5 Symptoms of a Bad Oxygen Sensor (and Replacement Cost)

Last Updated on September 16, 2021

In this article we are going to go over a very important sensor in a car’s engine called the “oxygen sensor”, commonly referred to as an O2 sensor.  Afterwards, you should know the basic function, working principle, bad symptoms, and average replacement cost of an oxygen sensor.

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How an Oxygen Sensor Works

The internal combustion engine of your vehicle will always produce exhaust gases after the air and fuel mixture has ignited in its cylinders. These gases contain a lot of different elements in them, such as carbon and oxygen.

In the exhaust manifold, there is a component called an oxygen sensor which keeps track of the oxygen level in these exhaust gases as they leave the engine. This is oxygen that did not burn during the original air and fuel combustion.

After the oxygen sensor detects the oxygen level, it sends this information back to the engine control module. This, of course, is the central computer that manages all the systems in the vehicle and communicates with a variety of different sensors that are within them.

When the engine control module receives information about the oxygen level in the exhaust gases, it will know if the engine is burning too much fuel or too little fuel.

For instance, if there is more air than fuel in the chamber cylinders, this will cause a lean combustion to take place.

The exhaust gases that emit from such a combustion will have more oxygen in them. Once the oxygen sensor detects this and transmits the data to the engine control module, then the computer will make the proper adjustments to the timing of the fuel injectors and the operation of the engine.

That way, the air and fuel mixture in the engine will be at its best for combustion purposes.

Top Bad O2 Sensor Symptoms

The oxygen sensor is a vital component of the engine. If anything were to cause the oxygen sensor to malfunction, it could interfere with the entire internal combustion process. Then you could experience all sorts of problems with your engine while driving.

Fortunately, these symptoms are easy enough to recognize so that you will know trouble exists somewhere in your engine or with its corresponding components.

Below are the top 5 symptoms of a bad or worn out O2 sensor. Although it is not common for this sensor to go bad, it could happen if you keep your car for a long time.

#1 – Check Engine Light

check engine light

As mentioned, the oxygen sensor has a powerful influence over the air and fuel combustion process. If the sensor detects there to be less oxygen in the exhaust gases after combustion, the engine control module will try to correct this.

But if the oxygen sensor is not working properly, the engine control module won’t know to correct this problem. As a result, the engine’s performance will be diminished.

The module will then detect that some kind of engine problem is present. This causes the Check Engine warning light to illuminate on the dashboard. Codes P0030, P0133, P0137, P0141, or P0172, are examples of diagnostic trouble codes that may indicate an issue with an oxygen sensor.

#2 – Bad Fuel Economy

poor gas mileage

If there is a rich air and fuel mixture in any of the combustion cylinders, this means that more fuel is present than air.  This will not be detected by the oxygen sensor if it has gone bad.

Then you’ll have a situation where more fuel is being burned in the engine than needed. The result is a bad fuel economy and more money spent on gas.

#3 – Rough Idling

rough idling

A rough idling engine means your engine does not run steady when the car is parked or stopped. The normal RPM rate for an idle engine is under 1,000. But if your engine RPM shoots up to 2,000 or 3,000, for instance, then you have a rough idling problem.

This can be a symptom of many kinds of car problems, including a bad oxygen sensor. The engine timing will be more difficult for the engine control module to manage. Then you’ll have combustion intervals which cause misfires.

#4 – Weak Engine Performance


Anytime there is interference in the normal combustion process of the engine, you are going to experience a weakened engine performance. This is what will happen when you have a bad oxygen sensor.

You will know this is happening while you’re driving. As you step on the gas pedal, the acceleration will be limited or nonexistent.

#5 – Failed Emissions Test

failed emissions test

Since the oxygen sensor is located in the manifold of the exhaust system, it is able to assist with emissions control. If you live in a state which requires regular emissions testing, you might discover that you have a bad oxygen sensor if you end up failing the emissions test.

It might not necessarily be linked to the oxygen sensor, but you will find out as soon as a mechanic checks to see why your vehicle failed the test.

