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Camshaft vs Crankshaft: Differences in Position Sensor, and Speed

Internal combustion engines are complex assemblies of various components working in harmony to convert fuel into mechanical power. Among these components, the camshaft and crankshaft are pivotal in ensuring the engine operates efficiently. This article aims to provide a detailed and professional comparison between these two essential automotive components.

camshaft position sensor vs crankshaft position sensor

What is Camshaft?

A camshaft, also known as a cam, is a rotating or reciprocating shaft that controls the operation of valves in an internal combustion engine. Its design typically consists of a cylindrical rod running along the length of the cylinder bank, with several oblong lobes protruding from it—one for each valve. As the camshaft rotates, the lobes push against the valves or an intermediate mechanism, forcing them to open. This opening and closing of valves regulate the flow of fuel and air into the cylinders and the exhaust of combustion gases, essential for the engine’s combustion cycle.

The camshaft’s operation is synchronized with the crankshaft, the other crucial component in the engine. However, unlike the crankshaft, which converts reciprocating motion into rotational motion, the camshaft itself does not generate power. Its sole function is to control valve timing, ensuring that valves open and close at the precise moments required for optimal engine performance.

Structure of a Camshaft

The key parts of a camshaft include:

  • Shaft: The main body of the camshaft, which rotates within the engine.
  • Lobes (Cams): Protrusions on the camshaft that push against the valves or valve lifters, causing them to open and close.
  • Bearings: Support points along the camshaft that reduce friction and allow smooth rotation.
  • Cam Gear: A toothed wheel attached to the camshaft, meshing with the timing belt or chain to synchronize with the crankshaft.

Where to Find the Camshaft?

The camshaft’s position can vary depending on the engine design. In overhead valve (OHV) engines, the camshaft is located within the engine block. In overhead cam (OHC) and dual overhead cam (DOHC) engines, the camshaft(s) are positioned above the cylinder head. This positioning allows for more direct control of the valve operation and can improve engine performance and efficiency.

How a Camshaft Works?

The operation of a camshaft involves several steps that work in conjunction with other engine components to ensure efficient engine performance. Here is a step-by-step breakdown of how a camshaft works:

Step 1: Synchronization with the Crankshaft The camshaft is synchronized with the crankshaft through a timing belt, chain, or gears. This synchronization ensures that the camshaft rotates at half the speed of the crankshaft, maintaining the correct timing for the four-stroke engine cycle.

Step 2: Rotation and Lobe Action As the camshaft rotates, the lobes come into contact with the valve lifters or pushrods. The shape and design of the lobes determine the timing, duration, and extent of the valve movement. Different lobe profiles can optimize the engine for various performance characteristics, such as higher power output or better fuel efficiency.

Step 3: Valve Opening When a cam lobe pushes against a valve lifter or rocker arm, it forces the corresponding valve to open. In an overhead cam (OHC) engine, the camshaft directly actuates the valves. In an overhead valve (OHV) engine, the camshaft actuates pushrods that transfer motion to the rocker arms, which then open the valves.

Step 4: Valve Closing As the camshaft continues to rotate, the lobe moves past the valve lifter or rocker arm, allowing the valve spring to close the valve. The precise timing of valve opening and closing is crucial for efficient engine operation, ensuring the correct air-fuel mixture intake and exhaust gas expulsion.

Importance of Camshaft Design

The design of the camshaft, particularly the shape of the lobes, significantly influences engine performance. Key factors in camshaft design include:

  • Lobe Profile: The shape of the cam lobes determines the timing and duration of valve opening. Different profiles can be tailored for specific performance characteristics.
  • Lobe Separation Angle (LSA): The angle between the centerlines of the intake and exhaust lobes affects the overlap period when both valves are slightly open. This overlap can influence engine power and efficiency.
  • Lift and Duration: The height of the cam lobe (lift) and the length of time the valve remains open (duration) are critical parameters in camshaft design.

What is Crankshaft?

The crankshaft is the heart of an internal combustion engine, converting the linear, reciprocating motion of pistons into rotational motion that powers the vehicle. It is a long, cylindrical shaft that runs through the engine block, connecting to each piston via connecting rods. As the pistons move up and down in their cylinders, they push and pull on the connecting rods, causing the crankshaft to rotate. This rotation is then transmitted to the transmission and ultimately the wheels, propelling the vehicle forward.

In addition to its primary function of converting reciprocating motion into rotational motion, the crankshaft also serves as a mounting point for various engine components, such as the flywheel, harmonic balancer, and starter motor. Furthermore, the crankshaft position sensor (CKP) reads the crankshaft’s position and speed, providing critical data to the engine control unit (ECU) for ignition timing and fuel injection.

