Q: What Happens To Sensors When They Are Dirty?

asked by on

What happens to sensors when they are dirty?

When you drive your vehicle every day, it is inevitable the sensors on your vehicle will get dirty. Whether it’s water, dust, dirt, road tar or even dead animals in the road, your sensors will get dirty sooner or later. This is why sensors all have special coatings on them and extra rubber insulators to help combat dirt and debris.

There are a lot of sensors on your vehicle, not just for the engine, but also for the transmission and the antilock brake systems; now we even have sensors to help us change lanes on the highway and even stop the car for us. Out of all the sensors we have in our vehicles, today there are some that get abused more than the rest, such as the anti-lock brake sensors that are attached at each wheel so they see the road dirt and debris directly. There are also sensors in your exhaust system called oxygen sensors, or O2 sensors. These particular sensors are exposed to the elements with very little to no coverage like most of the engine and transmission sensors, which have a lot of plastic covers over them to help ward off road dirt. However, the only things you can do are keep your car as clean underneath as you can and make sure to avoid getting the vehicle in situations it should not be in.

If a sensor does get dirty, it could prevent the engine from starting or the engine could run rough or even burn too much fuel. If an ABS sensor gets dirty, the ABS Light will come on in the driver’s instrument panel warning you the system has been deactivated. If an oxygen sensor gets dirty, the car’s Check Engine Light will turn on; the engine may run too rich and you will see your gas mileage decrease.

In my experience, I have witnessed dirty sensors create all kinds of false problems, such as a Check Engine Light coming on despite no real issues with the vehicle. Intermittent issues with starting the vehicle could happen as well due to a dirty crankshaft position sensor.

Unfortunately, there is really no straight answer to the question except that proper vehicle maintenance and driving habits will help to combat any issues that could arise. It is difficult to detect if sensors are dirty or deteriorating without proper computer equipment. Practice good overall maintenance on your vehicle and take it through a drive-through car wash that cleans the undercarriage of the car. These good habits can extend the time before your sensors get dirty and start causing trouble for your vehicle.

Was this answer helpful?

Need advice from certified mechanic? Get help now!

Over 1,000 mechanics are ready to answer your question.
The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details

Ask a Mechanic
(100% Free)

Have a car question? Get free advice from our top-rated mechanics.

Ask A Mechanic
Over 10,000 questions answered!
  1. Home
  2. Questions
  3. What Happens To Sensors When They Are Dirty?

Get an instant quote for your car

Our certified mechanics come to you ・Backed by 12-month, 12,000-mile guarantee・Fair and transparent pricing

Get a quote

What others are asking

Q: Is it my crank sensor or a bad connection or my PCM after car gets warm it shuts down.

Hello. If the vehicle was previously displaying an error message for no signal crankshaft position sensor then it may be possible that the issues you are experiencing are related to the crankshaft position sensor. In most vehicles a failure of...

Q: The car stalls occasionally as if the fuel is not been pumped

It sounds like you may have a fuel supply issue that corresponds to the load put on the motor when you turn the A/C on. This may be related to a faulty MAP sensor. The Manifold Absolute Pressure (MAP) sensor...

Q: Hey whats going on guys i have 2003 4.2l 256ci f150 FX2 and I am getting a code for the Mass Air Flow sensor.

Hi there. Check the wiring to the mass air flow sensor (MAF Sensor) and see if there is an broken or frayed wires. If there is no damage to the wiring, then check the circuit on the wiring for a...

Related articles

What Causes Hoses to Leak?
While the largest part of your engine is mechanical, hydraulics plays a significant role. You’ll find fluids at work in a number of different areas. Your car's fluids include: Engine oil Transmission...
How Long Does a Heater Control Valve Last?
Keeping the right amount of coolant in a car is essential in keeping the engine at the right temperature. Failing to have the right amount of coolant or even bad elements...
P2103 OBD-II Trouble Code: Throttle Actuator Control Motor Circuit High
P2103 means there is a fault with the throttle actuator control motor circuit, likely due to a defective electrical component or part.