The camshaft position sensor in your car is the kind of part that most drivers never actually stopped to think about or are even aware of in many cases. The camshaft position sensor monitors the position of the camshaft, as the name suggests, and sends that data to the powertrain control module in your vehicle. Along with various other components like a crankshaft position sensor it helps keep your engine in peak operating condition at all times.
In order for an internal combustion engine to work as well as it can the air and fuel mixture needs to be injected at the precise right ratio at the precise right time into the combustion chamber. Part of this means that the valves need to open and close at the right time and the pistons need to raise and lower at the right time. While the crankshaft is responsible for the movement of the pistons in your engine, the camshaft is responsible for your valves opening and closing. When everything works in the proper order, then the combustion reaction forces the piston down, the crankshaft moves it back up in time for the camshaft to open the valve is the cylinder so that the piston won't collide with it. This happens over and over again in every cylinder of your vehicle creating the power necessary to move your car.
When the timing of any of these steps starts to go wrong, your engine performance will suffer. If the crankshaft and the camshaft are not perfectly aligned, then the combustion reaction may be happening at incorrect times, and in severe cases the Tristan's kinetic hitting the valves when they're not closed. That could damage the valves in the valve heads, it can work the cylinder or the Pistons, and could potentially end up causing a total engine failure eventually.
So, back to the camshaft position sensor, its job is to make sure that the camshaft is moving exactly the way it needs to be at exactly the right time it needs to do it. If it doesn't work correctly, you may experience bad engine performance as a result.
Signs of a Bad Camshaft Position Sensor
Your car won't fail right away if there's a problem with your camshaft ignition sensor by any means. You can still drive without one, but the overall performance of your vehicle will degrade over time. so oh, if your question is just is it safe to drive with a bad camshaft position sensor, the answer is you can drive with a bad camshaft position sensor but you probably shouldn't and it will become less safe each time you drive. These are the signs you can be on the lookout for to let you know that something is wrong with the camshaft sensor so you can get it looked at before things get too bad.
Because your camshaft position sensor sends signals to your car's computer, if it's not working properly it won't be sending the correct signals to the computer. If the signal gets too weak or fails completely then you won't be able to start the ignition process because your car's computer will be getting the proper signals about your camshaft’s ability to function at all, let alone where it is.
As things get worse you risk having your engine stalling because the fuel injectors aren't injecting fuel into the engine cylinder at the right time because the camshaft position sensor isn't letting your computer know when your camshaft is in the right position for it to do that job. If the fuel gets injected too early, too late, or not at all then the combustion reaction can't occur and you're going to end up stalling.
This can be a much more serious situation than simple ignition problems as the stalling could occur when you were on the road. If this happens when you're in heavy traffic, we're at high speeds on a highway, then the result could be serious injury.
When the camshaft position sensor isn't working properly then you're going to have problems with your acceleration as well. This is due to essentially the same problem that caused the issues with stalling. Because you're not going to be having the fuel and air mixture injected at the right time for combustion to occur then the results can be a reduced performance in your vehicle overall. If it happens too early or too late you're not getting the full effect of your combustion reaction and that's going to lead to your engine struggling to even get you up to speed when you're out on the road.
Jerking or Surging
Since your engine can start to lose power at unpredictable times when your camshaft position sensor isn't working the way it's supposed to, then you're going to potentially experience problems with the engine just jerking or surging unpredictably. This is again because your powertrain control module isn't getting the information that it needs from the sensor. That can result in too little fuel or too much fuel which will cause your engine to perform inconsistently.
Just like stalling, when your engine jerks or surges unpredictably you're also running the risk of serious accident and injury if it happens at the wrong time.
It's possible that your transmission can end up locking if your camshaft position sensor isn't working the way it's supposed to. This won't happen and every single model of vehicle, but it could definitely happen in some. When this occurs, you may need to actually shut the vehicle down, and then restart to shift gears. As you can imagine this would also be a big problem when you are in the middle of driving somewhere and you're unable to shift out of gear. You don't want to be on the highway and get stuck in first gear with no ability to shift to a higher gear until you actually turn the vehicle off and start again.
