Automotive Sensors – Why Are Automotive Sensors So Important

Automotive Sensors - Why Are Automotive Sensors So Important
Automotive Sensors - Why Are Automotive Sensors So Important

Before the use of computerized automotive sensors, fixing a car was way easier.

In the old days, it was a lot different. For instance, either moving a distributor, or adjusting a screw on a carburetor, might be all you had to do.

If you had fuel, spark and you were close to correct in your ignition timing, your engine would run. As a result, problems in these mechanical systems, were relatively easy to solve.

So, automotive sensors, are electronic devices that monitor, various aspects of the vehicle. And then, sends that information to the driver or (ECU) “Electronic Control Unit”. In certain situations, the (ECU) automatically makes adjustments to the particular component, based on information received from the sensor.

Gasoline engines need the proper fuel and air mixture, with compression, to squeeze the mixture all together. Only then, can the spark plug ignite the mixture properly. Today, many car owners, are not even aware of, how many automotive sensors, their vehicle actually has.

So, the difference today, is that a variety of engine parameters, must be met and controlled.

Automotive Sensors
Automotive Sensors

Automotive Sensors, Must All Be Working Properly

Because, if one or more of the automotive sensors are not working. The engine may run poorly or not at all:

  • Crank Position (CKP)
  • Cam Position (CMP)
  • Engine Coolant temp (ECT)
  • Manifold Absolute Pressure (MAP)
  • Mass Air Flow (MAF)
  • Throttle Position (TPS)
  • Accelerator Pedal Position (APPS)
  • Heated Oxygen Sensor In Exhaust (H02S)
  • Wheel Speed Sensor
  • Tire Pressure Sensor (TPMS)
  • Intake/Ambient Air Temp (IAT)
  • Knock Sensor (KS)
  • Oxygen Sensor (O2)

For example, what happens if a crankshaft position sensor (CKP) fails. Although mechanically sound, it has no way of figuring out, when the spark plugs should fire. As a result, the engine will not start.

Similarly, with a failed (ECT) sensor, the computer might attempt to compensate for what it sees as, a cold engine. Consequently, adjusting the fuel injection and timing, causing the engine to run poorly.

Engine Coolant Temperature (ECT)
Engine Coolant Temperature (ECT)

You may even think that there is something wrong, with the ignition system or the spark plugs. But, in reality there may be nothing wrong with the engine at all. And, it may be operating, at its proper temperature. But, because the sensor has told the computer that there is a problem, the computer sets out to correct it. The computer can also sense, when something has gone wrong and can inform the driver with the “Check Engine” light.

Beyond Automotive Sensors, We Have Programs Called Monitors

They look at the values from these proportional integral derivatives (PID)s, to make sure everything is working correctly.

Some of these are:

  • (EGR) monitor
  • Evaporative emissions (EVAP) monitor
  • Short term/Long Term fuel trims
  • Engine warm up time (tests thermostat function)
  • Misfire monitor (collected from (CKP))

So, Most Automotive Sensors Pretty Much Do The Same Thing:

One Way Position Sensors

Pressure sensors, temperature sensors, and (I will call them) “One way position sensors” like the (TPS). They all change electrical resistance, that the (PCM) reads, as a change in voltage. Consequently, the (PCM) sends a constant 5 volts and measures the return.

Throttle Position (TPS)
Throttle Position (TPS)

Rotational Sensors automotive sensors

Rotational sensors, like (CMP), (CKP), and wheel speed sensors, normally use, a pulse generating sensor. The difference is that they actually create, an AC voltage signal.

Crankshaft Position (CKP)
Crankshaft Position (CKP)

Hall-Effect Sensors

They can also use a Hall-effect sensor, that will create a digital DC voltage.

Oxygen Sensors (O2) automotive sensors

So, oxygen sensors (O2) are in a class all their own. Consequently, they have a material inside them, that creates a voltage (about 450 mV). Because, of having a difference in oxygen content on each side of the sensor. Consequently, the greater the difference, the higher the voltage (this pegs out just below 1 volt).

Oxygen Sensor (O2) Failure Symptoms Chart
Oxygen Sensor (O2) Failure Symptoms Chart


So, always do your diagnostic homework first. Because, replacing automotive sensors, won’t solve a drivability or emissions problem, if the problem is not the sensor.

Thank You !