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  • A bad speed sensor can cause transmission issues and erratic speedometer ratings.
  • A malfunctioning sensor will render the transmission torque converter unable to apply the clutch and form a mechanical link between the engine and transmission. This may also cause your vehicle’s cruise control to be disabled.
  • An electrical fault can cause the sensor to malfunction. It’s also possible for a speed sensor to get damaged or cracked.
  • A faulty VSS can negatively impact multiple aspects of vehicle operation—which is why it’s best to replace a bad speed sensor as soon as possible.

The vehicle speed sensor (VSS) or output transmission speed sensor determines how fast your vehicle is going by measuring the rotation of a toothed wheel on a shaft inside the transmission or at one of the wheels if the signal is coming from the ABS module to the PCM or TCM. The speed sensor can produce analog waveform signals or square wave signals, depending on the sensor design.

, What are the Symptoms of a Bad Speed Sensor?

Pro Tips are nuggets of information direct from ASE-certified automobile technicians working with, which may include unique, personal insights based on their years of experience working in the automotive industry. These can help you make more informed decisions about your car.

Pro Tip: Usually, the vehicle speed sensor measures the speed of the transmission output shaft, but it can also measure the speed of the differential carrier in the rear end or even the separate wheel speeds on newer vehicles with networking.

A failing speed sensor in your transmission can affect more than just speedometer operation. The engine and transmission control systems both rely on the data provided by transmission speed sensors to make the necessary adjustments for your vehicle to run efficiently. Cruise control relies on this data as well.

A bad speed sensor can potentially reduce your ability to drive your vehicle safely. Therefore, it’s a good idea to know what the signs of a bad speed sensor are.

a car's speedometer
A faulty speed sensor can affect your speedometer operation and reduce your ability to drive safely.

5 Common Bad Speed Sensor Symptoms

Transmission problems

Vehicle speed information relayed by the VSS is used by the transmission control module (TCM) or powertrain control module (PCM) to determine shift timing. It can even be used by the body control module (BCM) for, among other things, intermittent wiper sweep, which needs to increase in frequency with speed in mist conditions. Some platforms will turn off the interior lights above a certain speed if a faulty “door ajar” switch or some other fault has them illuminated when they shouldn’t be. But most specifically, a failing speed sensor will have a direct impact on automatic transmission operation.

One of the most common signs of a bad speed sensor is abnormal automatic transmission operation. If the VSS is faulty, the transmission may exhibit symptoms such as delayed shifts, hard shifts, and limited gear operation.

Erratic speedometer readings

Many vehicles use the VSS as a primary input for speedometer operation, which means a malfunctioning VSS can cause the speedometer to produce an erratic reading—or no reading at all.

Your vehicle will continue to run without a working speedometer. However, not knowing how fast you’re going will make it difficult to drive safely.

Inability to engage cruise control

Typically, your vehicle’s cruise control will automatically be disabled by the PCM as soon as it fails to receive information from the VSS. This is because the system requires the sensor’s data in order to keep your car running at a constant speed.

cruise control of a car
A bad speed sensor may automatically disable your vehicle’s cruise control.

Lack of torque converter clutch application

The torque converter clutch is activated at a pre-programmed speed. Without accurate information from the vehicle speed sensors, the transmission torque converter will be unable to apply the clutch and form a mechanical link between the engine and transmission.

This can cause slipping, reduced fuel economy, and an overheated transmission.

Check Engine Light is triggered

Your vehicle’s check engine light can be triggered by the PCM for a myriad of reasons—one of which is a faulty VSS. You’ll need to connect your vehicle to an OBD-II scan tool to confirm whether the error code is pointing to a VSS malfunction.

Other warning lights such as those for the ABS and traction control systems may also appear on the dashboard.

What Causes the Speed Sensor To Fail?

An internal electrical fault in the speed sensor

A speed sensor that is damaged internally can result in an abnormal output signal or no signal at all. Typically, the sensor can be tested with a digital voltmeter or oscilloscope.

Seek the help of a trusted mechanic if you suspect that you have a faulty VSS so it can be tested—and replaced if needed.

Damage on the sensor itself

It’s possible for the speed sensor to get damaged or cracked. Also, the plastic portion of the sensor can become brittle after prolonged exposure to the elements.

The magnetic portion of the sensor may also become worn and damaged over time.

Poor vehicle maintenance

Failing to follow your vehicle maintenance schedule can increase the risk of speed sensor failure. This device will not be able to produce correct readings if the magnetic pickup and/or toothed wheel become heavily covered in gunk, particularly old transmission fluid contaminants. Expect a typical speed sensor to last from over 100,000 to almost 150,000 miles. To extend your speed sensor’s life, follow the recommendations of your owner’s manual in maintaining your vehicle’s transmission.

Is It Safe to Drive with a Failing Speed Sensor?

While it’s technically possible to operate your vehicle without a properly functioning vehicle speed sensor, it is strongly discouraged. A faulty VSS can negatively impact multiple aspects of vehicle operation—which is why it’s best to replace a bad speed sensor as soon as possible.

If you observe any of the symptoms mentioned above, take your vehicle to a mechanic immediately—or address the problem (if you’re handy with cars) yourself. This ensures your continued safety on the road and helps prevent costly engine and transmission damage down the line. Failing to replace a faulty sensor can affect both of these systems as they won’t have the necessary information that they need to perform optimally.

Not only will these repairs cost you hundreds to thousands of dollars, but they can also be harder to fix and put your vehicle out of commission for a longer than it has to be.

Remember that what can resolve Jeep Cherokee speed sensor problems, such as resetting the ABS light, can be different from solutions for other vehicle models like a Chevy, so make sure to check your vehicle carefully.

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About The Authors
Richard McCuistian, ASE Certified Master Automobile Technician
Reviewed By Richard McCuistian, ASE Certified Master Automobile Technician

Technical Reviewer at

Richard McCuistian has worked for nearly 50 years in the automotive field as a professional technician, an instructor, and a freelance automotive writer for Motor Age, ACtion magazine, Power Stroke Registry, and others. Richard is ASE certified for more than 30 years in 10 categories, including L1 Advanced Engine Performance and Light Vehicle Diesel.

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The Research Team is composed of experienced automotive and tech writers working with (ASE)-certified automobile technicians and automotive journalists to bring up-to-date, helpful information to car owners in the US. Guided by's thorough editorial process, our team strives to produce guides and resources DIYers and casual car owners can trust.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

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Wayne Coleman

I own a 1995 Cadillac DeVille and the speed sensor went. On the way home, the battery stopped charging too. Is that the fault of the bad speed sensor?

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