction control in older vehicles. 

When To Turn Off Traction Control While Off-Roading

As mentioned above, traction control helps to keep you safe on the road by controlling the amount of traction on the wheels. We will discuss what happens when traction control is turned off later. However, there are certain situations in which you should turn off traction control. 

Turn Off Traction Control When Off Roading In Mud

Typically, it is beneficial if the wheel with no traction is braked and the power is transferred to the other wheels. However, when driving in muddy situations, you need your wheels to keep spinning to move forward. 

If your traction control is on while driving through mud, it will engage the brake on the spinning wheels and cause you to slow down. However, you must have your wheels spinning when driving in mud to gain momentum. Therefore, turning off traction control when off-roading in mud is essential. 

Turn Off Traction Control When Off Roading In Sand

When off-roading in the sand, you need to turn off the traction control for the same reason as when off-roading in mud. You need all your wheels to spin to allow you to move forward. If your wheels are not spinning, you will lose momentum and get stuck.

Therefore, turning off traction control when driving through thick, loose sand is best. When off-roading in sandy terrain, it is best to maintain a good speed to build momentum and pass through the sand without getting stuck.

Turn Off Traction Control When Off Roading In Snow

Although you might not precisely intend on off-roading when driving in the snow, it will eventually become an off-roading experience. Snow has the same effect on a vehicle as mud and sand and should be treated similarly. 

By turning off the traction control when you are driving through snow, your vehicle can build momentum and keep you going through the snow. However, if your traction control is turned on, it will engage the brakes on any wheels that are slipping, which will break your momentum and cause you to get stuck. 

Turn Off Traction Control If Stuck While Off-Roading

Suppose you decided to keep your traction control in any of the above situations. In that case, you might easily lose momentum and get stuck. The easiest way to get free of the mud, sand, or snow if you are stuck is to turn off the traction control and use the rolling method to get out. 

The rolling method involves reversing a tiny bit and then driving forward. Repeat these steps, and you should eventually get free of your predicament. However, turning off your traction control before starting the rolling method is essential to allow you to build up momentum and get free of the mud, sand, or snow. 

Turn Off Traction Control If Going Uphill While Off-Roading

Lastly, you should also turn off your traction control when going up or down a steep, slippery hill while off-roading. You should do this for the same reason, as the traction control can cause you to lose momentum, get stuck, or start slipping. 

In most cases, traction control should be turned off whenever you need to keep the momentum moving forward or when you need your wheels to spin. You can keep the traction control when these conditions are not in effect. 

What Happens If Traction Control Is Turned Off?

First, let’s briefly recap how traction control works. Traction control works with an onboard computer in your car that detects the speed at which the wheels turn. Suppose one wheel turns significantly faster than the others. In that case, the computer will determine that this wheel is spinning and will engage the ABS brakes on that wheel. 

While this is a great safety feature that helps you stay on the road when it is wet or slippery, there are certain circumstances where traction control can do more harm than good. Therefore, you should turn off your traction control if off-roading in any of the terrains discussed above. 

When you turn off your vehicle’s traction control, the computer no longer detects any spinning wheels and will not engage the ABS brakes on those wheels. This is necessary when off-roading in certain circumstances, where spinning is essential to move forward. 


Traction control is a brilliant safety feature that allows your vehicle to stay secure on wet and slippery surfaces. However, traction control can cause your vehicle to lose momentum and get stuck when off-roading in mud, sand, or snow. The same applies when you are driving up or down a slippery hill.

On the contrary, a differential lock helps make all the wheels on the same wheelbase move at the same speed. Therefore, if your vehicle has a diff lock and you are driving in mud, sand, or snow, turning the diff lock on is a great idea.

James with daughter on the trails

About James...

Hi, I’m James. If I’m not working on this site, you can often find me outdoors roaming the trails. I’m an avid hiker, mountain biker, and overlander. I’m excited to share my passion for the outdoors with you.