What can a bad temperature sensor do?

Answered by James Kissner

A faulty coolant temperature sensor can have various negative effects on the operation of a vehicle. One of the primary issues that can arise is the transmission of cold signals to the computer. This means that the sensor may incorrectly indicate that the engine is colder than it actually is, leading the computer to believe that the engine needs a richer fuel mixture.

When the computer receives these cold signals, it responds by enriching the fuel mixture unnecessarily. This means that more fuel is being injected into the engine during combustion than is actually required. The excess fuel cannot be adequately consumed within the combustion chamber, resulting in an inefficient and incomplete combustion process.

There are several consequences of this rich fuel mixture caused by a faulty temperature sensor. Firstly, it can lead to decreased fuel efficiency. Since more fuel is being injected than necessary, the vehicle will consume more fuel per mile traveled. This can result in increased fuel costs and a reduced overall driving range.

Secondly, the excess fuel can lead to increased emissions. Incomplete combustion of the fuel produces higher levels of pollutants such as carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and unburned hydrocarbons (HC). These pollutants contribute to air pollution and can have detrimental effects on both human health and the environment.

Furthermore, the rich fuel mixture can negatively impact engine performance. The excess fuel can cause the spark plugs to foul, reducing their ability to ignite the fuel-air mixture properly. This can result in misfires, rough idling, and decreased acceleration. The engine may also experience reduced power and sluggishness during acceleration.

In some cases, a faulty temperature sensor can also trigger the check engine light to illuminate. This is because the computer detects the abnormal fuel mixture and recognizes it as a potential issue. When the check engine light is on, it is important to have the vehicle diagnosed and repaired promptly to prevent further damage and ensure optimal performance.

Additionally, a malfunctioning temperature sensor can disrupt the operation of other systems in the vehicle. For example, it can affect the performance of the automatic transmission by not providing accurate temperature information to the transmission control module. This can result in erratic shifting, poor performance, and potential damage to the transmission over time.

A bad temperature sensor can cause numerous problems in a vehicle. It can confuse the computer by transmitting cold signals, leading to a rich fuel mixture that negatively impacts fuel efficiency, emissions, engine performance, and potentially triggers the check engine light. It is important to address any issues with the temperature sensor promptly to ensure proper vehicle operation and prevent further damage.