Products suited to this guided test*
  • 20 A / 60 A DC (low amps) current clamp

  • Back-pinning Probe Set

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 The tools used in this guided test may have been superseded and the products above are our latest versions used to diagnose the fault documented in this case study.

Lambda sensor - heater current and signal voltage

The purpose of this test is to examine the output signal and heater current waveforms from a Pre-Catalytic Convertor Zirconia type lambda sensor.

How to perform the test

View connection guidance notes.

  1. Use manufacturer data to identify the function of the lambda sensor circuits.
  2. Connect the low amp clamp to PicoScope Channel A.
  3. Select the 20 A scale and zero the clamp before connecting to the heater element supply circuit.
  4. Connect PicoScope Channel B to the lambda sensor output signal circuit.
  5. Minimize the help page. You will see that PicoScope has displayed an example waveform and is preset to capture your waveform.
  6. Start the scope to see live data.
  7. Start the engine and allow it to idle.
  8. Observe your live waveforms for a few minutes.
  9. With your waveforms on screen stop the scope.
  10. Use the Waveform Buffer, Zoom and Measurements tools to examine your waveform.


The orientation of the current clamp relative to the wire will determine whether it has a positive or negative output. If a live waveform does not appear on your screen, or appears to be inverted, try reversing the orientation of the clamp.

Example waveform

Waveform notes

Channel A: Heater current

This shows the current in the heater element, which is a pulse width modulation (PWM) or square wave type signal. The pulses of current start with a height of about 1.3 amps and then decline to about 0.5 amps. This is due to the increase in the heater's resistance as it warms up. The voltage across the heater is a constant battery voltage from the ECM, so as the heater's resistance rises, the current will drop.

The most important feature of this waveform is not the height of the current pulses but their width. The ECM in this engine outputs a pulse of current every half a second (500 ms), and adjusts the width of each pulse to control the heater power. It is difficult to see the individual pulses in the waveform above, so we need to zoom in using the zoom tools . The magnified view is shown here on the right:

In the waveform above, we have zoomed in to the 20-second interval just after switch-on. We have also placed a couple of rulers at about 26 and 30 seconds after switch-on, and set PicoScope to display the average current over that interval. PicoScope shows that the average current between the rulers is about 860 mA. This tells us that the pulsed current fed to the heater has the same effect as a constant current of about 860 mA.

After the 30-second point, the current pulses get narrower. If we moved the rulers into that region, PicoScope would tell us that the average current there is about 185 mA, or about 20% of the peak current. The output of the heater would therefore be lower.

Channel B: Sensor output

This shows the voltage signal from the sensor, representing the oxygen content of the exhaust gas. PicoScope has been set up to filter the signal to remove noise spikes.

Waveform Library

Go to the drop-down menu bar at the lower left corner of the Waveform Library window and select, Oxygen / O2/ Lambda heater current.

Further guidance

For technical information on the sensor itself, see the Zirconia lambda sensors topic.

The purpose of the heater element is to heat the lambda sensor up to the start of its 250 to 950 °C operating range as quickly as possible. At this point the fuel injection system will change from open-loop to closed-loop fuel control. This cannot occur until there is a switching signal from the lambda sensor output wire, informing the engine ECM of the oxygen content of the exhaust system. It is imperative that the system moves to closed-loop control as quickly as possible to meet stringent emission system regulations. Any defects in the heater element system will reduce the lambda sensor switching rate and invariably bring on the engine emissions malfunction warning lamp.

If the element is not drawing any current, check that there is a normal battery voltage supply on one of the connecting wires and the ECM is attempting to intermittently switch the other wire to earth. If there is no earth switching then also check the continuity of the wire back to the ECM for an open circuit.

The element's resistor can also be checked across the two white wires. On our test vehicle the element had a resistance of 6 Ω. Check the manufacturer's data for the vehicle under test.

Typically the four wires on the Zirconia lambda sensor are:

  • Black - sensor signal
  • Grey - sensor earth
  • White - heater element
  • White - heater element


  • Blue - sensor signal
  • White - sensor earth
  • Black - heater element
  • Black - heater element

This is only a guide and may vary with different manufacturers.

If the lambda sensor is removed and then refitted or replaced then it is also worth checking the correct torque setting. On our test vehicle the correct tightening torque was 45 Nm.


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.

Add comment

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

Guided test: Lambda sensor - heater current and signal voltage