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Getting to Know Your OxygenOne of the core tasks of many components in your car is to mix air and fuel correctly so that they ignite properly. The fuel mixture is what drives the engine and keeps it running properly. A bad oxygen sensor can report incorrect information and cause the fuel to be inadequately mixed with air.

How do you know this is happening? Let's dive in.

What Is the Oxygen Sensor?

Oxygen sensors are an essential component in your vehicle. They monitor the amount of oxygen in your car's exhaust, which confirms the catalytic converter is working correctly.

The oxygen sensor essentially makes sure your engine has the right air/fuel mixture and that it's not too lean or too rich. It does this by oxidizing some of the oxygen that comes through the exhaust system. This reading is sent to the engine control unit, which will then adjust fuel metering to ensure the right mixture of fuel and air.

The oxygen sensor is essential in operating the vehicle efficiently. This vital sensor is always letting your engine know what needs to be adjusted in your fuel mixture. It all happens in real-time as you're driving.

When Should You Worry About Oxygen Sensor Errors?

Errors related to the oxygen sensor can often be related to another component. Keep in mind that this component is just a sensor. It could be sensing an issue with the fuel mixture caused by another part, and the oxygen sensor itself is not the issue.

This means that oxygen sensor errors are not always related to a faulty oxygen sensor, but are related to some fuel mixture issue. Of course, sometimes the oxygen sensor has gone bad, too.

There are a few signs that will highlight an issue with the fuel mixture or oxygen sensor:

  • A check engine light. This dreaded light will come on if the oxygen sensor picks up on a bad fuel mixture in your engine. If you take your car to a mechanic or auto parts store to have it scanned, it will likely show a 'system too lean' or 'system too rich' code. These codes relate to the fuel mixture. It will probably take some investigation to determine the cause of the fuel mixture error, but of course, it could also be the sensor itself reporting incorrect information.
  • A rough sounding engine. Many reasons can cause a rough engine sound, and an oxygen sensor going bad is one of them. If the oxygen sensor is bad, it's not correctly reporting the engine's air/fuel mixture, which causes the engine to run rough. Merely replacing the oxygen sensor could dramatically improve the sound of your engine.
  • Failing an emissions test. Many failed emissions tests are due to bad oxygen sensors. The sensor is not reporting the correct data to the engine, so it's not mixing fuel properly, and it's giving off emissions that are too rich in fuel. Replacing the oxygen sensor is often a quick way to fix this issue.

A Vital Component to be Aware of

A bad oxygen sensor can wreak havoc on your engine. Be aware, though, that some errors related to the oxygen sensor often mean something else is failing, and the sensor is just reporting the failure.