This paper describes the tribological performance of diamond-like carbon (DLC) coatings deposited on AISI 440C steel substrates by electron cyclotron resonance chemical vapor deposition (ECR-CVD) process. A variety of analytic techniques were used to characterize the coatings, such as Raman spectroscopy, atomic force microscopy (AFM) and nano-indentation. The sliding wear and friction experiments were carried out by the conventional ball-on-disk tribometry against 100Cr6 steel counterbody at various normal loads (1-10 N) and sliding speeds (2-15 cm/s). All the wear tests were conducted under dry sliding condition in ambient air for a total rotation cycle of 1 × 105 (sliding distance ∼2.2 km). Surfaces of the coatings and the steel balls were examined before and after the sliding wear tests. The DLC coatings that had been tested all showed relatively low values of friction coefficient, in the range of 0.1-0.2 at a steady-state stage, and low specific wear rates (on the order of 10-8 mm3/Nm). It was found that higher normal loads or sliding speeds reduced the wear rates of the coatings. Plastic deformation became more evident on the coating surface during the sliding wear test at higher contact stresses. The friction-induced transformation of the coating surface into a graphite-like phase was revealed by micro-Raman analysis, and the flash temperature of the contact asperities was estimated. It was suggested that the structural transformation taking place within the wear tracks was mainly due to the formation of compact wear debris layer rather than the frictional heating effect. On the other hand, an adherent transfer layer (tribolayer) was formed on the counterface, which was closely related to the steady-state friction during sliding and the wear mechanisms. Fundamental knowledge combined with the present tribological study led to the conclusion that adhesive wear along with abrasion was probably the dominant wear mechanism for the DLC/steel sliding systems. Additionally, fatigue processes might also be involved in the wear of the coatings. © 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.