How To Test: P0117 OBD II Trouble Code
(Ford 4.0L)

How to Test a P0117 Diagnostic Trouble Code (Ford 4.0L)

OBD II trouble code P0117 ECT Sensor Circuit Low Voltage is telling you that your 4.0L equipped Ford vehicle's fuel injection computer is seeing a continuous engine coolant temperature of 250°F (121°C) or higher.

The two most common causes of a P0117 trouble code is either a bad ECT sensor or a short in the sensor's wires. In this tutorial, I'm gonna' help you troubleshoot this diagnostic trouble code (DTC) in a step-by-step way.

If a trouble code P0118 is stored in your Ford's PCM's memory, the following tutorial will help:

  1. How To Test: P0118 OBD II Trouble Code (Ford 4.0L).

Here are the contents of this tutorial at a glance:

  1. Symptoms of a P0117 Diagnostic Trouble Code.
  2. P0117 -What Does This Code Really Mean?.
  3. How the ECT Sensor Works.
  4. Common Causes of a P0117 Trouble Code.
  5. START HERE: Troubleshooting DTC P0118.
  6. TEST 1: Checking the Engine Coolant Temperature Value.
  7. TEST 2: Checking the Condition of the ECT Sensor's 2 Wires.
  8. TEST 3: Disconnecting the ECT Sensor From its Connector.
  9. TEST 4: Checking the Temperature with the Key On Engine Running.
  10. More Ford 4.0L Test Tutorials.

Symptoms of a P0117 Diagnostic Trouble Code

Since the fuel injection computer needs to know the engine's temperature, via the engine coolant temp (ECT) sensor, when it sees the wrong temperature... your Ford is gonna' have a hard time playing ball.

You may see one or more of the following symptoms when the engine coolant temperature (ECT) sensor fails:

  1. Check engine light (CEL) is on.
  2. DTC P0117 is present.
  3. Won't pass the state mandated emissions test.
  4. Gas mileage will suffer.
  5. Hard start and/or extended cranking time (after shut off).
  6. Black smoke coming out of the tailpipe.

Let's find out what are the common causes of a P0117 DTC, in the next subheading.

P0117 -What Does This Code Really Mean?

In a nutshell, when a code P0117 ECT Sensor Circuit Low Voltage lights up the check engine light (CEL), the PCM is letting you know that it sees a continuous engine coolant temperature of 250°F (121°C) or hotter.

To give you more specifics... the PCM sees this extremely hot temperature as soon as you start your Ford (whose engine is cold) and thru' out the entire time you're driving. The PCM sees this hot temp not because the engine is really overheating, but due to a problem with the sensor or its circuits.

Why is the engine coolant temperature so important for the fuel injection computer? This is due the fact that the colder the engine is, the more fuel the fuel injection computer (known as the PCM = Powertrain Control Module) needs to inject. The warmer the engine is, the less fuel the PCM is needs to inject.

So when the PCM gets the wrong engine coolant temperature... it can no longer control fuel injection to maximize performance and decrease emissions.

How the ECT Sensor Works

Knowing the basics of the engine coolant temperature (ECT) sensor will help diagnose the P0117 ECT Sensor Circuit Low Voltage trouble code lighting up the check engine light.

Briefly, this is how the engine coolant temperature (ECT) sensor works:

  1. The engine coolant temperature (ECT) sensor is a 2 wire sensor.
    1. One wire (circuit) supplies power.
      1. Power is in the form of 5 Volts DC and is provided only with Key On Engine Off (KOEO) or Key On Engine Running (KOER).
      2. Power is provided by the PCM.
    2. The other wire (circuit) supplies ground.
      1. This ground is fed to the ECT sensor by the PCM (internally).
  2. The ECT sensor is a resistor (thermistor). Its resistance changes in response to changes in the engine coolant's temperature.
    1. The cooler the engine coolant, the higher the resistance of the ECT sensor.
    2. The warmer the engine coolant, the lower the resistance of the ECT sensor.
  3. When the 5 Volts pass through the engine coolant temperature (ECT) sensor, the resistance of the sensor produces a voltage drop. This in plain English means that only a certain amount of the 5 Volts are let through to the ground wire.
    1. The cooler the engine coolant is, the less voltage is let thru' onto the ground wire (due to the ECT sensor's higher resistance).
      1. The amount of voltage that doesn't make it thru is the voltage drop.
      2. The PCM translates this higher voltage drop into a colder temperature value.
    2. The warmer the engine coolant, the more Voltage is let thru' onto the ground wire (due to the ECT sensor's lower resistance).
      1. The PCM translates this lower voltage drop into a warmer/hotter temperature value.
  4. The following chart shows the temperature-resistance relationship:
    Temperature Resistance
       (K Ω)
    Voltage Drop
      50° F (10° C) 58.75 Ω 3.51 V DC
      68° F (20° C) 37.30 Ω 3.07 V DC
      86° F (30° C) 24.27 Ω 2.60 V DC
    104° F (40° C) 16.15 Ω 2.13 V DC
    122° F (50° C) 10.97 Ω 1.7 V DC
    140° F (60° C)   7.70 Ω 1.33 V DC
    158° F (70° C)   5.37 Ω 1.02 V DC
    176° F (80° C)   3.84 Ω 0.78 V DC
    194° F (90° C)   2.80 Ω 0.60 V DC
    212° F (100° C)   2.07 Ω 0.46 V DC

Common Causes of a P0117 Trouble Code

The 2 most common cause of trouble code P0117 are:

  1. A bad engine coolant temperature (ECT) sensor.
  2. A problem in the sensor's 2 wires. Usually a short circuit.

Although extremely rare for this to happen... a bad PCM can also cause a false P0117 trouble code.

In this tutorial, I'll help you troubleshoot all three of the above. With this basic info under our belts, let's turn the page and get testing!.....

Ford Vehicles:

  • Aerostar 4.0L
    • 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997
  • Explorer 4.0L
    • 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003
  • Ranger 4.0L
    • 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003

Mercury Vehicles:

  • Mountaineer 4.0L
    • 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003

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