Crankshaft-Camshaft Position Sensors – What Do They Do


Crankshaft-Camshaft Position Sensors produce a signal that tells the Fuel Injection Computer or the Ignition Control Module the exact position of the pistons as they come up or go down in the compression cycle.

What does a Crankshaft (Camshaft) Position Sensor Do?

I’ll start by explaining the specific role that the Crank (and Cam) Sensor play in the Electronic Ignition System of your car or truck. This info applies to whatever make and model you may be driving, so whether it’s a Ford, a Chevy, a Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep, a Nissan, a Honda, a Toyota, or whatever, this primer will help.

In a nutshell, the Crankshaft Position Sensor job is to help:


1) the Ignition System produce Spark

2) the Fuel System to start injecting gasoline into the cylinders

All this so that the vehicle’s engine will start and stay running. More specifically, the CKP Sensor produces a signal that tells the Fuel Injection Computer or the Ignition Control Module the exact position of the cylinder pistons as they come up or go down in the compression cycle.

Hence with this information the Fuel Injection Computer or the Ignition Control Module knows the exact time it has to make the Ignition Coil or Ignition Coils spark. Lastly, this signal can be either an Analog Voltage Signal of a Digital DC Voltage Signal… but more about this a little later.

The Camshaft Position Sensor is GENERALLY used in all modern Sequentially Fuel Injected engines.

This is to fine tune ignition timing and fuel injection timing after the vehicle has started. Although this article concentrates on the basics of Crankshaft Position Sensors, you can apply most of this info to the Camshaft Position Sensors too.

Since the Crankshaft Position Sensor’s Signal triggers the Ignition Module (or Fuel Injection Computer) to start switching the Ignition Coil’s Primary Current ground path On and Off… I usually refer to the sensor’s signal as the Triggering Signal. Since the Crank Sensor (or Cam Sensor) is the one producing this Triggering Signal, I refer to it as the Triggering Device.

First of all the signal that the Ignition Module (or Fuel Injection Computer) sends the Ignition Coil for it to start sparking is the Switching Signal. So, guess what… the Ignition Module (or the Fuel Injection Computer) is therefore the Switching Device.

Since, the Ignition Control Module really doesn’t send a physical signal (like the Crank or Cam Sensor does to the Switching Device) to the Ignition Coil(s). Why? Well, because the term ‘Switching Signal’ is just a descriptive name for the turning on and off of the primary current passing thru’ the Ignition Coil.

In conclusion, this turning on and off only happens after the Ignition Module (or Fuel Injection Computer) receives the Crankshaft Position Sensor’s Signal. As you may already know, it’s this action that causes the Ignition Coil to start firing Spark.


Symptoms of a BAD Crankshaft Position Sensor

We can take for granted that when a CKP Sensor goes BAD, your vehicle will not start. It’ll crank but not start. But hey, a car (or truck) could not start due to a ton of different reasons like: a BAD Fuel Pump, a BAD Ignition Coil, a BAD Ignition Control Module, BAD Spark Plug Cables, etc. Therefore, it’s not enough to say that your car or truck won’t start, what you need to know are some of the measurable/testable effects/symptoms that a BAD Crankshaft Position Sensor has on the Ignition System.

And so, if the Crankshaft Position Sensor isn’t creating a Signal, then the measurable/testable effects of this condition are but not limited to:

  1. No Fuel Injector Pulse
  2. The Triggering Device (whether it’s the Ignition Control Module or the F.I. Computer) will not produce a Switching Signal to the Ignition Coil.
  3. No Spark coming out of the Ignition Coil or Coils.
  4. In addition on some makes, like Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep, the Fuel Injection Computer will not continue to power the Fuel Pump or the Ignition System with 12 Volts after an initial ten seconds or so.
noid light
noid light

What Tools do I Need to
Test the Crankshaft and Camshaft Positions Sensors?

You don’t need expensive tools and/or expensive testing equipment to test these CKP and CMP Sensors. Here’s what you’ll need:

  1. The car or truck’s battery must be fully charged.
  2. A Digital Multimeter that can read Hertz Frequency.
  3. A good Repair Manual. The Repair Manual will probably be just one of many information resources that you’ll use to diagnose the CKP or CMP Sensors on your car or truck.
  4. You’ll need someone to help you crank the car’s or truck’s engine while you observe the readings on the Multimeter.
  5. A Fuel Injector Noid Light.
  6. You don’t need an Automotive Scan Tool (commonly known as a Scanner).
  7. You don’t need oscilloscope.
obd reader
obd reader

Do I need an Automotive Scan
Tool to test the CKP and CMP Sensors?

