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?
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: Transmission has trouble changing out of 2nd and 3rd gear

Hi there. It is possible that the sensors have failed again, but most of the time this is the result of a failure in the valve body itself. These valve bodies have a tendency to hold a lot of debris...

Q: Q: MAP sensor.

No. The MAP sensor is more than a sensor inside the case, as it contains circuitry that may alter the output voltage as specified by manufacturer needs. If you need help getting the correct part, YourMechanic can source and replace...

Q: Truck won't run like it used to

Hi, thanks for writing in. Believe it or not, this happens quite a bit when people swap OEM air filters to K&N or other products. It has nothing to do with the aftermarket part however. The P-0104 OBD-II error code...

Related articles

How Do Power Car Windows Increase Passenger Safety?
Power windows are responsible for approximately 2,000 emergency room visits every year. When a power window closes, it exerts enough force to bruise or break bones, crush fingers, or restrict an airway. Though...
P0240 OBD-II Trouble Code: Turbocharger Boost Sensor B Circuit Range/Performance
P0240 code definition Turbocharger Boost Sensor B Circuit Range/Performance What the P0240 code means P0240 is an OBD-II generic code triggered when the Engine Control Module (ECM) detects the intake boost...
P2428 OBD-II Trouble Code: Exhaust Gas Temperature Too High Bank 1
P2428 code definition A P2428 trouble code signifies that the PCM has detected a problem in the exhaust gas temperature sensor circuit in bank 1, which subsequently contains the number one...