Keeping your engine running efficiently is a delicate balance. You need just the right mixture of air and fuel at any given moment to make power without wasting fuel. Your oxygen (O2) sensors keep an eye on combustion waste gasses and tell the engine computer to adjust the fuel mixture. But an O2 sensor doesn’t last forever. Let’s take a look at how to change an O2 sensor.
Find The Sensor
Your O2 sensors are located along your exhaust system. They are either screwed directly into the exhaust manifold, on a catalytic converter or on the side of an exhaust pipe and will have a hex nut with a round cylinder shaped sensor in the middle. Depending on your vehicle design, it may have one sensor or up to four of them. Refer to a vehicle repair manual to double check the sensor location before you attempt a repair.
The location of your O2 sensor and the amount of work room you have around it will dictate what kind of tool you should use. If the sensor is out in the open with lots of room to work, then a standard open-end wrench works just fine. If things are a little cramped, then a specialty socket is your best bet, ideally with a hex head to allow using it with a wrench when necessary. When things start getting tight, it is time to use the specialty tools. A specialty oxygen sensor wrench can reach in and around obstacles to do the job. If things are really tight, a specialty offset oxygen sensor socket is just the ticket. You will notice that most of these specialty tools have a slot in them to allow for the sensor wiring to pass.
Prepare The Sensor
Before you start on removing an O2 sensor, it is highly advised to prepare it for removal. Give the sensor a good soaking with penetrating lubricant several hours before starting the job. Ideally, apply the penetrating lubricant the night before you plan on working on the vehicle so it has a good chance to wick into the threads. Just make sure to not drive the vehicle or else you will need to reapply the penetrating lubricant again.
Unplug The Sensor
Follow the wire from the O2 sensor to the wiring harness. Along the way there is a connector of some kind. You will need to study the connector for a moment to figure out if it releases by pushing on a tab, pulling a pin or some other release mechanism. The connector will not simply pull apart. It is retained somehow, so make sure you release it correctly or else you risk damaging the main wiring harness. You may find it tempting to just cut the sensor wire, but don’t do it! If you cut the sensor wire before removing the sensor, only to find out that the sensor is hopelessly stuck, now you have a new OBD code to deal with thanks to the cut wire.
Remove The Sensor
Once the sensor is unplugged and lubricated, it is now time to remove it. Make sure whatever tool you have chosen is firmly seated on the sensor, because the last thing you want to do is round off the sensor. The sensor is likely still very tight in the bung, so it will require a fair amount of effort to turn. You may need to use a breaker bar if you have room to use one. It will also likely require effort to move the entire time you are turning it, so don’t put away the tools yet. Once the old O2 sensor is out, compare it to the new O2 sensor to make sure you have the right part in hand.
Put In The New Sensor
Now is the delicate part of the job. The sensor must be reinstalled with the utmost care so it does not become cross-threaded. For extra care you can use a sensor thread chaser to make sure the sensor bung threads are clean and in good shape. Your sensor may include anti-seize pre-applied to the threads, if not apply a small amount now. Do not allow any anti-seize to touch the tip of the sensor. Install the tip of the sensor into the bung and start turning it clockwise by hand. If you feel any resistance before the first full rotation, stop, reverse rotation and try again. Once the sensor is turned in more than a full rotation it should only give mild resistance until it seats. Once the sensor is seated, tighten it to the torque setting found in your vehicle service manual.
Plug In The Sensor
Once the sensor is installed, plug the sensor pigtail into the wiring harness. Reinstall any components that were removed to access the sensor. Once everything is put back together, it is time to start the engine and check for OBD codes. Hop behind the wheel, start the engine and go for a short 10-minute drive. If the check engine light stays out, then the job is done. If the check engine light illuminates, grab an OBD code reader and diagnose the issue.
How Long Does It Take To Change An O2 Sensor?
So how long does it take to change O2 sensor components? If the sensor is right up front like on a Honda Civic, the entire job could only take 10 minutes. But, if it is wedged near the frame like a Nissan Titan, the job may take you an hour or more.
How Much Does It Cost To Change An O2 Sensor?
Wondering “how much to replace O2 sensor” so you can prepare your wallet? Expect to pay anywhere between $100 and $1,000 depending on your vehicle. Why such a wide range? Different vehicles require different types of oxygen sensors, which can vary widely in price. Also, labor rate charges can vary depending on the vehicle design.
If you want to know how often to replace O2 sensor parts on your vehicle, the answer is to wait for your check engine light to illuminate. There’s no need to replace an O2 sensor before it begins to fail or is physically damaged.
Now that you know how to change O2 sensor components on a vehicle, you can better understand the process. If you decide to DIY, make sure to take advantage of NAPA Rewards to start earning Points towards $5 off your next purchase. You can also let the experts at one of our 17,000 NAPA Auto Care locations tackle the job for you.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
With an automotive writing career spanning over two decades, Brian has a passion for sharing the automotive lifestyle. An avid DIYer he can usually be found working on one of his many project cars. His current collection includes a 1969 Olds Delta 88 convertible, BMW E46 sedan, and a slant-6 powered 1975 Plymouth Duster.