A position sensor just for the CAMs and CRKs...

The CAM sensor or camshaft position sensor relates CAM position and rate of change. CAM and CRK synchronization is also very important and on some systems will even determine if injection takes place. The ECM simply cuts injection pulse if it sees a skewed CAM/CRK out of synch event, which is done to protect the engine.

Theory of Operation

The crank (CRK) sensor signal is probably the most important signal in a modern automotive engine control system. This signal provides the ECM with crankshaft speed and position, as well as a cylinder # 1 reference point. There are various names given to this signal. The distributor reference, CRK signal, CAS, PIP, etc (depending on the manufacturer). The way this signal reaches the ECM will affect the approach that is taken to a proper diagnostic procedure. By analyzing the signal path to the ECM using a wiring diagram and an oscilloscope, the correct diagnostics determination can be made.

The CAM sensor signal is found on systems with sequential fuel injection, in which the ECM triggers the injectors independently instead of in group mode as in older systems. The CAM signal is also called CID, TDC, etc, depending on the manufacturer. The CAM sensor provides the ECM with camshaft position so that it can determine the correct injection and ignition sequence. Some systems (with distributors) do not need the CAM sensor to start the vehicle, and can simply start in non-sequential mode. However COP and most DIS systems do need the CAM sensor so that the ECM can determine the position of cylinder # 1 TDC on compression stroke and fire the correct coil.

The relationship between CAM and CRK signal is very important for proper ignition sequencing to occur. A stretched or jumped timing belt/chain will create severe engine performance problems on DIS/COP systems, since the ECM doesn’t know when to trigger the coils. On other systems the ECM will shut down ignition entirely if it sees a discrepancy between these two signals.

CAM and CRK sensors come in four different varieties: MAGNETIC, HALL EFFECT, OPTICAL AND MAGNETO-RESISTIVE.

• The magnetic sensor actually produces its own signal. It is in essence a small generator. A coil winding inside the sensor picks up the magnetic fluctuations from the vibration damper or the flywheel (or both in some cases). A toothed reluctor wheel on either the damper or flywheel induces a voltage signal to the sensor. Magnetic sensors work on the principle of induction, which states that a metal object or magnet when placed across a coil winding will induce a current on that coil. Magnetic sensors are heavily dependant on the air gap between the sensor and reluctor wheel, and on the speed of rotation. The air gap has to be set as close as possible without touching the reluctor, and the engine cranking rotational speed has to be fast enough to produce the right signal amplitude. It is common to see vehicles that will not start due to a defective starter that is cranking the engine slower than normal . Systems that employ a magnetic sensor also have a threshold voltage, which is the voltage value at which the signal is first recognized by the ECM. Most distributor pick-up coils are of the magnetic type although hall effect distributors pick-ups are also found on some systems.

Once the signal reaches this pre-programmed voltage the ECM recognizes the signal and will act upon it (pulse the injector, etc). Magnetic sensors are usually shielded or with its wires twisted to prevent electromagnetic interference. On some systems the ECM provides a small bias voltage for diagnostics purposes. If the ECM sees a problem with this bias voltage, it will set a code for either a shorted or open circuit. Special attention should be paid to the polarity of these sensors. They are polarity sensitive. If for whatever reason the polarity (wires) is inverted, the vehicle will not perform properly or will not run at all.

The hall effect sensor requires its own voltage and contains a switching transistor within the sensor casing. This type of sensor needs a voltage supply, reference voltage and a ground to operate. Transistors are electronic switches that turn ON or OFF when a current is applied to one of its three leads (Base lead). The sensing semi-conductor device or miniature coil in a hall-effect sensor is tied to the base lead of this internal transistor.

When the triggering mechanism (reluctor wheel) comes close to the hall effect sensor the magnetic lines cut across the sensing semiconductor device, which triggers the small internal transistor. This internal transistor then toggles the reference signal between ground and reference voltage. Hall effect sensor outputs a square wave signal simply because all they do is toggle their reference voltage to ground. In essence they are magnetic sensors, with an added internal switching transistor so that the sensed signal goes to the base lead of the internal transistor to trigger it instead of straight to the ECM, like a regular magnetic type sensor. Some hall effect sensors actually employ their own permanent magnet within its casing. This variation uses a shutter type triggering wheel that breaks across the magnetic field. The momentary interruption of this magnetic field is what triggers the base of its internal transistor. Regardless of what hall effect sensor variation used, they all output a square wave. Hall effect sensors are not affected by slow engine cranking speeds. They will simply toggle the reference voltage to ground, regardless of cracking speed.

