Hill Start Assist Not Available – Causes, Meaning & Fixes

You are driving on a hill (whether climbing the hill or coming down from one), and you need to stop briefly. This could be because the traffic light had just turned red, or you took a wrong turn and ran into a terrible traffic hold-up. Whatever it is, you need to slow your car to a stop. Soon another vehicle rolls up behind you, and you’re boxed in. This is a fairly common situation for any driver. All you have to do is wait until you can move again, then you hit the accelerator and get moving.

But because you’re on a hill, there is a tendency for your car to roll down or forward (depending on if you were climbing or descending the hill) just when you’re taking your foot off the brakes to the accelerator. For experienced drivers, the whole process goes on subconsciously, and they probably won’t give it much thought. But if you’re just learning how to drive, this scenario could be nerve-racking. 

The chances of hitting the next vehicle are high depending on your driving experience. At that point, you’d wish there was a way to stop your car from rolling while you lift your foot from the brake pedal. The good news is that there is a way, and it’s called Hill Start Assist. 

What Is Hill Start Assist, and How Does It Work?

Hill start assist is a system designed to help a driver comfortably start the car on a slope without rolling either forward or backward. This system, also known as hill hold control or hill start control, maintains pressure on the brake pedals for a few seconds (about 2.5) while the driver switches his foot between the pedals.

The system makes use of a drive-by-wire braking technology (or electronic throttle control) commonly found in autonomous emergency braking (AEB) or Anti-lock braking system (ABS). Most hill start assist systems only work one way (when climbing the hill). But some work both when climbing the hill and descending as well as on slippery surfaces. 

Hill Start Assist Not Available – What Does This Error Mean?

As I said earlier, experienced drivers will barely depend on this feature, but for learners, it can be a relief knowing that it is there when you need it. So then, what do you do if it happens to be unavailable just when you need it?  You first notice the dreaded “Hill start assist not available” message on your car’s dashboard. You may also notice that the Hill start assist light is turned off.

Hill start assist not available warning
(Source: f150forum)

Whichever is the case, this is often not a good sign. What this means is that, for some reason, the hill start assist has been turned off. If you find yourself on a hill, you would have to depend on your driving instincts. Many drivers have visited car forums to understand what causes the error and how to get rid of it. So in the next section, I will be talking about the various reasons why your car’s hill start assist may be unavailable and what you can do about it. 

Hill Start Assist Not Available – Why Is This Happening?

There are many reasons why the hill start assist may not be available. Some are temporary and can be easily fixed, while others will need an experienced technician to look into them. Before we talk about how to get rid of the error, here are some of the common causes;

01. Rocky or icy roads

Sometimes, the hill start assist is not available errors might pop up when you are driving on a rocky or icy road. If this is the case, then you have nothing to worry about. The reason is likely due to the loss of traction, which is common when driving on a rocky or icy surface. The car’s traction control system (TCS) might register this as a fault. When there is a fault with the TCS, the hill start assists feature will also be affected, hence the message. The message should go away once you return to the regular road surface. 

02. Faulty ABS/ wheel sensor

ABS stands for Anti-lock braking system. The ABS’s primary function is to prevent the car’s wheels from locking up when braking by maintaining traction between the wheels and the road surface. It does this with the help of a wheel sensor attached to the wheels. The sensor (also known as the wheel speed sensor) is a critical component of the ABS, whose function is to monitor most of the activities regulated by the ABS, such as the wheel speed and traction control. 

However, it is also one of the components most prone to damage. Symptoms of a damaged ABS sensor are; pulsating brake pedal and anti-lock brakes not working. Traction control and stability control not working, ABS warning light, and traction control light will light up your dashboard, and of course, the dreaded “hill start assist not working” message pops ups.

03. Broken brake light fuse

For Ford owners, a broken brake light fuse could be the problem. The brake light in Ford is linked to the hill start assist feature. So if there is a problem with the brake light such that they are not functioning as they should, then you will likely see the “hill start assist not available” error message. To get the feature back online, you must fix any brake light circuits problem. Most times, all you may have to do is replace the fuse. 

04. Software glitch

Softwares are not always perfect, yet we depend on them so much. Most modern cars have electronic control units that are run by software. The ECU, in turn, controls other systems in the car, including the ABS, TCU, and hill start assist feature. So if the software has a glitch, most of the vehicle’s systems will be affected. There have been a series of recalls by Ford motor company due to software glitches. These include the F-150 lightning tire software glitches and the Mustang Mach-E software glitch that led to unintended acceleration. What I’m trying to say is that you shouldn’t rule out the possibility of a software glitch when your car’s hill starts to assist and stops working as it should.

