The P0011 is a generic OBD-II code, which means it is common across all manufacturers. But more specifically, this specific fault code can be triggered in vehicles with variable camshaft timing, also known as variable valve timing.
Read our guide below to learn more about this error code and to find out how to address it.
What Does the P0011 Code Mean?
A large percentage of today’s vehicles use engines with Variable Valve Timing. Hot Rodders would, for years, alter the valve timing a few degrees to enhance engine performance, but it was largely done in a static way – using a degree-marked cam gear set the valve timing slightly out of spec for optimum performance.
Variable Valve Timing systems have the cam gear designed so that the relationship between the cam gear and the camshaft can be changed “on the fly,” so to speak, i.e, while the engine is under load and the vehicle is being driven.
Some of the earliest VVT systems were on mid-90s Ford Contours and Mazda 626 4 cylinder engines, which would alter the exhaust valve timing to close the exhaust valves early while the engine was under load, allowing some of the inert exhaust gas to remain in the combustion chamber. This effectively reduced NOx emissions and eliminated the need for EGR.
But not long after that, variable intake valve timing began to be used to enhance the engine’s power curve, and it very rapidly became the order of things. Most engines are equipped with VVT today.
The way VVT works is that the ECM/PCM closely monitors the cam/crank timing and uses an oil control solenoid to manipulate the relationship between the cam gear(s) and the camshaft(s) according to predetermined algorithms. The engine controller obviously monitors the cam and crank sensors (CMP and CKP), but also the Mass Airflow Sensor (MAF), the Throttle Position Sensor (TPS), the Engine Coolant Sensor (ECT), and the Vehicle Speed.
Using those inputs along with its programming, the ECM/PCM determines the optimum intake camshaft timing for a given engine temperature, throttle angle, engine load, and speed. Comparing the Cam and Crank sensors, the ECM/PCM continuously works to maintain the target Camshaft Angle. If the target can’t be met, a DTC is stored.
Different manufacturers have slightly different criteria for when this code is set, but a P0011 code points to an Advanced Camshaft Timing condition that won’t respond to PCM commands. If the Engine Computer (ECM/PCM) notices that the cam timing is too far advanced and attempts to set a target to correct that incorrect angle but the Cam and Crank sensors indicate the angle didn’t correct or didn’t correct fast enough, the P0011 code is triggered on bank 1. Every engine has a bank 1. But on engines with 2 banks, (V engines) this condition on bank 2 will store a P0012 code. Remember, bank 1 is always the side where the number 1 cylinder is housed. This is true even on four cylinder inline engines.
The opposite codes (Retarded Camshaft Timing) are P0012 and P0022 respectively.
Again, the P0011 DTC stands for “A” Camshaft Position Timing Over Advanced or System Performance Bank 1. The code indicates that the ECM/PCM has been unable to correct a detected difference in the desired camshaft position angle and the actual camshaft position angle. Its programming has it reaching for a target that the cam and crank sensors indicate that it can’t achieve.
What about the “A” and Bank 1 portions of the code on some vehicles? Well, “A” typically refers to the intake camshaft in a straight or inline overhead camshaft engine. On the other hand, if the engine uses a V configuration, the “A” usually refers to the intake camshaft on bank 1.
P0011 is a common issue among the following makes: Chevrolet (especially on the Chevy Equinox and Malibu), Nissan, Subaru, Hyundai, and GMC.
What is Variable Valve Timing?
The ECM/PCM operates an oil control solenoid that supplies engine oil to each actuator (one per bank), which in turn, modifies the camshaft position angle, thereby adjusting valve timing. The actuator is usually a special gear with vanes so that oil pressure delivered to the vane chambers will change the relationship between the gear and the camshaft it is driving. Typically, the actuators will be spring loaded to their default position and will return when the solenoid stops delivering pressure to the vanes. There are variations among different makes, so be aware that not all actuators work the same.
It’s worth noting that different automakers refer to the VVT system, as well as the individual VVT components, by different names. Toyota, for example, calls its VVT system, Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i); Ford calls its system Twin Independent Variable Camshaft Timing (Ti-VCT).
Also, unlike most other automakers, Ford refers to camshaft actuators as camshaft “phasers.”
What are the Possible Causes of the P0011 Code?
Many different problems can trigger code P0011. Some of the common issues include:
- Faulty camshaft actuator (aka phaser)
- Failed VVT solenoid (aka oil control valve)
- Circuit issues (e.g., damaged wiring, loose connections)
- Damaged timing components (e.g., a stretched timing chain or broken guide)
- Low engine oil level
- Oil contamination or buildup causing the VVT oil flow control valve to stick
- Issues with the PCM, such as software in need of an update
Although P0011 sounds a bit complicated, it can easily be triggered by a low oil level. So, the fix isn’t always an extensive engine repair.
What are the Common Symptoms of the P0011 Code?
If your vehicle is experiencing error code P011, you may observe one or more of the following symptoms:
- Illuminated Check Engine Light
- Engine stalling
- Poor idling
- Difficulty in starting the engine
- Poor fuel economy
- Engine misfire
- Failed emission test
- Rattling noise from the engine
How to Diagnose the P0011 Code
P0011 must not be ignored. You’ll have to look at all possible causes to diagnose the problem properly. If you don’t have enough DIY auto repair experience, it may be best to take your vehicle to a mechanic. But if you still want to take a crack at diagnosing the problem, the videos below should give you more useful instruction.
How to Fix the P0011 Code
As with most OBD-II trouble codes, there’s not one single fix for a P0011. There are a variety of possible causes, as outlined above, which means there are different avenues of repair.
You’ll need to diagnose the code accurately to find out the underlying cause and perform any necessary repairs. And remember—all vehicles are different. When troubleshooting and repairing diagnostic trouble codes, make sure to consult the factory repair information for your application. Repair manuals, such as those from Chilton and ALLDATA provide detailed factory repair information that could help you pull off the job.
Other Notes About Code P0011
Fixing the P0011 code could sometimes be as simple as topping off your engine oil. However, severe cases may cost you thousands of dollars depending on which component is causing the problem.
An oil change ranges from $20 to $60. Replacing the oil control valve or VVT control solenoid, on the other hand, costs around $400, and an engine overhaul or a replacement engine will cost anywhere between $2,500 to $4,000.
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