4 Things to Know About Oxygen Sensors if You Want to Become a Mechanic

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Oxygen sensors, otherwise known as lambda sensors, are important components within a vehicle. They monitor the level of oxygen present in fuel and help vehicles control emissions. There can be up to four oxygen sensors attached to a vehicle’s on-board computer, which helps the engine contend with fuel that is either low or rich in oxygen. Oxygen sensors can be a bit complex, and mechanics can learn quite a lot from studying them and their applications. Here’s a quick intro on them!

1. Oxygen Sensors Help to Reduce Pollution and Protect Engines

Oxygen sensors are responsible for making sure that the fuel mixture in a vehicle is properly regulated. There are two types of fuel mixtures that mechanics and drivers want to avoid: rich and lean. A rich fuel mixture occurs when gas in the tank doesn’t have enough oxygen, leading to less of it being burned up and causing a whole lot of pollution. Lean mixtures are nasty too, as fuel with high amounts of oxygen can become a breeding ground for nitrogen-oxide pollutants which aren’t good for the environment and which can also wreck the engine or slow down the performance of a vehicle.

2. Oxygen Sensors Use Voltage to Regulate Fuel Mixtures

Oxygen sensors detect the amount of oxygen present in a fuel mixture by comparing exhaust air to air outside the vehicle. The difference between the two causes a chemical reaction that generates voltage. That voltage makes its way to the vehicle’s on-board maintenance computer, which then analyzes the voltage. As graduates of a mechanic program may know, a low voltage indicates a lean mixture, while a high voltage indicates a rich mixture. Depending on the voltage reading, the computer adjusts accordingly, allowing the vehicle to stay within optimal limits.

3. Graduates of Auto Mechanic Colleges Know How Oxygen Sensors Wear Out

Over time an oxygen sensor may start to corrode and break down for a variety of different reasons—be it from overuse or exposure to the elements. Unavoidable circumstances like water and slush filled with salt during the winter can eat away at an oxygen sensor and case all kinds of problems. Grads of auto mechanic college also know that an oxygen sensor might fail due to contact with other substances such as lead, silicone, oil, and more, which are occasionally added to a vehicle’s fuel.

4. Noticing the Signs of Oxygen Sensor Failure

There are more ways to detect the failure of an oxygen sensor that simply seeing a check engine light. In many cases, the check engine light might go on because of a faulty oxygen sensor, but it could also have been triggered by something else. Other important signs that auto mechanics check for are an increase in the amount of fuel being used by the engine, a particularly nasty smell that might creep up while driving, and a spike in emissions. Mechanics may also use their diagnostic scanners to check for messages saying that there is an issue with the heater circuit. Other problems that point to a bad oxygen sensor include the breakdown of the catalytic converter and an engine that stalls.

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