Engines are highly complex componentry and one that has thousands of individual parts within their construct working in unison. It can include anything as large as the engine block, to the tiny mounts that keep it all bolted together. Among those parts that make up the engine is the crank sensor. As small as it may appear, it plays a huge role in the inner workings of your engine, and when they do fail, it could cause a lot of problems.
After all, your engine has many moving parts, which often rely on each other’s movements so that the rest of the motor can operate harmoniously. It’s those tiny electronic gadgets like the crank sensor that monitor all these motions and ensure that everything is in good order. So, what is the crank sensor, and why does it matter? Moreover, for such an apparently important component, how is it that they could fail? Well, let’s take a peek at everything you need to know about a crank sensor.
- What Is A Crankshaft Position Sensor?
- Causes Why A Crank Sensor Fails
- Symptoms Of A Bad Crank Sensor
- Diagnose A Crank Sensor
- Crank Sensor Replacement Cost
- Final Conclusion
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Crankshaft Position Sensor
First and foremost, what is the crank sensor? It’s usually referred to by its full name, the ‘crankshaft position sensor‘. You can find this tiny little piece of the sensor positioned right around the engine block, commonly up front in the engine near the timing cover.
But let’s break it down further, and discuss what the ‘crankshaft’ is, and what this sensor does in relation to it. Not to be confused with another similarly named component, the ‘camshaft’, the crankshaft sits at the bottom of the engine.
It consists of a long “shaft” that’s driven through a “crank” mechanism, hence its name. Its only role is to take in the reciprocating motion of the engine’s pistons moving up and down, which is caused by the combustion process.
Then, the crankshaft can translate that upwards and downwards dance of the pistons into rotational motion. This can be fed to the flywheel, which is thus connected to the transmission. From there, your engine’s combustion power can rotate the wheels.
The crank sensor – or crankshaft position sensor – meanwhile, monitors the position and rotational speed of the crankshaft. This analysis is gathered by the engine’s electronic management systems, or the engine control unit (ECU).
The data collected on how fast the crankshaft spins (in RPMs) enable the ECU to better control the fuel injection (how much fuel to burn) and the ignition system (when to ignite the air-fuel mix). Both will aid in improving fuel efficiency, longevity, and performance.
What Causes Crankshaft Sensor To Go Bad
So then, we can conclude the functionality of the crank sensor as being a monitoring device for your engine’s computer brain. This is important for a few reasons besides the fuel injection and ignition system, such as adjusting other engine-based parameters.
It could also work alongside a few other sensors, such as the camshaft sensor. By being able to carefully monitor the crankshaft’s workings, the engine can operate more healthily. It drinks less fuel, lasts longer, and enhances performance.
But for what we can consider a vital component of the engine, how could the crank sensor fail? Well, there are a few good reasons as to why the crank sensor can, after some time, wear out and can no longer function. Here are some of the common causes of failure…
1. Extensive Exposure To Heat
The crankshaft sensor once again is placed right in the innards of the engine. More specifically, it can be found mounted on the crank pulley, flywheel, camshaft, or on the crankshaft itself. As such, the sensor’s assembly is constantly bombarded with a significant amount of heat from the engine and its surrounding components.
The crankshaft sensor has a small circuit board inside, with some wiring and copper coils. All this is then wrapped in a plastic casing. When there’s too much heat, this build-up of temperature can cause damage to the internal circuitry. Alternatively, it could be hot enough in there to start melting away the plastic casing of the crank sensor. This will result in damage over time.
2. Faulty Wiring Harness
To transmit its monitoring data back to the engine’s control systems – the ECU – the crank sensor is connected through a wire harness. Although it’s made to be robust, given the conditions it has to work in, a failed wiring loom can compromise the crank sensor. Or, the sensor itself might still be just fine, but it won’t be able to send any data back to the ECU.
The wiring harness could be knocked free from its connection, or has been frayed and worn down. Any debris within the engine bay, such as oil or contaminants, could eat away at the wiring after some time. In all, it could lead to the incorrect voltage being powered within the system, or result in issues with the return circuit on the crankshaft sensor.
