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What a Flashing Electronic Throttle Control Light Could Mean for Automotive College Students

Published on February 25, 2021 by in Blog, CATI

Feb 25 mechanic training schools

If a little lightning bolt starts flashing on a vehicle’s dashboard, this could be a sign that a mechanic’s attention is immediately required. Today, most gas-powered vehicles are equipped with electronic throttle control systems (ETCs). ETCs control an internal combustion engine’s power by regulating how much fuel and air are let into the engine. When this system is disrupted, a vehicle’s electronic throttle control light will start to flash, indicating a problem with the engine’s fuel and air intake. 

If you’re thinking of becoming an auto mechanic, it’s important to be familiar with how electronic throttle systems work, as well as how to identify when this system could be malfunctioning. 

A Brief History of Throttle Control Systems for Those in an Auto Mechanic Career

While most throttle control systems today are electronic, historically, these systems worked via direct mechanical connection. A vehicle’s gas pedal connected to the engine’s carburetor through a linked cable, and when pressed, the pedal opened the butterfly valve within the carburetor, creating air flow and enabling the engine to speed up. After 1990, this system of linkage was replaced with a completely electronic throttle control system controlled by a vehicle’s master computer.  

In older vehicles, throttle control systems were directly connected to the gas pedal via cable linkage

In older vehicles, throttle control systems were directly connected to the gas pedal via cable linkage

The move to a completely electronic system of throttle control came as regulations for fuel economy and emissions control standards underwent increased scrutiny. As automotive technology improved, it became possible to use a vehicle’s computer system to precisely monitor the mixture of air and fuel that enters the engine, regulating fuel economy and emissions. Automotive college students will likely be more familiar with these electronic throttle control systems, which are most commonly used in today’s vehicles.

Electronic Throttle Control Systems Explained

The electronic throttle control system works in conjunction with the engine control unit and the electronic fuel injection system, and together these systems allow for exact control of the engine’s speed. When the gas pedal is pressed, the ETC system opens the internal butterfly valve of the engine’s air control valve, allowing for airflow to enter the engine. At the same time the electronic fuel injection system increases fuel flow, enabling the speed of the engine to increase. While these systems are at work, the engine control unit adjusts the ignition and engine valves’ timing to correspond with a vehicle’s programmed profiles, resulting in a powerful, streamlined acceleration. 

A vehicle’s electronic throttle control system is essential in controlling a vehicle’s performance, engine power, and fuel economy. If this cycle is interrupted, a vehicle’s electronic throttle control light will flash on its instrument panel, indicating a possible problem. Below are some symptoms which could accompany a flashing electronic throttle control light. Professionals in an auto mechanic career should be familiar with these warning signs, as the electronic throttle control system is essential to a vehicle’s operation and could lead to major safety issues if not addressed right away.

If a vehicle’s ETC light is flashing, drivers should call a professional auto mechanic

If a vehicle’s ETC light is flashing, drivers should call a professional auto mechanic

Symptoms of a Flashing Electronic Throttle Control Light

  • Strange Acceleration Patterns: If a vehicle hesitates or seems to stumble during attempts to accelerate and the ETC light is flashing, this could be an indication that the throttle control mechanisms are damaged. Strange acceleration patterns could be a sign that the electronic throttle control system is not receiving the right signals, hindering the vehicle’s ability to accelerate smoothly. If this occurs, a vehicle’s computer codes should be checked to determine the exact source of the problem. 
  • Slow Speeds: One of the more obvious symptoms of a problem with a vehicle’s ETC system is the inability of a car to go faster than an idle. When an ETC system malfunctions, an engine’s computer is programmed to enter “limp mode,” which prevents engine damage by hindering a vehicle’s speed. The malfunction could be caused by sensor failure, but computer codes can establish the root of the issue.
  • Plummeting Gas Mileage: A damaged throttle controller can also cause a change in a vehicle’s fuel economy. Receiving the wrong signals from the throttle controller can cause the engine to burn an excessive amount of fuel. If a vehicle is guzzling an unusually high amount of gas, this could indicate that the throttle controller needs attention.

If a vehicle is experiencing any of these symptoms in tandem with a flashing electronic throttle control light, diagnostic tests should be run immediately and a vehicle should not be driven until the problem is addressed. Driving with a flashing electronic throttle control light can cause further damage to the vehicle’s engine and other internal parts, and may be a safety hazard for drivers.

Are you wondering which mechanic training schools to check out in your area?

Contact CATI for more information about its programs today!

 
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