Q: What causes sensors to be damaged or get dirty?

asked by on November 17, 2015

What causes sensors to be damaged or get dirty?

Modern vehicles are equipped with dozens of different sensors. Sensors are small electrical components, typically housed in plastic, that provide readings to different computers in a vehicle. While their role is big, the sensors themselves and the wires that connect the sensors to the computer, are not necessarily very large. But like any other component on or in a vehicle, these small components are subject to getting damaged or dirty due to their natural exposure to the elements and in time need to be cleaned or replaced.

Sensors that are installed or attached to the engine/transmission, or to other external areas of the vehicle like tires, are more susceptible to damage due to the number of elements they can encounter on a daily basis. Exposure to extreme heat and cold, as well as rain and debris are enemies to many parts of a car. Shifting cold and hot temperatures causes the parts to expand and contract, eventually cracking them. A cracked sensor will allow moisture to get inside of it and short out the sensor.

Other sensors, such as the Mass Air Flow and Idle Air Control sensors, get dirty due to fine dust particles that make their way past the engine’s air filter. Over time this fine dust can build up and prevent these sensors from doing their job.

Some sensors, such as brake wear sensors, cannot be cleaned and are designed to be used only once and then disposed. A sensor can also become shorted out by receiving too much voltage. Such an incident can happen from simply jump starting a vehicle.

As there are so many sensors that come into play with a vehicle, the most important step for sensor health is making sure that they are regularly inspected during routine maintenance. While we cannot escape sensors getting damaged or dirty, we can make sure they are replaced often to avoid a vehicle from experiencing the repercussions of a failed sensor.

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