There are several sensors under the hood that influence the operation of your engine. These include the knock sensor, oxygen sensor, and throttle position sensor. Arguably, one of the most important is the engine coolant temperature (ECT) sensor. As its name implies, this component is designed to monitor the temperature created during your engine's internal combustion process.

Below, we'll provide a brief overview of the ECT sensor, and explain how it affects the performance of your engine. You'll also learn how to identify signs the part may be failing.

The Coolant Sensor And Your Engine's Performance

The main job of the coolant sensor is to gauge the temperature of your engine, and send this information to your powertrain control module (PCM). The PCM uses the information for a number of purposes, all of which are meant to optimize the operation of your engine.

By sending accurate information to your PCM, this sensor influences the operation of your ignition system, fuel system, and ultimately, your engine. Thus, it helps improve the overall performance of your vehicle.

Signs Of A Problem

Signs of a malfunctioning coolant sensor are not always obvious. For example, it may fail to inform your PCM that your engine is cold. Normally, when you cold-start your car, your computer modifies the air-fuel mixture in the cylinders to run "richer." It does this by running your vehicle in "open loop" mode so the engine can quickly reach standard operating temperature. If the computer is unaware of the cold-start, it may not engage an open loop. This can lead to idling and driveability problems while your car is cold.

Poor fuel efficiency can also occur. This happens when the ECT sensor fails to tell the PCM to close the open loop. Excess fuel is delivered to the cylinders, and is essentially wasted. This will also increase the level of emissions produced in the exhaust.

Note that the symptoms of a failing coolant sensor are difficult to identify because they are subtle. Moreover, the end results (i.e. poor idle, excess fuel consumption, etc.) can be caused other components, such as a malfunctioning thermostat. The first indication noticed by drivers is often an engine fault code. Unfortunately, the codes can be misleading.

Replacing The Component

It's worth noting that fault codes can be generated for the ECT sensor for reasons that may have little to do with the part. For example, suppose your engine overheats. As noted earlier, the coolant sensor is responsible for tracking temperature around the assembly, and delivering the information to the PCM. If the assembly suddenly overheats, the computer may mistakenly think the problem lies with the sensor. This and similar situations can produce a fault code. Be aware it can happen before replacing the part.

Mechanics approach replacing the ECT sensor differently. Some will suggest replacing it if your thermostat fails, even if the sensor is working properly. The reason is because the part can fail down the road due to age. Other mechanics recommend waiting until the sensor has actually failed, or shows signs of pending failure. The decision is yours. Given that the component is relatively inexpensive (usually under $50), it may be worthwhile to replace it if the mechanic is already under the hood.

One last note: bear in mind the coolant in your car's cooling system will degrade over time. It needs to be replaced every two or three years (follow the recommended interval in your owner's manual). If you neglect to replace the coolant, it will slowly become less able to cool your engine, possibly causing a fault code if the assembly overheats. Thus, make sure the fluid is in good condition before needlessly replacing the ECT sensor.

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For example, the computer will modify the level of fuel that is sent to the cylinders; it will alter spark timing; it may also disregard information from the oxygen sensor if you are cold-starting your car. In some cases, the ECT sensor will also adjust the function of the cooling fan.
A Check of prices for a Ford Taurus Coolant Temperature Sensor
range from a low of 13.00 to a high of 41.00, be sure to call multiple stores to locate your best price.