Read also: What Happens when a Timing Chain Breaks while Driving

Oxygen Sensor Replacement Cost

Best places to order parts?  See: 19 Best Online Auto Parts Stores

o2 sensor replacement cost

Do not wait to replace your O2 sensor. As soon as you verify that your oxygen sensor is to blame for these symptoms, then it is time to replace this sensor immediately.

Otherwise, you could be putting your engine at risk of getting severely damaged. Then you will be looking at thousands of dollars in repair costs. It is so simple and affordable to replace an oxygen sensor. You really have no excuse not to do it.

The average replacement cost of an oxygen sensor is $60 to $300, depending on the make and model of your vehicle. The parts cost can be anywhere from $20 to $200 and the labor costs are about $40 to $100 depending on where you go and if you’re replacing one or both O2 sensors.

For the average economy car, you should only have to pay at the lower end of the total estimated price range ($250). This is not a huge investment when it comes to protecting your engine and exhaust system and keeping it running in optimal condition.


22 thoughts on “5 Symptoms of a Bad Oxygen Sensor (and Replacement Cost)”

  1. This info helps. I had been experiencing the poor fuel mileage, rough idling and finally intermittent shutting off, at stoplights . Turns out, one of my 4 oxygen sensors had gone bad on my 2007 Lincoln, along with the purge valve

  2. My 2005 Chrysler Sebring slams into nuetral while I’m driving . I have replaced both of the transmission sensors and at no prevail I still had the same problem. Could this be a faulty O2 sensor or what else could it be.

    • Mike, did you replace the sensors and did it help? I am having a similar problem with my truck. I have a 99 Isuzu Rodeo and have a code for the O2 sensor and heater. Im going to replace them but i didnt think that would cause that problem.

  3. I just got a used TOYOTA Corolla 1998 car and discovered it emits black smoke with tiny/powdered particles and also consuming fuel than normal.
    The injectors was serviced and plugs changed, Yet no improvement. When diagnosed, we discovered the oxygen sensor has been permanently disconnected! Pls advise me on what to do. Could the missing o2 sensor be the cause?

    • That definitely could be the issue. When the O2 sensor goes bad or is unplugged, most cars run in what’s called “open loop” mode, which means the engine computer (ECU) calls for a predetermined amount of fuel without listening to the signal the O2 sensor is sending it. Most of the time, this “predetermined amount of fuel” is much richer than what you’d typically observe while the ECU is monitoring the O2 sensor’s output. Fuel economy suffers and you’ll likely notice more soot and fuel smell when this happens. Nice troubleshooting.

      I’d be surprised if the check engine light wasn’t on from this. Replace the O2 sensor, clear the code, then see if the problem goes away. If you have no check engine light, I would check the bulb in the instrument cluster to make sure it hasn’t been permanently disconnected as well.

    • An oxygen sensor has nothing to do with the fuel line, so there is no need to flush the fuel lines. Replacing an oxygen sensor is something you could potentially do yourself, yes. However, if you are not comfortable turning a wrench it won’t cost too much to bring your car to a mechanic for an O2 sensor replacement.

    • There’s a good chance the O2 sensor is not the root cause of the issue. It may be the catalytic converter or an electrical issue, such as a bad ground. More troubleshooting is needed to know for sure.

  4. I have a misfire code of P0301, with fuel status indicating open loop due to engine load or deceleration coupled with white greyish exhaust smoke. What could possibly be the problem?

    • It could be spark plugs, plug wires (or ignition coils), or the fuel injector on that cylinder. You could try swapping them to different cylinders to see if the code follows a particular spark plug/wire, coil, or injector.

      If that does not reveal the issue, you’ll have to do a bit more diagnostic work to find the problem and it may be best to bring your vehicle to a mechanic to help you narrow it down.

  5. I have a 2007 Chevy hhr it will. Start up then after about 3 seconds the engine dies I replaced the fuel pump and the mass air sensor . I can spray starting fluid after I start it as long as I spray that it will run . What do you think the problem could be ?

    • Sounds like you may have a vacuum leak or bad idle air control (IAC) valve. You can test for a vacuum leak by hooking the intake up to a smoke machine and watching to see if the smoke comes out of any area it’s not supposed to.

  6. My ef falcon temperature gauge will go all the way to the hot level then go back down whilst driving. Also can be difficult to start like its flooded


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