Being a car owner is not for the faint of heart. Anyone who has ever bought one can tell you that maintaining a vehicle can seem like an endless and complicated task. There’s much more going on under the hood than your average Joe should ever expect to understand. Unfortunately, this means that if something does malfunction in your car, it won’t always be immediately clear what the issue is.
However, if you arm yourself with some basic knowledge of car mechanics and a diagnostics device called the OBD2 scanner, you stand a chance of identifying the problem should one arise as you’re driving. This article will examine one of the essential components of your motor engine’s controls: the O2 sensor. You’ll be able to identify it, how to tell if it’s not working, and how to use your OBD2 scanner to test it.
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What is an O2 Sensor?
Let’s start with the basics of the oxygen sensor. If you have never even heard of an O2 sensor, you are not alone. Also, though the oxygen sensor was one of the earliest components of electric motor functioning, most people have no clue what it is or what it does.
The oxygen sensor was designed to monitor the level of oxygen being mixed in with and used to burn fuel. One of the essential reasons for doing this is so that you can be sure your car is running at its maximum fuel efficiency. As you may or may not know, this air/fuel mixture is continually changing based on factors of your drive, such as how fast your car is moving and how hard it’s working to do so.
Most cars are fitted with at least two O2 sensors, one at the top of the engine closer to the exhaust pipe, and one at the bottom closer to the muffler and catalytic converter. This spacing out is so your sensor can get the most accurate readings. As the oxygen sensor is working, it’s also communicating with the engine control computer, which will adjust oxygen intake as necessary to make sure your engine is at its most efficient rate.
So now you have a better understanding of what an O2 sensor is and how it transmits information back and forth with your engine. But how are you supposed to get in on this communication? I’ll touch on some of the few telltale signs of a faulty O2 sensor below, but first, I’ll introduce you to the beneficial device that will serve as the middleman between you and your oxygen sensor: the OBD2 sensor.
What is an OBD2 Scanner?
OBD stands for On-Board Diagnostics, and the earliest version was developed in the late 1970s to warn drivers when there was a problem with their engine. By 1991, all cars were fitted with unique-to-manufacturer OBD1 devices that regulated emissions usage.
The earliest versions of On-Board Diagnostics were limited both by make and model and by functionality. When a newer model came along in 1996 that was universal and could perform diagnosis a host of electrical issues, the OBD1 became obsolete in modern cars. Every car ever made after the year 1996 now has a port for an OBD2 scanner.
These scanners are used in garages by drivers and professional mechanics alike as the first point of entry when the check engine light comes on. The updated design of the OBD2 scanner can run more complicated tests on our increasingly more complicated cars. For instance, it can even pick up on the readings from your car’s O2 sensors and communicate with you when all is not well.
The Signs of a Faulty O2 Sensor
Before you even turn to your OBD2 scanner, there will be a few telltale signs that you’ll be sure to notice as you’re driving that will clue you in that something is off with your oxygen sensors.
The first and most evident sign that your O2 sensor is malfunctioning is that the check engine light comes on. Unfortunately, your check engine light can be a sign of many different engine-related issues. However, you also might notice reduced gas mileage in addition to the check engine light, which, as we learned earlier, is directly related to a malfunctioning O2 sensor.
One of the more unique (and disgusting) symptoms you might notice if your oxygen sensor is wonky is a sulfuric scent coming from your engine. If you’re not sure what sulfur smells like, think rotten eggs.
Another sign of a faulty O2 sensor is a rough ride. Since the oxygen sensors control how fuel is burning and combustion intervals, you will feel it in the functioning of your engine if those sensors aren’t working at their highest level.
How to Use Your OBD2 Scanner to Test Your O2 Sensor
If you’ve noticed some or all of the above symptoms, it’s time to get your OBD2 scanner out to confirm your diagnosis (see the best obd2 scanners if you don’t have one yet).
First, locate the OBD port of your vehicle and plug in the scanner. You might have to refer to your probably-never-opened user’s manual for this (or you can google), as these ports are located in different places depending on your car.
Once you’ve found the port and plugged in the scanner, the next step is to turn the ignition so that the scanner can run its tests on the engine. It’s important not to turn on the car’s engine, just the ignition. (Pro tip: if after a few moments, the screen remains blank, give the scanner a little shake.)
Once the scanner is booted, you’ll be able to go to the main menu and select “Codes.” The code you’ll see will either be “Active” or “Pending.” If it’s an active code, that means there is a sustained problem with the engine. If it’s pending, that means a problem occurred once, but it could be a fluke, and if it happens again, it will go from “pending” to “active”.
Once you have your code, all you have to do to interpret it is to search for the code on the internet. Codes you will see relating to your O2 sensor will read P0030, P0031, P0036, P0037, P0130, P0131, P0132, P0133, P0134, and P0135.
If you’re interested, here’s an excellent resource for possible codes you’ll see on your OBD2 scanner and what they mean.
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