(Updated on July 28, 2022)
The oxygen sensor (aka: O2 sensor) is located inside of the exhaust manifold of a vehicle. Its purpose is to keep track of the level of oxygen which remains unburned in the exhaust system while exhaust is leaving the engine.
The oxygen sensor sends a signal to the ECU indicating how much oxygen was found in the exhaust. From there, the ECU adjusts its air fuel ratio to optimize combustion given the current situation, and the cycle repeats. This is called closed loop mode.
Closed loop is typically used during cruising and light load conditions. When you step on the gas and ask for full power, most vehicles ignore input from the oxygen sensor, which is called open loop mode. This will give you worse fuel economy and a richer air fuel ratio while the ECU uses preprogrammed values to determine how much fuel to inject.
Bad O2 Sensor Symptoms
The oxygen sensor of the vehicle needs to be in working order so that the air fuel ratio can be balanced. If the oxygen sensor were to become damaged or malfunction, the vehicle will run in open loop all the time, which is very inefficient and not good for the environment.
Below are the top symptoms you will experience when the oxygen sensor goes bad in your vehicle.
1) Poor Vehicle Performance
2) Failed Smog Test
If you go to get an emissions test on your vehicle and it fails, then it’s likely because your car is emitting too much pollution into the atmosphere in the form of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and smoke.
These harmful emissions will increase when the air fuel ratio is not where it should be, and this is often caused by faulty oxygen sensors.
3) Bad Smell
Do you notice a rotten egg-like smell coming out of your exhaust? This is likely an early warning sign that something is wrong with your oxygen sensor.
If left untreated, this rotten egg smell may even spread to the inside of your car which will make it a very unpleasant experience while driving. You’d be better off taking care of it right away.
This smell could also indicate a problem with your catalytic converter.
4) Check Engine Light is On
One early warning sign that your vehicle has a bad oxygen sensor is when the check engine light on the dashboard turns on. Although this could happen for a variety of reasons, the simplest reason is because of a bad oxygen sensor.
Regardless, you should always bring your car to a mechanic as soon as you see the engine light turn on. It could mean any number of problems with your engine and you certainly don’t want to risk letting them go for too long.
5) Bad Fuel Mileage
When you have a bad oxygen sensor, the mixture of fuel and air will likely be too rich. In other words, a lot more fuel will be consumed in the internal combustion process.
This will mean that your miles-per-gallon will decrease because your car will consume more gas just to drive fewer miles. So, if you notice that you have to fill up your gas tank more than usual, that is likely caused by a bad oxygen sensor.
Oxygen Sensor Replacement Cost
To replace an oxygen sensor, the average cost will likely end up somewhere in the range of $110 to $450 if you bring your vehicle to a mechanic. The price will heavily depend on the make and model of your vehicle as well as the shop you bring your vehicle to.
The cost of parts can vary quite a bit so you’re looking at anywhere from $30 to $300 in most cases although it can be hundreds more for certain vehicles. The labor cost will likely be between $80 and $150.
There may also be additional fees and sales taxes added onto these prices as well.
Can I Replace My Own Oxygen Sensor?
Replacing an oxygen sensor at home is often fairly straightforward. Some vehicles have multiple oxygen sensors, so make sure you buy and replace the right one.
You will need an O2 sensor socket to remove the old sensor and install the new one. Here are three great options for getting the job done:
A repair manual will help you figure out what steps you need to take to replace your oxygen sensor, but this information can often be found online if you search for your specific year, make, and model.