What Is A Car Sensor? Learn About Cost, Location, Replacing etc.

In your car, there are multiple sensors constantly working to ensure your vehicle is operating efficiently and safely. These sensors perform a variety of functions, such as measuring the speed of your engine, detecting the temperature of the engine coolant, or monitoring the air pressure in your tires.

Let’s take a look at some of the key sensors and their roles.

What is The Sensor in a Car?

Car sensors are small components that each monitor a car part. If that car part malfunctions, the sensor sends an alert to the car that will be displayed in the dashboard so you know something is off.

These sensors provide input data to your engine’s computer, helping to calculate optimal fuel delivery, ignition timing, and transmission operation.

Newer cars have more and more sensors to help you monitor everything from tire pressure to the distance to the car in front of you.

Car sensors on ford fusion

Here are a few sensors you’ll find in many cars:

  • The engine speed sensor is responsible for measuring how fast your engine’s crankshaft is rotating in rotations per minute (RPM). This is different from your vehicle’s speed, which is measured by a separate sensor.
  • Parking sensors, you can see these in the image above.
  • The mass airflow sensor (MAF) measures the air entering your engine. This sensor helps determine the optimal fuel mixture your engine needs to run efficiently.
  • Cars also have oxygen (O2) sensors within their exhaust systems. This sensor monitors the content of exhaust gases leaving your engine, allowing the onboard computer to adjust fuel mixtures and control emissions.
  • The throttle position (TP) sensors monitor the throttle’s position.

What do Car Sensors Look Like?

Sensors are often round or cylindrical in shape, such as the engine speed sensor that measures the speed of the crankshaft in rotations per minute (RPMs).

Other sensors, like the one used for anti-lock brake systems (ABS), might have a more rectangular or square shape, housed in protective casings to ensure their integrity.

Additionally, self-driving cars have an array of advanced sensor systems that help them navigate their environment. These sensors can look like cameras or radar units mounted on the exterior of the vehicle, and they work together to collect the data needed for autonomous driving.

Do all Cars have Sensors?

All modern cars come with numerous sensors that monitor various aspects of the vehicle to ensure it functions properly.

Cars from before the mid-1980s, however, didn’t have any sensors. From the mid-nineties, we’ve seen more and more sensors with each generation of cars.

Where are Car Sensors Located?

Car sensors are located in various parts of your vehicle, monitoring different aspects of its performance.

Let’s look at some of the common sensors and where you can find them.

  • Mass Air Flow (MAF) Sensor is typically found near the air filter.
  • Engine Speed Sensors are usually located at the front or side of the engine behind the timing cover.
  • Vehicle Speed Sensor can be found at the transmission or transaxle.
  • Wheel Speed Sensors are usually situated near the brake system components, often behind the wheel hub assembly.
  • Parking Sensors are located all around the vehicle to help you park without bumping into your surroundings. They will cause a beeping sound as you get closer to the car in front of you.

How Long do Sensors Last?

Car sensors are designed to last 5-10 years, with some showing longer lifespans than others.

  • Oxygen sensors, for example, typically last between 50,000 and 60,000 miles, but they can last much longer if the engine is properly maintained.
  • Wheel speed sensors are designed to last as long as the car itself, but rough conditions and engine heat can make the wires inside brittle and cause them to fail.
  • Tire pressure sensors and parking sensors will often fail after 8-10 years.

How Much Do Sensors Cost?

The price of sensors ranges from $50 to $300, or even more.

  • Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) sensors can cost you around $50 to $100 per sensor.
  • O2 sensors cost from $70 to $300, depending on the type and location of the sensor.
  • The Vehicle Speed Sensors cost between $150 and $180, on average.

What does it cost to have a Car Sensor replaced?

Here are some price examples of the labor cost involved with replacing a car sensor:

  • For an oxygen sensor (O2) replacement, labor costs can range anywhere from $100 to $170.
  • A speed sensor replacement cost between $115 and $170.
  • Replacing a tire pressure sensor, cost around $50 and $150.
  • A backup warning system sensor replacement cost anywhere from $100 to $150.

What Happens When a Sensor Malfunctions?

When a sensor in your car malfunctions, it can lead to various issues depending on the specific sensor that’s causing the problem.

Some of the common symptoms you may encounter include:

  • poor engine performance,
  • uncontrolled beeping (faulty parking sensor)
  • reduced fuel efficiency,
  • stalling,
  • and the “Check Engine Light” appears.

Can You Continue Driving With Faulty Sensors?

Yes, you can continue driving though your dashboard alerts you of a faulty sensor. A bad sensor will not affect the engine or the main moving parts’ performance as they merely monitor these parts.

But be aware that driving with a bad sensor can potentially lead to more problems.

For example, a malfunctioning Oxygen (O2) sensor can cause poor acceleration, rough idling, or even misfires. Similarly, a bad speed sensor could prevent the transmission torque converter from engaging the clutch, causing issues in vehicle performance and rendering features like cruise control unresponsive.

Can You Replace Sensors Yourself?

Replacing a sensor is not your average DIY project on the car. It’s not as easy as replacing a muffler or a battery. However, if you have some experience with cars it should be possible to replace a faulty sensor.

First, compare your old sensor with your new one to ensure proper fitment.

Keep in mind that there are various types of sensors in a car, and the replacement process may differ. Always refer to your vehicle’s owner’s manual here.

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