3. Circuitry Problems
Speaking of electrics, the circuitry inside the crankshaft sensor can also be susceptible to wear and tear. Besides, the sensor relies on the well-being of its electric and electronic components in order to send back its analysis to the ECU. Most commonly, the wiring inside of the sensor is quite vulnerable to disruptions. The wires might be damaged by an accident, for example.
Perhaps it’s been frayed and is short-circuiting, or it’s become loose from its connectors. Incorrect – which is to say too little or too much – voltage sent through the wiring could affect the condition of the sensor, too. These can compromise the still-functioning crankshaft sensor to wear down faster and eventually lead to complete failure.
4. Damaged Wheel And Pin
Among the parts inside the crank sensor, we have the ‘wheel’ and ‘pin’. Both the pin and a toothed wheel measure the magnetic pulses collected by the crankshaft sensor. It’s from this data that it can inform the sensor on the rotational speed or positioning of the crankshaft. After a while, the pins and wheels will eventually wear out and fail.
When the wheel and pin set are compromised, the measuring of the magnetic pulse pattern can no longer be done. Or, it might be disrupted to a point where wrong measurements are collected. When this happens, the wheel and pin will send an incorrect analysis of the crankshaft’s rotational speed. This could either confuse the ECU, or it might damage the crank sensor altogether.
5. Snapped Timing Belt Or Chain
The timing belt – or timing chain – is responsible for synchronizing the movement of the camshaft up top, and the crankshaft down below. Your car’s timing belt or chain eventually needs a replacement. If it doesn’t, the extended wear could be enough to snap the timing belt entirely. Another possibility would be the timing belt or chain snapping after a collision.
When it does snap, the force could be great enough that the belt or chain wraps around the crank sensor. To have its strain be put on the plastic sensor is adequate to break it. If not, we may also consider a scenario in which the snapped belt or chain strikes the sensor at speed. Once again, this impact is more than sufficient to rattle it, or cause considerable damage to the sensor.
Contaminants like oil, dirt, or debris can find their way into the engine compartment and potentially damage the crankshaft sensor. The sensor itself is somewhat shielded, but over time, and with constant exposure to these contaminants, the protective barrier can erode. This makes it easier for unwanted materials to interact with the sensor’s internal components. If left unchecked, the sensor could give incorrect readings, or fail altogether.
Additionally, moisture accumulation can lead to corrosion of the sensor’s connectors or wiring, impeding its function. Regularly cleaning the engine compartment and keeping an eye out for any oil leaks or moisture accumulation can help prevent this issue.
7. Vibration And Mechanical Shock
Being placed in the engine compartment, the crank sensor is exposed to a lot of vibration and mechanical shock. Over time, this can lead to the loosening of electrical connections, or even physical damage to the sensor itself. This constant vibration can cause wear on the sensor’s components, eventually leading to its failure.
Sometimes, the vibration could be abnormal due to other failing parts of the engine, which indirectly puts more stress on the crankshaft sensor. Regular maintenance and checking for loose or worn-out parts can help prevent this.
8. Manufacturing Defects
While not common, manufacturing defects can also be a cause of crank sensor failure. Defects can occur in any part of the sensor, be it the internal circuitry, the wiring, or the casing itself. This can result in the sensor failing prematurely, sometimes even soon after installation.
Unfortunately, manufacturing defects are not always visible to the naked eye, and may not be immediately apparent even after installation. However, if a new crank sensor fails soon after being installed, a manufacturing defect could be the culprit.
9. Engine Misfires
An engine misfire can cause a chain reaction of problems. When the engine misfires, it can cause unusual vibrations and movements in the engine compartment. This can lead to the crank sensor becoming damaged or dislodged. Similarly, a damaged crank sensor can also lead to engine misfires.
It’s important to diagnose and fix engine misfires as soon as possible to prevent further damage to the crank sensor and other components.
10. Aging and Wear and Tear
Like all mechanical and electrical components, the crank sensor is subject to wear and tear over time. Its internal components can degrade, and its connections can become less effective. This is a natural process, and eventually, all crank sensors will need to be replaced.
Regular maintenance and inspection can help prolong the life of the sensor, but eventually, it will need to be replaced. It’s important to consult your vehicle’s manual or a professional mechanic to know when it is recommended to replace the crank sensor.