The optical sensor uses a principle somewhat similar to the hall effect sensor, but instead uses light as its triggering method. Optical sensors are light activated devices. These sensors use an LED (light emitting diode) as their light source, and a phototransistor as their triggering component. Optical sensors always have a shutter disk with small holes. Due to the more sensitive nature of the phototransistor, these holes are fairly small and can detect tiny amounts of engine speed fluctuations. Optical sensors are much more exacting in their operation and are able to detect very small engine variation problems much faster than any of the other two of sensor variants.

Optical sensors also put out a square wave. They need a supply voltage and ground to feed the LED light source and phototransistors, as well as a reference voltage. The shutter wheel passes between the LED and the phototransistor; and as this shutter wheel turns, it momentarily breaks the light beam emitted by the LED. This light beam breaking action is detected by the photo-transistor, which instead of having a base lead has a small lens or eye that is always looking for the light source. The action of the shutter wheel breaking the light source also triggers the phototransistor, which in turns toggles the reference voltage to ground. Optical sensors may also have two LED light sources. One for the 360º of crank rotation and the other with 4-6-8 slots to denote each cylinder position depending on the amount of cylinders on the engine. It is fairly common to see dirt and oil contaminate the small holes on the optical triggering wheel and cause erratic or no signal output at all. Neither optical or hall effect sensors are affected by slow engine cranking speeds.

The newer styled magneto-resistive sensor is yet another derivative of the hall-effect sensor. This sensor also puts out a square wave, but with one fundamental difference. Magneto-resistive sensors DO NOT ground their reference voltage. They are constructed with two internal sensing pick-up devices one besides the other. When the reluctor wheel tooth comes into proximity with the sensor, the first of the two sensing pick-up devices will trigger the base of the transistor and toggle the output signal high (i.e. 5 volts). A split second later, the second of the two sensing pickups will then toggle the output signal low (0 volts) or ground. This sensor uses the leading and trailing edges of the reluctor tooth to output a square wave. The leading tooth edge toggles the sensor high and the trailing edge toggles it low. The output is a regular square wave. Magneto-resistive sensors are also not affected by slow engine cranking speeds.

Conditions that Affect Operation

The following conditions should be used as guidelines affecting all CAM & CRK sensors mentioned here. It is always important to determine the specific vehicle operation before making a diagnostics decision. Keep in mind that the way the CAM or CRK signal reaches the ECM will determine the diagnostic route to follow. These signals will either go to the ignition module first then to the ECM or just straight to the ECM. If a CAM or CRK code is set, careful consideration should be given to the particular vehicle strategy. A signal that first goes to the ICM and is not reaching the ECM could be due to it being shorted/open circuited at the ICM. Furthermore, on most of the sensor-ICM-ECM type of systems the actual hall effect voltage reference is provided by the ICM itself. These smart ICMs make all the decisions after processing the actual CAM/CRK signal and only then send a reference position signal to the ECM. A quick glance at the wiring diagram should be the first step. Learn and study the particular system before attempting to perform a diagnostic.

Magnetic sensor signal output strength (amplitude) is very dependant on the air gap between it and the triggering mechanism (reluctor wheel), and also the speed of engine rotation. The air gap usually comes out of adjustment over time due to engine vibration. Although the air gap on most magnetic sensors is not adjustable, dirt and metal filing tend to stick to the tip of the sensor and cause air gap sensing problems. A simple cleaning sometimes fixes the problem. Engine cranking speed is greatly affected by battery and starter condition. A slow cranking speed problem might make the vehicle not start at all. The lower cranking speed will also lower the sensor’s signal amplitude. Internal sensor coil condition is also a main cause of magnetic sensor failure. Water and moisture get into the casing and corrodes the sensor’s internal coil.

Hall Effect sensors are fairly unaffected by engine cranking speed problems. They can still output a square wave even if the engine is turned by hand. Air gap and dirty sensors is also a main problem for hall effect sensor, as well as internal degradation due to corrosion and vibration.

Optical sensors main ailment is dirt in the optical shutter wheel. Since these sensors are much more sensitive, anything that interferes with the light beam will also affect the output signal. These sensors are not affected by low cranking speeds and they have no air gap to contend with. However, a warped optical shutter wheel may also render the sensor useless.

Magneto-Resistive sensors are not affected by slow engine cranking speeds either. They are however extremely sensitive to signal noise created by out-of-adjustment air gaps and dirty sensor tip. Because of their signal noise sensitivity, clean sensor tips are a must with these sensors.

Component Testing


• The first step in testing a magnetic sensor is to scope the signal output for proper amplitude and frequency. The quality of the wave should be consistent as well.

