The Drive and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. Read more.
There are a million and one things that could go wrong with a car engine. In old times, it was solely up to the owner and/or technician to drudge through possible issues until they determined what was broken or malfunctioning. Modern cars have become so intelligent, though, that they can detect problems as they happen, that’s what sensors are for.
There are dozens of sensors all throughout a vehicle that constantly read a car’s functionality and health. Some read oxygen, air, or temperature levels, while others such as knock sensors, keep tabs on vibrations and sound levels so you don’t end up with a piston-sized hole in the engine itself.
But there’s more to a knock sensor than just that, so please allow The Drive’s crack informational team to explain and answer the question, what is a knock sensor?
Also known as engine ping or detonation, an engine knock is a sound and reaction that occurs when there is a second unplanned ignition or explosion within a cylinder that is separate from the regular controlled ignition from a spark plug. In other words, knock is bad news for your engine. A few things must happen for this to occur.
Basically, the spark plug ignition creates a flame front that travels through the remaining cylinder space. That flame front’s movement pressurizes the remaining air and fuel mixture. Increased pressure means increased temperature, and in some cases, it gets so hot that it creates a second ignition. The second ignition creates a second flame front, and when those two reactions collide, you get knock.
Engine knock typically sounds like a knock, ping, or click coming from the engine. The sound often becomes more noticeable during throttle input and/or acceleration.
An example of a knocking noise is pretty apparent in this video, though we do not endorse any methods or actions taken in this clip:
A knock sensor is essentially a small “listening” device in or on the engine that detects these irregular vibrations and sounds that come from the engine block.
The knock sensor picks up vibration and sound coming from the engine block, turns it into an electronic signal and sends that signal to the engine control unit (ECU). The car’s computer then judges the information and determines whether or not ignition timing should be altered.
Related Post: Best Aftermarket EFI Systems
It can also cause a check-engine light (CEL) to appear or potentially shut down part of the motor in order to save itself from further damage.
A knock sensor is typically attached directly to the outside of the engine block, but in some cases, it is located underneath the intake manifold.
A large majority of knock sensors use piezoelectric ceramics or elements. According to Science Direct, “a piezoelectric ceramic is a smart material that converts a mechanical effect (such as pressure, movement, or vibration) into an electrical signal and vice versa. Due to the electromechanical effect, piezoelectric ceramics are used in a wide range of applications such as motion sensors, watches, ultrasonic power transducers, lithotripters, ultrasonic cleaning, ultrasonic welding, active vibration dampeners, high-frequency loudspeakers, actuators for atomic force microscopes, and many others.” Cool.
There are multiple reasons engine knock could occur. Here are a few potential causes:
Related Post: Best Spark Plug Gap Tools
Pre-ignition is often confused or mixed up with knock, but they are two different things. While knock often occurs around the same time as the spark plug ignition, pre-ignition occurs before the spark plug ignition occurs. It most commonly occurs when the piston is moving upward.