In conclusion, the crankshaft sensor is a crucial component of the engine management system. It is exposed to a harsh environment, which can lead to its eventual failure. Regular maintenance and inspection can help prevent some of these issues, but ultimately, the sensor will need to be replaced as part of regular vehicle maintenance. Knowing the common causes of crank sensor failure can help in diagnosing problems and preventing further damage to the engine.
Crankshaft Position Sensor Symptoms
Every single fuel-injected vehicle today – either gasoline or diesel – has a crank sensor. Thus, any one of the numerous points of failure that we discussed earlier, from poor wiring to heat, can compromise it.
This is concerning given how important it is to measure the speed and position of the crankshaft. Many engines today can’t run if the ECU isn’t able to determine just how fast the crankshaft spins. With that in mind, we seriously don’t recommend driving your car if you have a faulty sensor.
A defective crankshaft sensor can lead to catastrophic damage to your engine, which is by no means cheap to repair or replace. However, the crank sensor (spoiler alert) is a very cheap component by comparison. So, do make sure that you have your car thoroughly checked out if any of these tell-tale signs and symptoms of a faulty crank sensor appear…
Crank Sensor Symptoms #1: Difficulty In Starting The Vehicle
If the sensor is damaged, you may have some trouble getting your car to start up. This is a reminder that the crank sensor’s data is required by the ECU, in determining the crankshaft’s position and speed. Without it, the ECU – which manages everything on your car’s powertrain – isn’t sure about how much fuel to inject into the combustion chamber, or when to ignite it.
Moreover, other parameters that are measured by the ECU regularly can’t be analyzed, as the crank sensor’s data is either incorrect or isn’t providing any information at all. It needs to talk with other components – such as the camshaft sensor – when a car is ready to be ignited. In the case of a faulty crankshaft sensor, you’ll have ignition difficulties, or the car might not start up at all.
Crank Sensor Symptoms #2: Engine Cutting In And Out
An extension of our previous point on the ignition, even when your is up and moving, the damaged sensor can still cause issues. Once again, the ECU can’t provide the engine with the right instructions if the crank sensor is faulty. When you’re on the move, this can be exhibited as your car stalling in the middle of the road. Or, the engine might cut in and out intermittently as you drive along.
If this does happen to you, we can usually point the finger at the wiring or electrical side of things. Maybe the wiring inside the circuitry or the cables connecting the sensor to the ECU is faulty.
This then results in the sensor’s data signals being cut off when the engine is still running. Although, this doesn’t rule out the possibility that the entire crankshaft position sensor isn’t damaged.
Crank Sensor Symptoms #3: Sluggish Or Jerky Acceleration
Remember the two aspects of the combustion process that rely on input from the crank sensor – the fuel injection, and ignition. Based on the rotation of the crankshaft, it’ll tell the ECU to calibrate just how much fuel you need. On top of that, it can inform the ECU on when’s the best moment to ignite the fuel-air mixture in your car’s combustion chamber.
If the crankshaft position sensor fails, it’ll provide inaccurate or incomplete signals to the ECU. This leads to poor adjustments made by the ECU in regards to the timing of the sparks, and the volume of fuel.
It’ll get worse when the engine speeds increase. In other words, when you put your foot down. Consequently, you can notice a loss in performance, either felt as sluggish or jerky acceleration.
It can make it much harder for you to maintain a steady speed, as the ECU is fed either no data at all or lacks accurate signals from the crankshaft sensor. The scenarios include, for example, the ECU not injecting enough fuel to let the engine burn. Or, it might ignite – and thus combust – the fuel-air mixture at the wrong moment to deliver adequate performance.
Crank Sensor Symptoms #4: Misfiring Engine Or Stuttering
Once again, a faulty crank sensor will interfere with the engine’s ability to deliver performance and power smoothly. You might be able to feel some stuttering with the engine, mostly when you’re just starting up or while accelerating. It could likely be caused by your engine’s cylinders misfiring. The exact cause of misfires is numerous, such as poor spark plug timing.
But if everything else checks out, then it might be prudent to check the crankshaft position sensor. If and when it does fail, it might not provide the ECU with the necessary data on the positioning of the pistons. Remember, the pistons’ movement affects the position and speed of the crankshaft below it. If the pistons aren’t correctly aligned, this is what leads to your engine misfiring.