• No sudden drops should be present. Remember that magnetic sensors produce their own voltage. A low amplitude problem is either the result of improper air gap or low starter cranking speed. It is even possible for an ECM to put out a CRK or CAM code due to a bad starter or battery. Always make sure that the starting and battery systems are up to specs.



• Because of the similarities between these two types of sensors the procedure to test them is much the same. Always check for proper feed voltage, reference voltage and ground first. These particular voltages vary between different manufacturers. The ECM provided ground is the second point to check with this type of sensor. Once it is verified that power and ground are present the sensor should toggle the reference voltage. Remember that low cranking speed does not affect this type of sensor.


These are basically tested in the same manner as the hall-effect type sensor with an added difference, they do not toggle a reference voltage to ground. Always check for supply voltage and ground. If these two are present and the sensor is operational, there should be a square wave signal output.

As explained before, study the signal path from the sensor to the ECM. And, always consider whatever stands between this sensor and the ECM as possible suspects. A thorough understanding of the system being worked on is of crucial importance to proper diagnostics. This article simply tries to dissect and summarize the workings and procedures needed to perform a proper diagnostics.


Hit Counter

Ask DIY-Car-Doctor

Watch our Videos

More Services


Sensors                 O2-Sensor                  APP-Sensor                CAM-Sensor               CRK-Sensor               ECT-Sensor               IAT-Sensor                 Knock-Sensor              MAF-Sensor                MAP-Sensor                TPS-Sensor                 VSS-Sensor                FRP-Sensor                AFR-Sensor              

Actuators               Fuel-Injectors            Ignition-Coil           Leak-Detection Pump  GM-Series Alternator   Idle-Control Valve      EGR-System            EVAP-System      

Repair Strategies Current-Ramping      Lack of Power           Fuel-Flow Volume     Ignition Waveform       Ignition Testing          A/F Ratio Diagnosis    Minimum Air Rate      No Fuel-Pressure       No Injector Pulse      No-Start/No-Spark     General No-Start      

ECM/PCM Modes Cranking Enrichment   Warm-up Cycle         Open-Loop            Closed-Loop            Accel. Enrichment Deceleration Leaning   Idle Control             Low-Voltage Correction Clear Flood Mode     Selective Inj. Cut-Off   Limp-In Mode           Exhaust Variable Valve

 OBD-2 Codes

Generic DTCs            GM Cars DTCs           GM Truck DTCs        Ford DTCs                  Ford Trucks DTCs        Dodge DTCs                BMW DTCs                 Honda/Acura DTCs       Hyundai DTCs              Isuzu DTCs                  Jaguar DTCs                Kia DTCs                     Land Rover DTCs          Mazda DTCs                Mercedes DTCs           Mitsubishi DTCs           Nissan/Infinity DTCs     Saab DTCs                  Subaru DTCs               Toyota DTCs                Volvo DTCs                  VW/Audi DTCs        

 Code Setting Criteria

Dodge CSC                 Ford CSC                    GM CSC                     Honda/Acura CSC        Hyundai CSC               Isuzu CSC                   Kia CSC                      Mazda CSC                 Mitsubishi CSC            Nissan/Infinity CSC      Subaru CSC                Toyota/Lexus CSC

SRS Airbag DTC

GM SRS Airbag Code   GM Truck SRS Code    Ford SRS Airbag Code  Ford Truck SRS Code   Dodge SRS Code        Dodge Truck SRS Code Acura/Honda SRS Code Isuzu SRS Codes         Mazda SRS Codes        Subaru SRS Codes Infinity/Nissan SRS       Kia SRS Codes     Hyundai SRS Codes     Mitsubishi SRS Codes Lexus/Toyota SRS

How to Get SRS Codes

Retrieving Dodge SRS   Retrieving Ford SRS     Retrieving GM SRS      Retrieving Honda SRS   Hyundai/Kia/Mitsu SRS Isuzu/Mazda/Subaru     Retrieving Toyota SRS  Nissan/Infinity SRS

SRS-Airbag Repair Guide

Deleting SRS Codes   Dodge SRS Location       Dodge SRS Operation     Ford SRS Location          Ford SRS Operation        GM SRS Location            GM SRS Operation           Honda SRS Location       Honda SRS Operation     Isuzu/Mazda/Suba Loc.   Isuzu/Mazda/Suba Ope Kia/Hyun/Mitsu Location Kia/Hyun/Mitsu Oper.       Nissan/Infinity Location   Nissan/Infinity Operation Toyota/Lexus Location    Toyota/Lexus Operation 


copyright 2011 Mandy Concepcion, Automotive Diagnostics and Publishing