Related content: Power Steering Assist Fault Ford Fusion: Causes and Fixes

05. The function switched off by mistake

It is also possible that the hill start assists feature was switched off accidentally. As obvious as it may seem, most people do not check to see if they have accidentally turned it off. If you always have children onboard or have taken your car to a car wash recently, then there is a high probability that the hill start assist feature was turned off.

06. Faulty brake light switch

You should double-check the brakes if your vehicle doesn’t have Hill Start Assist. This is because the state of your Ford brake lights seems related to this function, which may be the case in other contexts. If, for some reason, your brake lights aren’t working properly, you’ll need to repair the circuit so that Hill Start Assist can engage.

07. Uneven ground

The Hill Start Assist message pops up occasionally if you are on uneven ground. The traction control system may also identify a defect, rendering the feature inoperable. This may be due to the vehicle’s lack of grip on the road, which may be the result of snow or ice.

08. Electronic Stability Control (ESC) and Traction Control (TC) malfunction

Another typical reason for disabling Hill Start Assist is powering down critical systems. Yes! Your car will not perform properly, and certain features will be disabled if you disable the Electronic Stability Control (ESC) and the Traction Control (TC).

When you disable electronic stability control and traction control, you may also disable Hill Start Assist, a function that is used often.

What Should You Do?

Some of the causes of hill start assist not available to have a quick fix while some may need an experienced technician to look into it. Let’s take a look at some ways you can take to rectify the issue.

1. Use an OBD scanner

I have talked about 5 different reasons why the hill start assist may be turned off or malfunctioning. But there could be more; in some cases, it is difficult to know exactly what is wrong. This is why the first step is to use an OBD scanner. An OBD scanner (onboard diagnostic scanner) is a device that can read vehicle error codes. These codes can be interpreted by a mechanic, who would then be able to diagnose the cause of the problem and provide a solution. However, before resorting to this, make sure you try some of the other fixes listed below.

2. Perform a software update

This is much easier than trying to diagnose the problem with an OBD scanner. Most software updates can be done over the air (OTA). If your vehicle is due for an update, then go ahead and update the software. It may just happen that the new software addresses the issue. Here is a guide on how to carry out the software update on your Ford.

3. Turn on or reset the feature

In a situation where the hill start assist was accidentally turned off, a simple solution would be to turn it back on. Otherwise, resetting the system might do the trick. To reset the feature, you turn it off for a while and then back on. You should see the light indicating that the hill start assists feature is back on. The third method is to turn the car off and back on again.

Related content: P0012 Ford F150 – Meaning, Symptoms, Causes & How to Fix

Is Hill Start Assist A Necessary Feature?

Not every motorist will benefit from using the Hill Start Assist function. It’s safer to drive with this function turned off. In any case, it’s always advised to keep it enabled since it adds a layer of protection during the hill start.

This function’s importance grows while driving on particular roads that need constant changes in vehicle behavior, notably when climbing steep inclines. For example, when Hill Start Assist isn’t working, you may still drive on level ground as long as your vehicle doesn’t switch tracks.

Don’t forget that the vast majority of vehicle professionals advise dealing with dashboard error codes right away. However, you still need to know why this function was disabled, even if you don’t plan to use it. When another automotive problem needs prompt attention, this becomes crucial.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is there a TSB (Technical Service Bulletin) or recall from Ford regarding the issue?

Yes. There has been a series of software glitches that warranted a recall from Ford. For more information on Ford TSB and recalls, see here

How do I reset the hill start assist?

You can do this by turning the traction control off and then back on. The hill start assists indicator light should come on, showing that the system is back online. Alternatively, you may have to access the settings menu using the arrow buttons on the steering wheel. Navigate to the driver assist option in settings and turn the traction control on or off. The particular method will depend on the model of your car. 

How do I activate hill side assist?

Follow the steps below to activate the hillside assist feature on your Ford;

  1. Press the right arrow button on the steering to access the main menu
  2. Scroll to setup using the up and down arrow keys
  3. Select setup by pressing the right arrow key and scroll to hill launch
  4. Select hill launch by pressing the right arrow key, then choose from any of the three options – off, auto, or manual
  5. Select your option by pressing the right arrow key
  6. Hold down the left arrow key to exit the setup.

Is it safe to drive with the “hillside assist not available” warning displayed on your dashboard?

On its own, the hillside assist feature can be turned off, which means you are safe driving without it as long as you have no problem on hilly terrain. But if the feature is turned off for some other reason, then you should take the warning seriously. It could signal a bigger problem, like a faulty ABS or TCU.  


The hillside assist is a nifty feature that we’ve all come to appreciate. While this technology has proven to be very helpful, the downside of getting so attached is that we become worried at the slightest sign of a problem. This could come in the form of a simple error message. If you read this article, then it’s very likely you were greeted with the hillside assist is not available message. If so, then I hope you found this article to be helpful.