Crank Sensor Symptoms #5: A Rough Idle Or Odd Vibrations
When you stop at a red light, you might be able to feel that the car is vibrating more than it should. The engine’s idling is rough, as though you’re sitting on a tumble dryer at full tilt. You may also hear some odd sounds, as though the engine is grinding or rattling. While this may be due to several different causes at its core, the crank sensor is one of them.
If the crankshaft positioning sensor isn’t working, then it can’t monitor the positioning or the speeds of the crankshaft. If the crankshaft is let loose without calibration and constant control by the ECU, it could start working out of tune. This is where the vibrations might be coming from. Additionally, it might affect the engine’s performance, as well as interfere with the mileage counter.
Crank Sensor Symptoms #6: The Check Engine Light Comes On
Your car has various sensors connected to the ECU. Should the ECU pick up anything wrong with any one of these sensors, it will warn you about it. We can sometimes see error messages pop up in the dash, or have warning lights blaring at us. One of them is the ‘check engine’ light’, which illuminates if there are faults within the engine. This includes any problems with the crank sensor.
Often, the ECU might be smart enough to sense that something in the signals sent by the sensor is off. Perhaps the readings aren’t right, or the ECU can’t get any information out of the crankshaft position sensor at all. In this case, the vehicle’s ECU will light up the check engine light as a warning to you. It’s wise to get this diagnosed, just to see what’s exactly triggering the light to come on.
Crank Sensor Symptoms #7: Poor Fuel Economy
No more, no less. If the sensor fails, it can’t provide accurate signals to the engine pertaining to the information on the timing. Particularly, how much fuel to use, and when to time the ignition just right.
Now, the fuel injectors can’t pump fuel (once you learn how to pump gas) into the engine effectively. It could provide too much fuel to burn, or not enough. The ignition might be off-key as well, igniting the fuel-air mixture too early or too late for the combustion to be done efficiently. This leads to the engine’s fuel economy plummeting over time, as it’s consuming more gasoline or diesel than is actually necessary.
Crank Sensor Symptoms #8: Engine Backfires
Engine backfires are another common sign of a faulty crankshaft position sensor. A backfire occurs when the fuel-air mixture in the cylinders is ignited at the wrong time. Since the crank sensor plays a critical role in determining the timing for the ignition, a malfunctioning sensor can lead to the mixture being ignited when the exhaust or intake valves are open. This can cause a loud popping sound and may even result in flames coming out of the exhaust or intake manifold.
Remember, a well-timed ignition is crucial for the engine to run smoothly and efficiently. If the timing is off, it can cause several problems, including backfires, which can be damaging to the engine and exhaust system over time.
Crank Sensor Symptoms #9: Reduced Engine Performance
A faulty crank sensor can lead to reduced engine performance. As mentioned earlier, the sensor provides crucial data to the ECU, which in turn controls the fuel injection and ignition systems. When the sensor fails, the ECU does not receive accurate information about the position and speed of the crankshaft. This can lead to the ECU making incorrect adjustments to the engine’s operation, resulting in reduced power, responsiveness, and overall performance.
For example, the ECU might delay the ignition timing, causing the engine to produce less power than usual. Alternatively, the ECU might advance the timing, causing the engine to knock or ping during acceleration. Both situations can lead to a noticeable decrease in engine performance.
Crank Sensor Symptoms #10: Engine Stalling
Engine stalling is another common symptom of a bad crankshaft position sensor. As mentioned before, the sensor is essential for the ECU to make the necessary adjustments to the engine’s operation. When the sensor fails, the ECU does not receive the correct data, which can lead to the engine stalling.
For example, if the ECU does not receive accurate information about the crankshaft’s position and speed, it might not be able to adjust the fuel injection and ignition timing correctly. This can cause the engine to run too rich or too lean, leading to stalling.
In some cases, the engine might stall immediately after starting, while in others, it might stall during low-speed maneuvers, such as stopping at a traffic light or making a turn.
Crank Sensor Symptoms #11: Engine Not Starting
In extreme cases, a faulty crankshaft position sensor can prevent the engine from starting altogether. Since the ECU relies on the sensor’s data to control the fuel injection and ignition systems, a complete sensor failure will leave the ECU in the dark, unable to make the necessary adjustments for the engine to start and run.
