How to Test and Replace an Engine Temperature Sensor

By | April 8, 2016

How to Test and Replace an Engine Temperature Sensor

A engine coolant temperature sensor (CTS or ECT) like all sensors on a engine is critical for a engine to run properly.
 
This is a guide for testing and replacing a temperature sensor if it is bad.
 




 
While every vehicle will have a different location for a sensor the basic information below will be the same for most any car or truck.
 
A Bad Engine Coolant Temperature Sensor Symptoms
The most common problem of a bad ECT is a vehicle that overheats.
 
This is because the ECT controls when the fan turns on and off.
 
A bad ECT can also cause a engine to rough idle, misfire, or run poorly.
 
Other bad components can also cause these symptoms so testing the sensor is the best way to see if it is bad.
 
 
How a Temperature Sensor Works
A ECT is a Thermistor which changes resistance depending on the temperature.
 
Higher temperatures will decrees the resistance as the temperature rises.
 
Voltage on the two wires of a ECT tells the computer when to regulate the temperature.
How a Engine Temperature Sensor Works
A 5 Volt signal will go to the sensor on 1 wire, while the other wire sends a signal to the on-board computer.
 
The Thermistor resistance decreases as the engine warms up which allows voltage to pass through.
 
Once voltage passes through the ECT a connection is made between the two wires which the computer is than alerted via the 5 Volts.
 
Once the computer receives the 5 volts it starts to regulate the temperature usually by turning on the fan.
 
 
Coolant Temperature Sensor Location
The most common location of the ECT is close to the thermostat but this can vary.
Coolant Temperature Sensor Location
 
The best way to find the location is to search Google Images or buy a manual for your car or truck.
 
 
Coolant Temperature Sensor Price
Prices can also vary depending on the vehicle.
 
Most are less than $20-$30 dollars.
 
Example ECT on Amazon
ACDelco 213-928 GM Original Equipment Multi-Purpose Temperature Sensor

 
 
How to Test the Coolant Temperature Sensor
A OBD2 scanner tool can be used to scan for any codes a vehicle may have.
 
A P0115 Code is a code for a bad ECT.
 
Sometimes another code will show up also such as a P0125 Code which means Insufficient Coolant Temperature and is related to the ECT.
 
1…
First be sure it is getting voltage at the harness, as a bad harness, or cut in the wire, can cause the same symptoms as a bad ECT.
 
To test the harness for voltage turn the key to the ON position and use a multi meter to measure for 5 Volts DC.
How to Test a Engine Temperature Sensor
The voltage may vary slightly but should be close to 5 Volts.
 
If you get a good reading than the harness is good and move on to testing the engine coolant sensor itself.
 
If you do not get a good 5 volt read than the harness is bad or a wire may have a cut somewhere.
 
(A continuity test can be done to test the wire that goes back to the computer.)
 
2…
A sensor can be tested while still in the vehicle as long as it can be reached with the multi meter probes.
 
The first test should be done with the engine cold.
 
To test it with a meter set it to Ohms to get a resistance reading.
 
Use the multi meter leads to touch the two prongs on the ECT were the harness plugs in.
Use the multi meter leads to touch the two prongs on the ECT
 
A good reading with a cold engine should be between 1.5 and 2 Ohms. If no reading is seen than the sensor is bad.
How to Test a Engine Temperature Sensor ECT
 
Sometimes a sensor can still give a reading but not be working correctly. To test this do the same reading but with the engine warmed up.
 
When the engine is warm the resistance should drop. If it does not drop than the sensor is bad and needs replaced.
 
 
Replacing a Coolant Temperature Sensor
Replacing a ECT is a straight forward process by using a wrench to unscrew it from its spot.
How to Replacing a Coolant Temperature Sensor
The harness will of course need to be removed and the correct sized wrench will loosen it allowing it to twist out.
 
It will depend where the ECT is located as to how hard it is to remove. Hard to get to spots will make removing it hard while a easy access spot will make the job much easier.
 
A new sensor will simply screw into the same spot. High temperature sealant should be used on the threads of the new ECT to insure a proper seal with no leaks.
 




 
Summary
Testing the ECT is a easy task that most any backyard mechanic can do.
 
Any cheap multi meter can be used to test the unit and see if it has gone bad.
 
In the past some DIY mechanics have jumpered the harness wire to send a 5 volt signal to the computer.
 
Jumpering the harness wires can work in some cases but be aware that it may damage the sensitive computer.
 
Also jumpering the harness wires is not a permanent fix as it will not regulate the temperature properly.
 
Let us know your thoughts below in the comments.
 


 

6 thoughts on “How to Test and Replace an Engine Temperature Sensor

  1. Scott

    Wife just took our jeep liberty thru a water puddle and noticed that the temp light came on.could this be caused by a sensor getting wet?

    Reply
  2. Ray Maynard

    Nice article, but the resistance of the sensor should never read as low as 2 Ohms, that would be shorted. At room temperature (70 degrees) the GM ones will read about 3.4 K Ohms.

    Reply
  3. iffy

    I have a fiat panda 4×4 and on a full tank fuel I dnt get full klms… Its jst taking fuel… Did a diagnostic and it said temperature switch is the fault.. Can this be the problem plz advice

    Reply
  4. Rebecca

    I got a p0128 code and was told by auto zone that its the coolant temp sensor after my check engine light came on. My temp gauge on dash was in the middle, my ac works fine, my cars not showing any of the signs for when the CTS or thermostat needs to be replaced. Now I’m really confused because the codes you listed are not the code I got.

    Reply
  5. chris

    I have a 2002 jeep Laredo V6 straight 4.0 Im getting a coolant low message on my over head control my cars temp runs perfect never over 210 its just an annoying chimes here an there when driving or ifshut car of an start it back up only thing is Idont have a voltage tool to test is can I unplug the sensor an still drive car as long as not over heating an not spitting shit out the coolant bottle. Reason asking if I can do it to see if its the sensor or the float inside bottle?…..

    Another question is there suppose to be coolant fluid in the lil round part on the bottom of the float or is it suppose to be empty

    Reply
  6. Earl

    I would like to known if have a prob with my ect on 02npt cruiser tested it other morn while in the vehicle. Cold and weather was below 0. Could not test it on 20kohms so had to test it on 200kohms. Got reading of 45.6 ? Son warmed engine up to operating temp. Unhooked sensor. And thus time was able to test it on 20kohms got reading of. 0.90-1.00? To me doesn’t seem right ?

    Reply

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