I’ve already covered this ground a bit, but I’ll restate that these sensors are tested without a Scan Tool. Now before I ruffle some feathers… let me explain that the majority of cars and trucks on the road will not set a Crankshaft Position Sensor code when the sensor goes BAD.

This is not an absolute truth, mind you. But in my experience, about 95% percent of the BAD Crankshaft Position Sensors that I’ve replaced, the vehicle’s onboard self-diagnostics didn’t leave any type of CKP Sensor code! As you might already know, such a code (or codes) can give you an idea of what is going on and/or where to start the diagnostic process.

OK, even if you tried using a Scan Tool, most makes and models will not let you have access to the live Data (to read the RPM’s) that the Scan tool provides while you’re cranking the car or truck. So if you have no live Data, you won’t know/see if there is an RPM signal on the Scan Tool’s display screen (in case you didn’t know, the Scan Tool displays the RPM’s from info from the CKP Sensor). Therefore, knowing how to test them with a multimeter (or an LED or an oscilloscope or whatever) independent of a Scan Tool becomes very important.

Now, when it comes to Camshaft Position Sensors… a Scan Tool does come in handy since a BAD CMP Sensor does register a diagnostic code. This code usually lights up your check engine light on your instrument cluster. But testing them requires a method that is independent of the Scan Tool, and well, as I’ve mentioned before, the test steps that apply to a CKP Sensor also apply to a CMP Sensor.

Basic Circuit Description of a Three Wire Sensor?

On this type of sensor, each of the three wires has a specific job to do. Here’s the breakdown:

  1. One wire is the Power Source and it normally provides 12 Volts although some provide 9 Volts.
    1. You’ll test for this Voltage with your Multimeter in DC Volts mode.
  2. One wire is the Ground Path for the above 9 or 12 volts. This Ground is generally provided inside the Fuel Injection Computer or the Ignition Control Module, but not always.
    1. You’ll test for this Ground with your Multimeter in DC Volts mode.
  3. The third wire is the Triggering Signal wire. Hence it’s thru’ this wire that the Crank (or Cam Sensor) sends the Signal it produces to the Fuel Injection Computer or Ignition Control Module.
    1. In conclusion it’s on this wire that you’ll connect/attach the Red Lead of your Multimeter to test for the Signal.
    2. The Black Lead you’ll connect to ground.
    3. The Multimeter will have to be either in Volts DC mode or Frequency (Hz) mode to verify the Signal.
    4. Finally the rule of thumb, if you’re using Volts DC mode, is that this Signal should output the amount of Voltage that come’s into the Sensor on the Power Circuit. So, when you crank the engine, you should see anywhere between 9 to 12 Volts.
    5. If the CKP or CMP Sensor is BAD, you’ll get no reading.

Basic Circuit Description of a Two Wire Sensor

Since this type of Sensor only has two wires and no Power Supply, testing them is not that hard:

  1. One of the two wires is the Signal wire that sends the Signal to the Fuel Injection Computer of Ignition Module.
  2. The other wire acts as a Ground return. Furthermore this Ground is always provided by the Fuel Injection Computer or the Ignition Control Module.
  3. On this type of Sensor, you’ll connect both Multimeter Leads to both wires. That is the Red Lead can be connected to either of the two. The Black Lead is connected to the remaining one. It doesn’t matter which Lead goes where, since the polarity does not matter.
  4. Your Multimeter has to be in Volts AC mode to see this Signal.
  5. When your helper cranks the engine, the Multimeter will display about 1 Volt AC. Finally, this AC Voltage will move between .3 Volts AC to 1 Volt AC the whole time the engine is cranking, this is normal. If the Sensor is BAD, the Multimeter will not display any AC Voltage.
    1. This Voltage increases with Engine RPM’s. So the faster the engine cranks, the higher the AC Voltage.

What are the Actual Testing Steps

Testing a CKP Sensor isn’t hard and the diagnostic flow is pretty straightforward.