In such cases, the engine might crank but not start, or it might not crank at all. If you experience this symptom, it is crucial to diagnose and fix the problem as soon as possible to avoid being stranded.
Crank Sensor Symptoms #12: Erratic RPM Readings
The RPM (revolutions per minute) gauge on your dashboard displays the speed at which the engine’s crankshaft is rotating. A faulty crankshaft position sensor can cause erratic or fluctuating RPM readings. Since the sensor is responsible for monitoring the crankshaft’s speed and position, a malfunctioning sensor can send incorrect or intermittent signals to the ECU and, consequently, the RPM gauge.
If you notice that the RPM gauge is behaving erratically, fluctuating wildly, or not responding at all, it could be a sign that the crankshaft position sensor is failing.
How To Test Crankshaft Position Sensor
So, let’s say that you’ve encountered one or more of those aforementioned symptoms… How could you diagnose your car to make sure that the blame lies on the crankshaft position sensor?
The most convenient option is to head down to a workshop and let the technicians check it for you. However, you could opt to do it yourself. If you have an OBDII diagnostics tool at home, you can plug it into your car to scan and read out all the error codes.
The ECU can spew out error codes for a faulty crank sensor that’s similar to emissions-related faults. It will vary depending on the make and model of your vehicle. So, look out for any of these codes below, to narrow down the potential cause of a defective crank sensor:
- P0335-P0339 (More specifically, codes P0335 to P0338 can point directly to crank sensor issues)
- P0016-P0019 (This is for the camshaft sensor, just for reference)
If the error codes aren’t displayed clearly, you can use the tactic of running the engine while reading the OBD diagnostics tool. There should be a setting that enables the OBD reader to show you the engine speed in RPM (revolutions per minute). That scanner of yours will be getting the engine speed reading from the crankshaft position sensor.
So, set up the OBD reader to read the engine speed in RPM, and then start up the engine. Normally, the scanning tool should read you somewhere between 100 to 500 RPM, although this might vary from vehicle to vehicle.
If the scanner gets a bad reading, say less than 100 RPM, then the crank sensor isn’t working properly. Should you see a 0 RPM reading, then the sensor may have failed completely.
Crankshaft Position Sensor Replacement
Unfortunately, the crankshaft position sensor isn’t a component that could be easily repaired if it’s gone awry. On the bright side, the cost of a replacement isn’t too high, either.
For most cars, you can complete a crank sensor replacement for around $120 to $300, in parts and labor. The sensor itself will only set you back between $75 to $120, which you can find on most auto parts store shelves. You may like to consider saving a few dollars with a used, but still perfectly functional sensor.
Nonetheless, a brand-new sensor could at least guarantee that it’ll work properly out of the box. On the flip side, the labor charges – if you choose to have a technician replace it for you – will add to about $45 to $180 for an hour or more to get the job done.
Overall, the cost of a replacement crank sensor isn’t too terrible, especially given what happens if you don’t replace it promptly. A brand new engine, should things go south really quickly, could cost you a few thousand more.
CKP Sensor Facts
- The crank position sensor (CKP) is critical to the modern engine, as it detects where the cylinders are and how fast they’re moving, and without it, the engine control module (ECM) can’t synchronize fuel injection, spark ignition, or control variable valve timing.
- CKP sensors come in two types: hall effect and inductive, and both generate a signal based on magnetic fields.
- Inductive CKP sensors have one or two wires and generate an analog signal, while hall effect CKP sensors have a three- or four-wire circuit and transmit a digital signal.
- CKP sensors are mounted near a toothed reluctor ring or reluctor wheel, which has many teeth, including “missing” teeth corresponding to cylinder positions and cylinder number one’s top dead center (TDC).
- CKP sensors can fail due to damage, debris, or faulty circuitry, and the harsh engine environment can cause weakened or broken internal wiring and circuits.
- Bent, broken, or worn reluctor ring teeth can also generate a weak or unstable signal, leading to poor signal generation.
- Metal filings or shavings created by damaged metal parts can also cause poor signal generation by closing the gap between the CKP sensor and the reluctor ring.
- Common CKP diagnostic trouble codes (DTC) include P0335-P0339 and P0385-P0389, crankshaft position sensor circuits “A” and “B.”
