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Car Safety Sensors

These important safety systems can’t work when they can’t see the road.

As we move into the heart of winter in February, and the landscape is covered with ice and snow, our cars are also getting covered with, snow, ice, salt, and other dirt and grime. Along with your car, many of the sensors and cameras used to operate your vehicles advanced safety systems, also can become blocked and fail to operate as designed.

Two systems affected by this issue are, forward-collision warning (FCW) and automatic emergency braking (AEB). These life-saving features rely on radar sensors that are often mounted in the vehicle’s front grille area- often within the grill emblem- or on its front bumpers. When these sensors can no longer see what’s in front of them, they will shut down, illuminating a warning light on the dash. At that point, these systems are not working and could cause the driver to have an accident.

Automakers have determined, for these sensors to work at their very best, AEB sensors, for example need to sit behind the grille, and so are at the mercy of snow, ice, and road dirt. Other sensors are placed around the car at various spots, such as the bumper, for optimum operation.

Understanding where the sensors are located and how to keep them clear and functioning correctly is important. Their locations are typically listed in your owner’s manual, and your dealer or local AAA Approved Auto Repair (AAR) facility can show you on your particular vehicle.  Some manufacturers are getting smart with this issue and are moving sensors behind the windshield to protect them from the weather. In the windshield mounting area, the wipers can help keep the windshield clear when it gets dirty, making sure the sensors are able to see through a clean window area.

Another concern with these sensors functioning correctly, is the road surfaces covered with snow, ice, or slush and the road markings are covered and the sensors are unable to read them.

The main areas of concern where these sensors are located are the:

  • Grille- FCW and AEB sensors are usually located here.
  • Windshield- FCW and AEB sensors are being moved inside the windshield on later model vehicles.
  • Rear Body Quarter Panels-Cameras and sensors for blind-spot monitoring systems
  • Front or Rear Bumpers- Parking alert system sensors and following to close systems
  • Rearview Camera- camera is easily disabled by dirt and snow in the winter

If the weather permits, get regular car washes to keep the sensors clean, as well as taking care of your vehicles finish. If you do it yourself, rinse the vehicle well before hand washing it as salt crystals can be very abrasive to the painted and glass surfaces. Use soft towels to wipe dry the vehicle after washing it so the water doesn’t freeze and becomes another layer of ice.

Also, when it does snow get in the habit of cleaning the entire car of any snow, to clear the sensors but also to make sure it doesn’t come off onto other vehicles causing an accident.

If you have an issue with your vehicle this winter, sign up for a AAA membership or contact AAA roadside assistance.

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