Products suited to this guided test*
  • Back-pinning Probe Set

  • *At Pico we are always looking to improve our products. The tool used in this guided test may have been superseded and the product above is our latest version used to diagnose the fault documented in this case study.

Engine coolant temperature sensor

The purpose of this test is to evaluate the voltage output of an Engine Coolant Temperature (ECT) sensor as the engine coolant temperature increases.

How to perform the test

View connection guidance notes.

  1. Use manufacturer’s data to identify the temperature sensor signal circuit.
  2. Connect PicoScope Channel A to the temperature sensor signal circuit.
  3. Minimize the help page. You will see that PicoScope has displayed an example waveform and is preset to capture your waveform.
  4. Start the scope to see live data.
  5. Start the engine.
  6. Observe the waveform as the engine coolant warms up.

Example waveform

Unfiltered waveform

Waveform filtered with lowpass cut-off at 10 Hz

Waveform notes

This known good waveform has the following characteristics:

  • A gradual decrease in voltage as engine coolant temperature increases.
  • No voltage drop-outs or spikes.
  • The second example shows the same waveform but low pass filtered with a cut-off at 10 Hz to reduce the noise measured in the circuit.
  • The initial voltage measured at the start of the waveform capture is dependent on the initial coolant temperature and application.

Waveform Library

Go to the drop down menu in the lower left corner of the Waveform Library window and select, Coolant temperature sensor.

Further guidance

An ECT sensor provides a measure of the engine’s coolant temperature to the Engine Control Module (ECM), as part of the engine load sensing apparatus. It is therefore partly responsible for the determination of fuelling, timing and engine speed requirements.

Most ECT sensors have a Negative Temperature Coefficient (NTC) characteristic, meaning their internal resistance decreases as the coolant temperature increases. Therefore, as in the example above, the voltage across an NTC ECT sensor drops as its resistance decreases. A Positive Temperature Coefficient (PTC) sensor will have the opposite behaviour.

ECT sensors are application specific; despite having similar external appearances, their outputs can vary for a given coolant temperature.

An ECM typically estimates engine temperature using multiple parameters, such as initial (prior to start up) ambient air temperature, engine running duration and engine loading. Therefore, a coolant temperature reading on a scan tool, obtained from serial diagnostic data, may be incorrect and may mask the failure of an ECT sensor. For this reason, this type of test is the only reliable way to determine ECT sensor health and function.

The temperature sensor circuits are highly resistance sensitive, requiring a good circuit with clean connectors and no extraneous resistances: any poor/corroded connections will falsify the signal at the ECM, causing the engine to operate out of tolerance.

An ECT circuit might be prone to the typical circuit failures (shorts, open circuits, or high resistances), an internal failure within the sensor, or a failure within the ECM (which otherwise should provide a 5 V reference to the signal wire when the ETC is disconnected).

Typical symptoms of a faulty ECT sensor are:

  • Malfunction Indicator Lamp (MIL) or glow plug warning light illumination
  • Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTCs)
  • Excessive emissions
  • Increased fuel consumption
  • Difficulty starting
  • Increased engine speed

Diagnostic trouble codes

Selection of component-related Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTCs):














View more


This help topic is subject to changes without notification. The information within is carefully checked and considered to be correct. This information is an example of our investigations and findings and is not a definitive procedure. Pico Technology accepts no responsibility for inaccuracies. Each vehicle may be different and require unique test settings.

Help us improve our tests

We know that our PicoScope users are clever and creative and we’d love to receive your ideas for improvement on this test. Click the Add comment button to leave your feedback.

1 comment | Add comment

March 06 2022

the voltage across an NTC ECT sensor drops as its resistance decreases.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Guided test: Engine coolant temperature sensor