- Symptoms of a failing CKP sensor include MIL (malfunction indicator lamp) with CKP DTCs, hard-starting, start-stalling, or no-start conditions, hesitation, poor power upon acceleration, and a drop in fuel economy.
- When diagnosing CKP sensor issues, it’s critical to verify the CKP circuit, and it’s best to consult a trusted mechanic for repair processes involving electrical matters.
Crank Sensor: In Conclusion…
Well then, that rounds up our look at the humble crankshaft position sensor. It plays a crucial role in the daily workings of your engine. It ensures that the engine could last longer, while also efficiently managing fuel consumption and performance.
Yet, the crank sensor can fail as it wears out, which may lead to numerous other problems if not diagnosed and replaced promptly. At the very least, this is one automotive problem that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to replace.
This expense is a very small fraction of how much it would otherwise cost to cover one’s ignorance if one fails to act in replacing a faulty crank sensor. Apocalyptic engine damage is more than possible should this sensor not be replaced in time.
At the very worst, the engine could fail entirely, all of it because of a single sensor. It highlights just how important it is that the engine’s many moving parts work seamlessly with one another. The crank sensor, among others, makes certain of that.
Crank Sensors: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
If you’re still curious to learn more about the crank sensor, our FAQs here might help…
How Many Crankshafts Are In A V8
Just like most other engines – inline, flat, or V-type, between 3 and all the way up to 12 cylinders – a V8 has only one crankshaft. That’s because just like every other type of engine, the purpose of the crankshaft is to convert the reciprocal motion of the pistons moving up and down to rotational motion, which could be used to send power to your transmission. And, onto the driven wheels. Therefore, only one crankshaft is ever needed. Although, there have been engines before that feature multiple crankshafts (usually two). Although, these are very rare, and are mostly experimental. If not, they’re never used in automotive applications.
What Sensors Can Cause A Car Not To Start
Seeing how electronically-dependent modern cars have become, one or a few faulty sensors could easily cause a car to not start. Some of those critical sensors include… The brake pedal position sensor, camshaft position sensor, crankshaft position sensor (crank sensor), fuel pressure sensor, manifold absolute pressure (MAP) sensor, mass airflow (MAF) sensor, oil pressure sensor, and throttle position sensor. Each of these sensors calibrates numerous parts of a car, though most of them relate to the engine’s operation, such as its ability to crank. Or, analyzing the amount of air flowing into the combustion chamber, and much more.
How To Reset Crankshaft Position Sensor No Start
Rather than replacing the crank sensor outright, you could try fixing a faulty crankshaft position sensor by resetting it. And, you could even do it without needing an OBDII scanner! First, keep your transmission in Park or Neutral for at least 2 minutes. Then, accelerate your car to around 55mph and keep it at this speed for 10 minutes. That’ll allow the engine to reach its optimum temperature. Maintain this speed for another 5 to 6 minutes. Now, lower the speed to 45mph and keep it there for 1 minute. Then, you’ll have to accelerate back to 55mph and hold it there for 2 minutes. Idle for another 2 minutes with the transmission in Drive or Neutral. That should be enough to re-learn the crank sensor and reset it.
Where Is The Crankshaft Position Sensor Located
If you need to find the crankshaft position sensor (aka the crank sensor), you can usually find it near the front of the engine. Specifically, it’s often mounted in or on the crankcase itself, above and near the crankshaft. This is different from the camshaft position sensor (aka the cam sensor), which is often found underneath the timing cover. A camshaft position sensor typically hides at the other end of the lobed camshaft. Going back to the crankshaft position sensor, it can be hard to find in some vehicles. They’d sometimes place the sensor near the rear, side, or bottom of the engine block.
How To Replace Crankshaft Position Sensor
Before you begin replacing the crank sensor, make sure that you disconnect the battery first. Now, you could try to locate the crank sensor, which can be a bit tough to find and reach in some vehicles. Once you’ve found it, carefully remove the crank sensor’s electrical connectors. Then, remove the mounting bolts. That should free up the old crank sensor to be removed. Now, you can carefully re-position the new crank sensor, and repeat the previous steps in reverse… Re-attach the mounting bolts, and re-connect the electrical connectors, before then re-connecting the battery and testing to make sure it’s working fine.