What does the lightning bolt mean on a car? (ETC Light)

The lightning bolt on your dashboard means that the car has detected an issue with the electronic throttle control system. This is a system that regulates the amount of air getting into the engine based on how much pressure the driver is putting on the gas pedal.

When you step on the gas, more air flows in, followed by more fuel to produce more power. The lightning bolt indicates that there’s a problem with the throttle body sensor, the throttle body itself, or the control motor that regulates the opening and closing of the throttle.

How do I reset the red lightning bolt on my dash?

Before taking your car to a mechanic, you can try resetting the system to see if the red lightning bolt symbol will go away.

Here’s how.

  1. Put the key into the ignition and turn it to the ON position. Don’t crank the engine.
  2. Wait for about 5 seconds, then press the gas pedal (accelerator pedal) all the way down.
  3. Slowly release the gas pedal until it comes all the way up.
  4. Turn the key to the OFF position.
  5. Start the engine and drive the car to see if the lightning bolt has gone off.

This works in situations where the battery was changed or disconnected, causing the electronic throttle control (ETC) light to turn on. Other times, the lightning bolt could pop up due to a serious issue that must be checked.

Below are other common causes behind the throttle control light.  

What causes the red lightning bolt? (Electronic throttle control light)

Causes of a bad throttle body.


1.     Bad throttle control sensor

The throttle control sensor monitors the opening and closing of the throttle. It communicates this information to the car’s ECM which then determines how much fuel and air should go into the engine based on the position of the throttle.

When the sensor goes bad, it may relay an erratic reading or fail to communicate with the ECM at all. This will cause the lightning bolt or electronic throttle control light (ETC) to pop up on your dash.

2.     Failing accelerator pedal position sensor

The gas pedal position sensor or accelerator pedal position sensor monitors the position of the gas pedal and sends that information to the car’s ECM. This allows the computer to know how much fuel and air to send into the engine based on how fast the driver wants to go.

A faulty accelerator pedal sensor can cause the lightning bolt symbol to appear on your dashboard. It is sometimes also accompanied by acceleration issues and limited vehicle speed. The sensor mostly fails due to wear caused by constant contact.

3.     System electrical problems

The ECM receives data from the sensors and determines what position the throttle should be in in order for the car to function as it should. All the parts must function and communicate well through electrical signals and wiring.

There being no mechanical linkage between the throttle valve and accelerator pedal, it’s easy for an electrical fault to cause problems.

Some of the electrical issues that can cause the electronic throttle control warning light include loose or corroded connectors, faulty wiring, a bad electrical motor, or a faulty module.

4.     Stuck throttle body

The throttle body can fail due to dirt, gunk, and carbon buildup. The filth interrupts airflow and creates an imbalance in the fuel-to-air ratio. In severe cases, the accumulation of contaminants can cause the butterfly valve to get stuck.

The valve fails to pivot, inhibiting the flow of air into the engine whenever you step on the gas. Moisture and water penetration are also known to cause corrosion which makes the throttle body stick. Any mechanical failures in the throttle body will cause the red lightning bolt and check engine light to pop up.  

Read more: What Does ESC Off Mean On My Dashboard?

What happens when the electronic throttle control goes bad?

Some of the symptoms you’re likely to notice when you have an electronic throttle control problem include:

  1. Difficulty starting the car
  2. Engine misfires
  3. Stalling
  4. Rough idles
  5. Poor acceleration
  6. Failure to maintain constant speed
  7. Poor fuel economy
  8. Black smoke from the exhaust
  9. No response when you step on the accelerator pedal
  10. High idle due to too much air flowing into the intake

How do I fix a red lightning bolt on my dashboard?

The best way to fix an electronic throttle body that is malfunctioning is to first connect an OBD-II scanner to your car and scan for any stored error codes. This helps to determine where the fault is.

Some of the things that may help to fix the red lightning bolt in your car include;

  1. Clean the throttle body using a good throttle body cleaner
  2. Replace faulty throttle sensors
  3. Replace the throttle body as a whole.

Read more: What Does Tire Pressure Sensor Fault Mean?

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I drive with the throttle control warning light?

You can drive while the throttle control warning light is still on. However, you shouldn’t because the light is an indication that your car has a defective electronic throttle control and it’s about to fail if not checked.

Driving for an extended period can cause serious damage to your engine. An imbalance in the fuel-to-air ratio can result in poor fuel economy. In addition, unpredictable acceleration can easily cause an accident.

Take your vehicle to a mechanic immediately you notice symptoms that indicate there’s a problem with the electronic throttle control system. This will help solve the fault before the symptoms turn into expensive repairs.

Where is the electronic throttle control located?

It’s located between the intake manifold and the air cleaner. It’s usually an aluminum component that is connected to the gas pedal either electronically or via a flexible cable. It allows more air to get into the engine when the driver steps on the gas pedal. This helps to generate more power for the car to increase speed.

How much does it cost to replace electronic throttle control?

A new electronic throttle control costs between $200 and $500 depending on the car’s make, model, and year of manufacture. It also depends on the brand of the new electronic throttle control.

The cost of replacing the throttle ranges between $250 and $650 if you include labor. Some cars have the throttle just at the top of the engine bay, making it easy to replace. Others have it hidden under other parts and may take a while to get to and replace.

Read more: What Does Check Fuel Cap Message Mean?

How much is a throttle sensor?

A throttle sensor costs between $75 and $105. The labor required to replace a throttle sensor ranges between $35 and $100. Expect to pay a replacement cost of between $110 to $200 for both parts and labor.

How much does it cost to clean the throttle body?

A can of CRC throttle body cleaner costs $13 if you choose to clean the throttle body yourself. A mechanic may charge you upwards of $100 to do the cleaning for you. It’s good preventative maintenance and helps to get rid of rough idles, stalling, and poor acceleration caused by a dirty throttle body.

How often does the throttle body need to be replaced?

A well-maintained throttle body can last between 150,000 and 200,000 miles. For an improved lifespan, clean the throttle body after every 75,000 miles. This helps to eliminate all the dirt and carbon buildup that may be blocking it.

Experts also recommend changing your air filter as required to ensure only clean air gets into the engine. A good filter prevents dirt from building up inside the throttle body and causing the butterfly valve to get stuck.

Does a bad throttle body make noise?

The engine is what will make noise when you have a bad throttle body. You may hear the RPMs go up and down at idle and strange noises if the vehicle has poor acceleration. These are common symptoms of a bad or dirty throttle body that needs to be cleaned or replaced.

Final Thoughts

The red lightning bolt on the dash is a common symbol in many cars. In Jeep models, in particular, it is nicknamed the Jeep lightning bolt of death.

Other models that have trouble with it include the Dodge RAM where it can cause the vehicle not to start. All in all, the lightning bolt means the same thing in a car in most cases.

You can always reach out to a certified mechanic when experiencing any issues with your electronic throttle control system. Meanwhile, stick around for more guides.