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This might blow your mind but…oxygen sensors (O2s) are sensors that measure oxygen. Yep, the sensors calculate the amount of oxygen in the exhaust stream, then share that information with your car’s main computer. Most modern cars have at least two oxygen sensors: one before the catalytic converter and one after the catalytic converter. In case you were wondering, the catalytic converter, which is located in the exhaust system, is an emissions control device that cleans up the fumes leaving your engine. Anyhow, the front oxygen sensor (also known as an upstream oxygen sensor) is a key input to your car’s computer for fuel control. The computer uses information from the sensor to estimate the engine’s air-fuel mixture. Then, it adjusts fuel delivery accordingly. On the other hand, the rear oxygen sensor (also known as a downstream oxygen sensor) primarily monitors the performance of the catalytic converter. The rear sensor has very little, if any, input regarding fuel control. Oh, and one more thing – most modern oxygen sensors have built-in heaters. When you first start your engine when it’s cold, the heater element gets the sensor nice and toasty. That allows the sensor to get up-to-speed and begin operating more quickly.
If your car’s oxygen sensor isn’t doing its job, chances are, the computer will notice and turn on the check engine light. The device will also store corresponding diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs) in its brain. Your mechanic can retrieve said codes using an electronic device, called a scan tool.
The front oxygen sensor is a primary input to your car’s computer for fuel control. And guess what that means? If the sensor is out to lunch, the computer may end up giving your engine too much or too little fuel. As a result, you may experience performance problems, such as rough running, lack of acceleration and stalling.
As was mentioned, the front oxygen sensor is a key input to your car’s computer for fuel control. As such, it can confuse the computer and cause it to throw the engine’s air-fuel ratio out of whack, killing your gas mileage.
Typically, a bad front oxygen sensor won’t leave you stranded. But it can cause your car to run poorly. Although somewhat rare, a faulty oxygen sensor can also damage other components, such as the catalytic converter. And trust us, catalytic converters are expensive. So, you don’t want to be buying a new one.
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