Entering your car, you might think it a simple moving machine.
However, that isn’t the case. The modern automobile is a technology powerhouse- a computer on wheels.
Equipped with several Electronic Control Units (ECUs), the car on the road today can react to changes from both within and outside. And in real time.
ECUs are the computers in a vehicle, the systems that interpret data to effect changes. But these computers must receive signals from different vehicle parts and systems.
The components that supply the information to the ECUs are known as sensors.
This article explains the technology of car sensors and how these devices help to enhance vehicle performance, efficiency, safety, and driving comfort.
What are Car Sensors?
Car sensors are small components placed in various parts of a vehicle to detect changes, both physical and chemical.
They monitor different variables, such as:
- Proximity, and more.
Auto sensors also detect vehicle acceleration, steering, and other functions.
Through the Controller Area Network (CAN), the sensors used in cars relay the information about these changes to respective computers for interpretation.
Using the information supplied by the sensors, vehicle computers are able to control different systems and parts like:
- Fuel pressure and temperature
- Spark plugs
- Idle speed
- Fuel injection
- Emergency braking
- Parking and assist, and other functions
The computers do not only control things from the information gathered by the sensors.
If a vehicle system or component fails, the computer alerts you through the dashboard “check engine” light and error codes.
Car sensors send signals throughout a trip, from the moment you switch on the car to when you stop it and shut off the engine.
In essence, the sensors never stop working regardless of whether there is some change to be made or not.
The number and kind of sensors used in automobiles vary depending on car type, model, and application.
The more advanced or costly a vehicle, the more the number of sensors it’s likely to have.
Autonomous cars utilize sensors to guide them, which can range from those that gauge distance, monitor fuel delivery, to the types that determine steering angles.
Sensors in Autonomous Cars
Autonomous cars are controlled entirely by sensors.
The sensors in autonomous cars are more intricate than those used by conventional cars and the computers more complex and powerful.
While most are conventional, a good number of the sensors used in autonomous cars are manufacturer-specific and not found on mainstream automobiles.
The Importance of Automotive Sensors
Vehicle sensors replaced the electromechanical controls that characterized the vehicles of the past.
These systems were slow, expensive, demanding to maintain, unreliable, and often prompted action when it was too late.
They were also bulky and required numerous wires to convey electric power.
Electronic sensors are fast and reliable, take up little space, and do not cost a lot among other benefits.
Because they’re electronically controlled, the sensors require little effort to maintain, plus they can detect damage even before it occurs.
Sensors help a vehicle to operate efficiently and produce fewer emissions.
The devices enhance safety by controlling different parts, especially the engine, steering, and brakes.
Vehicle sensors also alert you of possible failure or damaged parts by switching on a dashboard light.
Programmed to detect various forms of damage, car computers use the information transmitted by sensors to produce the error codes.
This helps car owners and mechanics pinpoint exact problems as well as the faulty components.
How Automotive Sensors Work
Different types of sensors use different working principles and sensing technologies. This makes their designs to vary a lot.
However, most consist of a sensing element or elements, circuitry and connectors, and the hardware to process signals.
The sensing element detects the variable to be measured, converts the variations into a different form of energy, and sends the signals to the microprocessor or computer.
The computer interpreted the signals and uses them to make decisions regarding the control of vehicle parts and systems.
Automotive Sensor Applications
All modern cars come with a computer or computers to control various aspects and operations. These computers are served by specific sensors. Check out this list of sensors found in almost every vehicle manufactured today.
- Engine speed sensors– these monitor the speed of the engine.
They are usually attached to a vehicle’s crankshaft. As the shaft rotates, the sensor measures its speed of spin and continually sends it to the computer.
The computer, in turn, uses the information to regulate the flow of fuel into the engine.
- Mass airflow sensors- by measuring the volume and density of the air going to the engine, the mass airflow sensor determines the right amount of fuel needed.
That’s because the engine requires air and fuel in a specific ratio, and too much or too little of either can result in reduced performance and efficiency.
- Fuel temperature sensors- as the name indicates, these sensors take measurements of fuel temperature levels.
The engine should not burn fuel that’s too cold or its efficiency would drop. Cold fuel is denser and, therefore, not easy to combust.
The automotive fuel temperature sensor and its computer ensure the fuel isn’t too cold as to affect engine performance.
- Oxygen sensors- these sensors detect the amount of oxygen in the exhaust gases.
The car computer then uses the values to determine if the amounts of air and fuel in the engine are right.
If there’s too much oxygen, it means the engine is burning rich and vice versa.
The computer uses that to regulate the ratio so the fuel burns efficiently.
- Voltage sensors- the function of voltage sensors is to control a vehicle’s idling speed.
It helps the car computer to ensure vehicle speed increases or decreases as required.
It’s one of the most essential sensors in today’s motor vehicle.
- Spark knock sensors- these sensors help prevent fuel detonation or erratic explosions, an occurrence that can cause damage to various engine parts.
The gasket may break down. The rings and rod bearings, too.
The spark knock sensor helps to ensure smooth combustion.
- Manifold absolute pressure sensors- an absolute pressure sensor’s function is to measure the outside and inside manifold pressure.
Usually installed in the intake manifold, the information gathered by the MAP sensor enables the computer to control the amount of fuel reaching the engine.
- Parking sensors- as the name denotes, automotive parking sensors help a driver to park their cars.
By sensing the area behind and around the car, these sensors produce warning sounds before the vehicle hits a wall or objects. Some provide a view of the area behind the vehicle.
The application of sensors in cars varies a lot and the mentioned examples are only the main ones.
There are many other types some of which may be present or absent in a car.
It depends on whether the vehicle is a high-end model or not.
Manufacturers sell cars already equipped with the most essential sensors. These range from car speed sensors, engine sensors, to parking and cruise control sensing devices.
Depending on preferences and needs, one may install different types of car sensors to improve vehicle performance, safety, reduce emissions, or even make rides more comfortable.
The modern car contains several to a hundred or more sensors.
As auto manufacturers race towards making better cars, the number and types of sensors in automobiles is expected to rise. Vehicle owners, too, are realizing the importance of sensors when it comes to car performance, driving safety, and comfort.
It’s no wonder then, that automotive sensors are becoming increasingly popular.