Throttle Position Sensor (TPS) – Function – Failure Signs – Testing

Throttle Position Sensor (TPS) - Function - Failure - Testing
Throttle Position Sensor (TPS) - Function - Failure - Testing

So, the throttle position sensors function (TPS), is to supply vital information to the vehicles, engine control unit (ECU).

Most importantly, this information is based on, the actual position of the engines throttle valve.

So, your car was running fine, but suddenly, it’s stalling, jerking, idling poorly, surging, or just running bad.

Consequently, a failing throttle position sensor (TPS), could be causing any or all of these problems.

The throttle position sensor (TPS), converts the (throttle valve) position, into a proportional voltage signal. Which is then fed to the engine control unit (ECU). Consequently, the information from the throttle position sensor (TPS), is critical for proper start up and smooth throttle response.

The (ECU) uses this and other information, to calculate the proper settings for:

  • Fuel injection timing
  • Ignition timing
  • Camshaft timing
  • Anti-lock braking
  • Transmission shift points
Throttle Position Sensor (TPS)
Throttle Position Sensor (TPS)

Throttle Position Sensor (TPS) Types

There are only, two types of (TPS) sensors:

1-Switch Type (TPS)

  • In a switch-based (TPS), the switch is always on. As a result, providing a continuous current of electricity, while the throttle is in use. When the throttle is not in use, the switch is off and does not allow electricity to flow.

2-Potentiometer Type (TPS)

  • A potentiometer, however, sends a very low voltage to the (ECU). And, only when the ignition is on, but the throttle is off. It then increases the voltage, as the throttle is increased. Usually, reaching a peak of 5 Volts, when the throttle reaches its maximum.

Throttle Position Sensor (TPS) – What Does It Actually Do

Throttle Position Sensor (TPS)
Throttle Position Sensor (TPS)

The (TPS) reports the position of the throttle valve, to your engine’s computer. The (TPS) also, relays information to your anti-lock braking system. Furthermore, allowing it to supply, the traction aids your car needs, at a given speed. Most engines, use only one (TPS). But, more complex engines, may have multiple sensors.

The engine’s computer starts, by sending a set amount of voltage to the throttle position sensor (TPS). There, the (TPS) applies a certain amount of resistance, depending on how open the throttle valve is. Next, it sends, the altered voltage, back to the (ECU). But, as the throttle valve is opened and closed, that voltage changes.

The (ECU) uses this and other information to calculate:

  • Fuel injection timing.
  • Ignition timing.
  • Camshaft timing.
  • Anti-lock braking.
  • Transmission shift points.

Since the (TPS) contains both, electrical and mechanical parts, the throttle position sensor, can be prone to failure over time. Consequently, sending voltage readings to the (ECM), that are out of spec, possibly illuminating the CEL and setting codes.

Failure Warning Signs And Symptoms May Include:

  • Delayed reaction, from when you press the gas pedal.
  • Jerks and bucks, while the engine is under moderate load.
  • Surges, in idle speed.
  • Engine stalls, without warning and for no apparent reason.
  • Poor power, poor fuel economy.
  • Hesitation, while accelerating.
  • Sudden surges in speed, on the highway.
  • Delayed shifts or difficulty in changing gears. (information from the (TPS) informs the (ECM)’s shift points for the transmission).
  • Illuminated or flashing (CEL).
Check Engine Light (CEL)
Check Engine Light (CEL)

In some cases, these symptoms may come and go, before the sensor fails completely. It may require a few bad readings, before the (ECM) will store a trouble code and illuminate the (CEL).

(TPS) sensor and circuit related (DTC)s:

  • P0120 Throttle Position Sensor/Switch A Circuit Malfunction.
  • The most common code is, P0121 is for “TPS “A” Circuit Range Performance Problem”.
  • P0122 Throttle Position Sensor/Switch A Circuit Low Input.
  • P0123 Throttle Position Sensor/Switch A Circuit High Input.
  • P0124 Throttle Position Sensor/Switch A Circuit Intermittent.

Basic Testing

In addition, problems with a (TPS) might originate from, a bad electrical connection or corroded contacts on the connector. So, be sure to check this, before going any farther.

Use your multimeter for to diagnosis:

  • Slowly open the throttle and observe the voltmeter.
  • The voltmeter reading, should increase smoothly and gradually.


Throttle Position Sensor (TPS)
Throttle Position Sensor (TPS)

Problems from the throttle position sensor (TPS), often trigger a diagnostic fault code. So, before replacing the sensor, the sensor’s wiring, should be inspected for damage or loose connections. The sensor may also become loose, causing the readings to be inaccurate.

So, the powertrain control module (PCM) supplies, a 5 Volt reference signal, to the (TPS) and usually a ground.

A general measurement is, at idle = .5 Volts, full throttle = 4.5 Volts.

If the (PCM) detects, that the throttle angle is not what it should be for a specific (RPM). Then, it will set a code.

Also, if you have no (TPS) signal, check for 5 Volt reference at the connector.

If it’s present, check the ground circuit for open or shorts.

Then, make sure the signal circuit, isn’t 12V. Because, it should never, have battery voltage.

If it does, trace the circuit for short to voltage and repair.

Finally, look for any water, in the connector and replace the throttle position sensor (TPS) as necessary.


A bad (TPS) can cause, inability to shift up, rough or slow idle and lacking power when accelerating.

Limp Mode – Reduced Engine Power

Limp Mode Or Engine Power Is Reduced
Limp Mode Or Engine Power Is Reduced

So, the computer receives a signal from the (TPS) saying, the pedal is all the way to the floor. But, the throttle is actually closed. It would spot this error, when it compared this status, with the vehicle speed sensor. But, would be signaling a low or no speed. As soon as it sees this discrepancy, the computer, will command the transmission to go into, limp mode.

Limp mode is a security function, for your engine and transmission. When the engine or transmission control unit, has recognized a serious faulty value from the engine or transmission. Then, the car will go into limp mode. Limp mode, reduces the power and limits the (RPM) of the engine. Allowing you to drive your car to a workshop, without damaging the engine. Finally, as you can see, the throttle position sensor (TPS), does have an important job.

Thank You !