Poor Gas Mileage
Since so many of these problems are caused by the fuel injection being incorrect because the power control module isn't getting the right signals, you can imagine how that would affect your gas mileage. If you are injecting too much fuel into the combustion chamber at the wrong time then it won't ignite properly, and you'll be wasting a lot more gas than normal. That means you'll not only have reduced performance, but you're still going to have to go to the fuel pump some more often to try to compensate for it.
Check Engine Light
The most annoying symptom of a faulty camshaft position sensor is the check engine light showing up on your dashboard. It's annoying because the check engine light doesn't actually tell you that you need to look into your camshaft position sensor at all. When that light comes on it could mean hundreds of different problems, and there's no way to diagnose them until you use an OBD2 scanner to figure out why the light came on in the first place. Usually you need to go to a mechanic to get this done so they can diagnose the issue for you, although you can buy your own OBD2 scanner on a site like Amazon for around $30 to $40 if you're interested in diagnosing these kinds of problems on your own. It won't fix it for you, but it will confirm what the issue is.
Camshaft Position Repair Costs
Fortunately, if your camshaft position sensor has gone wrong, getting it repaired is not going to cost you an arm and a leg usually. If you go to a mechanic to get it fixed it's probably going to cost, you between about $100 and $200 to get the job done. However, if you're in the market to do it yourself you can probably pick up a new camshaft position sensor on a site like autozone.com for as little as $20 or $30. This will definitely depend on the make, model, and year of your vehicle though but it's safe to say that it's a relatively cheap item to get.
Since the big difference in price is obviously related to labour, you could replace the camshaft position sensor yourself and save quite a bit of money if you want to. It's not particularly hard to find the camshaft position sensor in your vehicle's engine and replacing it yourself will Definitely save you some money.
Can I Replace My Own Camshaft Position Sensor?
If you have any experience doing car repairs on your own, even simple things like changing tires or swapping out your spark plugs, then you should not have too many problems replacing your own camshaft position sensor. The job is pretty straightforward, and we would classify it as a beginner level repair job. If you've never attempted to do the job before then you need to familiarize yourself with the camshaft position sensor, where it is located in your car, and what it takes to swap it out. As with many repair jobs these days you are in luck because the internet has a lot of resources that you can turn to to help you out. There are both written guides that you can use to walk you through the process as well as a number of helpful videos that are made by skilled mechanics that you can watch to take you step-by-step through the process of switching out she or camshaft position sensor
The most complicated thing you're going to have to deal with is locating where the camshaft position sensor is in your engine. Because there's no consistent layout for engine design, it very much depends on the make, model, and year of your vehicle. If you can identify it right away by looking up the part you need for your car and identifying it under the hood, then you're going to have to probably Google the exact kind of car you're driving. It's also possible that you'll be in luck and find a video online that shows the exact model you drive so you can handle this task a little more easily. But even if you can't find a video for your exact model right away, the job is pretty similar from one model to the next and shouldn't be too much trouble for you to figure out.
As we said, since a camshaft position sensor could be as cheap as $20 or so, you can end up saving yourself well over $100 plus the time it would take you to get into a mechanic and get this job done. Just make sure you have the right part ahead of time, as camshaft position sensors are unique to the vehicles they're going in and if you get the wrong one it will not fit it all or we'll fit poorly and not get the job done.
The Bottom Line
The majority of drivers on the road today have no idea what a camshaft position sensor is, what it does, or where they might look for under the hood of their car. As we've seen it does a pretty important job and without it your car can suffer a lot of undue damage and will perform much more poorly than you want it to until you get it fixed.
Since it's such an easy part to repair and it doesn't cost that much if you get it on your own as well, it makes sense to get this sensor repaired as quickly as you can when you realize that you have a problem with it and it needs to be replaced. The longer you put it off, the worse your engine is going to perform and the more you're going to end up paying in repairs and fuel bills in the long run.
If you're noticing several of these symptoms happening in your vehicle then there's a good chance your camshaft position sensor is responsible for it and it's in your best interest to get it fixed as soon as possible. I either get to a mechanic or get an OBD2 scanner and diagnose it yourself so you can get it fixed and get back to enjoying your engine running the way it's supposed to be as soon as possible. Even though you can drive for a while with a bad camshaft position sensor, it's not a good idea.