Is It Safe to Drive with a Bad Camshaft Sensor?

Nov 16, 2023

A concept illustration of an engine.

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When you think about things that could go wrong with your car, you probably think about your engine, tires or frame. However, one little sensor could mean big problems for your vehicle. Is it safe to drive with a bad camshaft sensor? Here’s what you need to know. 

What is a Camshaft Sensor?

As the name suggests, a camshaft is a shaft with pointed cams. They convert rotational motion to reciprocating motion and allow ignition and speed controllers to properly function. 

You can usually find a camshaft sensor in the valve cover at the top of your car’s engine. Sometimes, manufacturers will place it on a cylinder head. Depending on an engine’s complexity, there may be more than one. The sensor reads how well your engine’s cylinders move to synchronize how things like your engine’s electric coils and fuel injectors activate. The sensor passes the information to other sensors on your engine which helps them control the speed and timing of your car’s ignition and engine speed. 

Camshaft sensors are hardy. Their circuitry can operate in hostile environments and resist electromagnetic interference or power spokes. Most are magnetic and can generate an alternate current for the electronic control module. Some models do need a separate power source. 

Without a camshaft sensor, it is hard to keep a vehicle smoothly operating. 

How to Know if Your Sensor is Bad 

There are various signs that your camshaft sensor is bad including your car not starting, your check engine light coming on, your engine stalling, the engine idling, poor fuel efficiency and your engine not operating at its full potential. 

While these symptoms could indicate other problems, a combination of these is common with a bad camshaft sensor. 

Should You Drive with a Bad Camshaft Sensor?

The short answer is “no.” Though it might seem small and insignificant, your camshaft sensor sends vital information to the rest of your system, ensuring you can safely control your vehicle. You put yourself and anyone else who drives your car at risk if you don’t remedy the issue as soon as possible. 

Though everything could still operate as normal, you don’t want to take the chance. 

Changing Your Camshaft Sensor

The good news is changing your camshaft sensor is an easy process that many car owners choose to do themselves. Use your car’s maintenance handbook to discover where the sensor is and how to detach it and reattach it.

You can find the sensors in automotive stores on online marketplaces like Amazon. Most are under $100. Ensure you purchase a new model for assurance that the replacement will properly function. 

While vehicles are different, the process of adding a new camshaft sensor is generally straightforward. Once you disconnect the negative battery cable and remove the sensor, you’ll need to replace the O-ring seal and install the new sensor. 

Avoid Driving with a Bad Camshaft Sensor 

Your camshaft sensor plays a critical role in ensuring your car operates safely and efficiently. If you suspect you have a bad camshaft sensor, it’s best to address it immediately so your vehicle remains safe to drive and knows if there is a potential problem. 

With a little research, replacing your camshaft sensor is a fairly easy process. Consult with an experienced mechanic if you have any questions about whether you properly replaced it.

Looking to learn more? Check out our complete car maintenance checklist and work your way toward becoming an expert home mechanic.

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Jack Shaw is a senior writer at Modded. Jack is an avid enthusiast for keeping up with personal health and enjoying nature. He has over five years of experience writing in the men's lifestyle niche, and has written extensively on topics of fitness, exploring the outdoors and men's interests. His writings have been featured in SportsEd TV, Love Inc., and Offroad Xtreme among many more publications.