What Happens When an Oxygen Sensor Goes Bad?

What Happens When an Oxygen Sensor Goes Bad?

The oxygen sensor plays an important role in how your vehicle operates. First, it measures the fuel and oxygen gas in your engine’s exhaust. Its position in the exhaust manifold, where this mixture goes, allows it to measure and adjust this ratio so your vehicle runs properly. The proper ratio of oxygen to fuel (14.7:1) gives your vehicle optimal combustion. This is what happens when your sensor goes bad.

Illumination of the Check Engine Light

Before you find a loaner oxygen sensor socket to remove your sensor, you should understand how this sensor impacts your vehicle. One of the main reasons your check engine light comes on is because your oxygen sensor functions improperly or not at all. This is a common trigger for this light. However, you should have a licensed mechanic check your engine’s code because a number of things could cause the light to turn on and your fuel-oxygen ratio may be the result of other electrical or mechanical component failures.

Poor Engine Performance

When your oxygen sensor goes bad, your engine performance will suffer. Your engine will idle roughly and may not accelerate as quickly. In addition, you could stall or experience misfires in your engine. Sensor malfunctions can also impact your engine timing. This sensor also impacts combustion intervals, so you will experience disruptions in this process.

Decreased Fuel Efficiency & Increased Emissions

Because your oxygen sensor manages the air-to-fuel ratio, if it is bad, your engine may push more fuel than you need into the exhaust manifold. This can significantly reduce your fuel efficiency and increase emissions. It will literally waste fuel. In addition, you can experience black smoke. Your engine may smell like rotten eggs as well. Because not all of your fuel gets burned due to inefficient combustion, your car’s catalytic converter can overheat as the unburned fuel begins to clog it.  

What To Do if Your Oxygen Sensor Fails

Although you can drive with a bad oxygen sensor, this practice could result in other engine part failures, particularly the catalytic converter, which is much more expensive to replace. Therefore, when you experience any of these signs, have your vehicle checked immediately. Some parts stores also offer diagnostics.

Once you know what is wrong, determine whether you can replace the sensor yourself or if you need to hire a mechanic. A mechanic can determine whether it is your sensor, wiring, insulation or fuel injectors that are the cause of your problems.

Sensor Replacement

The first step in how to replace an oxygen sensor involves collecting your tools. If you plan to do the replacement, you will need jacks and jack stands, a wrench and an oxygen sensor socket. You may also need anti-seize gel to loosen and remove the sensor. The sensor connects to the vehicle’s electrical system at the end of its sensor cable. Once you replace the sensor, you need to plug it into the wiring harness and start your vehicle to ensure you completed the process properly.

Remember that vehicle maintenance is important to keep your car running properly. Learn about the regular maintenance requirements of your vehicle to protect it and yourself.


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