Skip the auto shop - Our mechanics make house calls

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 1000 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
  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: P0304 code.

You should make sure the mass air flow sensor is connected and inlet to throttle body hooked up. If it is and problem continues then tr to disconnect the MAF sensor and see if engine runs okay? If it does...

Q: Kia Cerato 2011 jerks when accerating

Your car's engine intake system has something called a mass air flow sensor that monitors air intake as it is mixed with fuel prior to being injected into the motor. When this fails, this can cause an imbalanced air/fuel load...

Q: Door open/ajar sensor will not turn off .

You may have a worn door latch. With someone in the driver's seat watching the light, close the driver's side door, and push in on the door evenly with the latch to see if the light goes out. If it...

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 Distributor O Ring Last?
The distributor is part of the ignition system in your vehicle and its purpose is to route high voltage from the ignition coil to the spark plug. The spark plug then...
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...