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MAF Sensor Problems -- How to Clean Your MAF Sensor

Updated on February 21, 2012

What's an MAF Sensor?

An MAF sensor is short for Mass Air Flow Sensor. In many older vehicles, the MAF sensor can begin to have problems, and become dirty, requiring either a replacement or cleaning. But before we get into that, let's find out a little bit more about what an MAF sensor is used for. The MAF sensor in a vehicle is used to determine the amount of air to introduce into the fuel/air mixture for combustion. In any internal combustion engine, gasoline is only one component of the fuel used for combustion. Oxygen is the other. But the density of oxygen and the properties of oxygen vary dramatically depending on the altitude you're in and the heat of the environment the oxygen is in. That's where the MAF sensor comes in. The MAF sensor helps to deliver the correct amount of oxygen into the fuel/air mixture for combustion. But as an MAF sensor ages and gets dirty, it can begin to malfunction. A MAF sensor that isn't clean can cause issues like:

  • Poor Fuel Economy
  • Lack of Power
  • Rough Idling
  • Stalling

If you're experiencing issues like the ones listed above, then it might be that your MAF sensor needs cleaning. But before you run off and buy a bottle of MAF sensor cleaner, be aware that there are a number of issues that can cause issues like rough idle, lack of power, and poor fuel economy. But the good news is that MAF sensor cleaner is super cheap, pretty easy to use, and can only make things better. If you're experiencing the issues listed above, then you probably don't have anything to lose by giving it a shot. If it doesn't work though, you might want to think about Fuel Injection Cleaner, or checking the condition of your spark plugs.

Diagnosing MAF Sensor Problems

Because of the fact that clogged fuel injectors, faulty spark plugs, and a number of other issues can produce the same symptoms listed above, how do you know that your MAF sensor is what's to blame for your poor fuel economy and lack of power? Well that's the tricky part. If you aren't sure exactly where your lack of power and poor fuel economy is coming from, make sure you read my other articles about Spark Plug Problems and Fuel Injection Cleaner.

  1. The one trick that people use to figure out if their MAF sensor is dirty is to just unplug it, to literally take it out of the system and then drive around without it for a little while. If the car runs better without it, then you know that your MAF sensor is either dirty or faulty. The only problem that I have with this method is that, once you go through all the trouble of taking out the MAF sensor, you could have just sprayed a little $5 cleaner in there and hooked the system back up. Why go through all the trouble of disassembling it and running the car without it, when you could just fix the problem right then and there? But if you're interested in diagnosing your problem so that you're sure you solve it correctly, then this is a good way of doing that.

MAF sensor cleaner can only be applied if the clamp is loosened between the hose and the air filter in order to access the MAF sensor.
MAF sensor cleaner can only be applied if the clamp is loosened between the hose and the air filter in order to access the MAF sensor.

How to Clean Your MAF Sensor

If you've got a bottle of MAF cleaner like the one pictured above, using it is fairly simple and effective. As you can see if you read the testimonials of the above product, people are overwhelmingly happy with the price and simplicity of MAF cleaner. The most complex part is getting to your MAF sensor in order to clean it. The MAF sensor is located next to the air filter under the hood of the car. It's inside the housing that runs away from the air filter toward the engine. The picture to the right is a picture to show you in general what most MAF sensors look like.

Depending on the type of car you have, you might have to unclamp or unscrew different housings that exist on the air intake system in order to access your air filter and MAF sensor. Cars are different and so it's impossible to have a step by step explanation that will work for all vehicles. But the good news is that cars all work the same way. The air must first pass through the air filter before going to the MAF sensor and finally to the combustion chamber. So if you know where your air filter is, and the large hose that brings air to the engine, then you know your MAF sensor is right in between. It shouldn't be hard to find.

Once you locate and expose your MAF sensor, spray a reasonable amount of MAF cleaner into the system, into the large circular area where the air passes through. The directions on the bottle will assist you. This will remove the gunk that has collected on the system that's keeping the sensor from working properly. Then you only have to hook everything back up again and everything should start working again properly.


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      archford 2 years ago

      would want to know if you know where camshaft sensor is located on vw golf wagon 2006 model 1.6 l petrol

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      skerrigan 5 years ago

      In the 'How to Clean' section, it is worth mentioning that the MAF sensor should be removed from the vehicle prior to cleaning. Source: CRC Industries, who also makes an MAF cleaner.