Should Mike Ignore a Cam Sensor Error?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Mar 30, 2017

Dear Car Talk:

I have a 2008 Chevy Malibu, with 53,300 miles. About six months ago, the check engine light came on, but went off within several days. This continued -- on, off, on, off -- for several months. Now it stays on all the time. According to a local auto-parts store, the "error code" is P-0013 and P-0014. I Googled the code and it says something about a "cam location sensor." The car runs fine. Should I be concerned? Is fixing or adjusting it beyond the ability of an average mechanical person, like me? My friends say to put a piece of black electrical tape over the light. -- Mike



Your friends must be regular readers of the column, Mike.

Actually, this is not a good candidate for the black-tape solution. The cam sensor tells the computer the position of the camshaft. There's also a crankshaft position sensor. The inputs from those sensors have to line up perfectly so that the spark fires at the right nanosecond.

If the spark doesn't fire exactly when it's supposed to, performance will start to degrade, pollution will increase and, eventually, the car will protest by putting itself into what's called "Limp Home Mode." Which is exactly what it sounds like. And you'd better hope that when it goes into "Limp Home Mode," you're not just leaving Cousin Eldred's place two states away.

There's no adjustment for this; the sensor either works or it doesn't. And in this case, according to your car's computer, it doesn't. So it needs to be replaced.

The good news is, I think you can handle this, Mike. The part costs about $50. It's located on the side of the head on four-cylinder Malibus, or in between the heads behind the water pump on six-cylinder versions. It'll be a lot easier to find once you have the new one in your hand and you know what it looks like.

And it's a simple fix: I think it comes out with one bolt. Then you unplug the old one, plug and bolt in the new one, and you're done.

It's not quite as cheap as applying black tape, but you'll feel a lot more smug satisfaction when you're done.


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