The following testing path applies to a Cranks but does NOT START condition.

Although the following tests only apply to a Crankshaft Position Sensor that has failed completely, with some modification you can also follow the same diagnostic path in diagnosing a CMP Sensor.

  1. Step One.
    1. Make certain that the Battery is in a fully charged condition.
    2. Test for Spark.
      1. You’ll need to test for spark at all cylinders to a certain that there’s no Spark present at all.
      2. If Spark is present, the Crankshaft Position is working properly.
    3. Test for Fuel Injector Pulse, although depending on the fuel system design this is not always possible.
      1. If the Fuel Injector Pulse is present, the Crankshaft Position Sensor is working properly.
  2. Step two.
    1. Find the location of the Crankshaft Position Sensor.
    2. Determine type of CKP Sensor (either a two or three wire type).
  3. Step three.
    1. On three wire type CKP Sensors:
      1. Determine which wire is the Power Circuit.
      2. Which wire is the Ground Circuit.
      3. Determine which wire is the Signal Wire.
    2. On two wire type CKP Sensors:
      1. You don’t have to determine which wire is which since you don’t have to test for a power supply. Also, the Multimeter’s leads are hooked up to both wires at the same time to read the Signal the Sensor produces.
  4. Step four.
    1. On three wire type CKP Sensors:
      1. Probe the Power Circuit to verify the presence of the specified Voltage. This Voltage is usually verified with the key on or engine cranking.
      2. The Ground Circuit to verify that ground does exist. This Ground is usually verified with the key on or engine cranking.
      3. Probe the Signal Wire. Since the presence of this Signal can only be verified with the engine cranking and with the Multimeter in Hertz (Hz) Frequency Mode or in Volts DC Mode.
    2. On two wire type CKP Sensors:
      1. Probe both wires coming out of the Sensor with both leads of your Multimeter. The polarity of the leads doesn’t matter. In other words, the red and black lead can go to any of the two wires.
      2. Since the presence of this Signal can only be verified with the engine cranking and with the Multimeter in Volts AC.
  5. Step Five.
    1. If no Signal is present:
      1. The Crankshaft Position Sensor is BAD, replace it.
    2. If a Signal is present:
      1. The Crankshaft Position Sensor is good.




The fastest way to check the crank and/or camshaft sensors on a 1995 or newer vehicle with OBD II is to plug in your scan tool and check for any fault codes.

P0335….Crankshaft Position Sensor A Circuit

P0336….Crankshaft Position Sensor A Circuit Range/Performance

P0337….Crankshaft Position Sensor A Circuit Low Input

P0338….Crankshaft Position Sensor A Circuit High Input

P0339….Crankshaft Position Sensor A Circuit Intermittent

P0340….Camshaft Position Sensor ‘A’ Circuit (Bank 1 or Single Sensor)

P0341….Camshaft Position Sensor ‘A’ Circuit Range/Performance (Bank 1)

P0342….Camshaft Position Sensor ‘A’ Circuit Low Input (Bank 1)

P0343….Camshaft Position Sensor ‘A’ Circuit High Input (Bank 1)

P0344….Camshaft Position Sensor ‘A’ Circuit Intermittent (Bank 1)

P0345….Camshaft Position Sensor ‘A’ Circuit (Bank 2)

P0346….Camshaft Position Sensor ‘A’ Circuit Range/Performance (Bank 2)

P0347….Camshaft Position Sensor ‘A’ Circuit Low Input (Bank 2)

P0348….Camshaft Position Sensor ‘A’ Circuit High Input (Bank 2)

P0349….Camshaft Position Sensor ‘A’ Circuit Intermittent (Bank 2)

You can also use your scan tool to check for the presence of a cranking rpm signal. If an engine is cranking but is not starting because there is no spark (it is often a clue that the crankshaft position sensor is not working).

In addition Crankshaft-Camshaft Position Sensors on pre-OBD II vehicles, you can use a scan tool to check for codes, or use a manual flash code procedure to read out codes.

On a pre-OBD II GM application, a trouble Code 12 while cranking would indicate no reference signal being generated.

On pre-OBD II Ford applications, a Code 14 would indicate a problem with the crank position sensor signal, which Ford calls a “PIP” (Profile Ignition Pick-up) signal.