Structure of a Crankshaft

The key parts of a crankshaft include:

  • Main Journals: These are the primary bearings along the crankshaft that support it within the engine block.
  • Crankpins (Rod Journals): Offset sections where the connecting rods attach, translating the pistons’ up-and-down motion into rotational movement.
  • Counterweights: Balanced weights that offset the force of the pistons and connecting rods, reducing vibration and ensuring smooth operation.
  • Flywheel: Attached to one end of the crankshaft, the flywheel helps to smooth out the power delivery and maintain rotational inertia.

How a Crankshaft Works?

How a Crankshaft Works

The operation of a crankshaft involves several key steps that facilitate the conversion of reciprocating piston motion into rotational motion:

Step 1: Piston Movement The combustion process in each cylinder generates pressure, forcing the piston downward. This linear motion is transferred to the crankshaft through the connecting rod, which is attached to the crankpin.

Step 2: Crankpin Rotation As the piston moves downwards, it pushes the crankpin, which is offset from the crankshaft’s centerline. This offset creates a torque that rotates the crankshaft. The connecting rod’s oscillation changes the linear motion of the piston into a rotational motion around the crankshaft’s main axis.

Step 3: Continuous Rotation The crankshaft continues to rotate as each piston goes through its cycle (intake, compression, power, and exhaust). In a multi-cylinder engine, the pistons are arranged so that their strokes are staggered, providing a continuous and balanced rotational force.

Step 4: Power Transfer The rotational motion of the crankshaft is transferred to the flywheel, which helps to maintain a consistent engine speed by smoothing out the pulses of power from each piston. The flywheel, in turn, is connected to the transmission, which distributes the power to the vehicle’s wheels.

Crankshaft Design Considerations

The design of a crankshaft is critical to the overall performance and efficiency of the engine. Key design considerations include:

  • Stroke Length: The distance the piston travels up and down within the cylinder. Longer strokes typically provide more torque but can limit high-speed performance.
  • Crankpin Diameter: Larger diameters can handle greater loads but increase the overall size and weight of the crankshaft.
  • Number of Cylinders: The number of crankpins and the arrangement of cylinders affect the engine’s balance and smoothness.

Manufacturing Methods for Crankshafts and Camshafts

The manufacturing methods for crankshafts primarily involve a combination of forging and machining. Initially, the metal billet is shaped into the basic form of the crankshaft through forging processes. After forging, the crankshaft undergoes rough and fine machining. Rough machining includes CNC turning, CNC milling, CNC drilling, and other processes to remove surface burrs and excess material, forming the initial crankshaft contour. Fine machining involves grinding, boring, high-frequency quenching, and other processes to ensure the crankshaft’s tolerance and surface quality.

The manufacturing methods for camshafts are more diverse. Some camshafts are produced using forging processes, where the required shape and dimensions are achieved through deformation at high temperatures. Other camshafts are made using casting processes, where molten metal is poured into molds and allowed to cool and solidify into the camshaft shape. Casting processes can produce camshafts with complex shapes and are relatively cost-effective.

Regardless of whether the camshaft is forged or cast, heat treatment (such as quenching and tempering) and surface hardening treatments (such as laser hardening and high-frequency quenching) are required to enhance wear resistance and overall rigidity.

Camshaft vs Crankshaft: Differences

The camshaft and crankshaft differ significantly in their purpose, design, and operation. The camshaft controls valve timing, ensuring that valves open and close at the appropriate moments for optimal engine performance. It does not generate power but relies on the crankshaft’s rotation to synchronize its operation. The crankshaft, on the other hand, converts the pistons’ reciprocating motion into rotational motion that powers the vehicle. It is the primary power-generating component of the engine and serves as a mounting point for various other engine components.

camshaft and crankshaft

This table summarizes the key differences between the camshaft and crankshaft, highlighting their distinct roles and characteristics within an internal combustion engine.

FunctionControls the opening and closing of intake and exhaust valves.Converts the linear motion of pistons into rotational motion to drive the vehicle.
PositionLocated in the cylinder head (OHC/DOHC engines) or in the engine block (OHV engines).Located at the bottom of the engine block.
SpeedRotates at half the speed of the crankshaft.Rotates at the same speed as the engine’s RPM.
ComponentsLobes (cams), shaft, cam gear, bearings.Main journals, crankpins (rod journals), counterweights, flywheel.
MaterialTypically made from chilled iron or billet steel.Typically made from forged steel or cast iron.
TimingSynchronized with the crankshaft via a timing belt, chain, or gears.Synchronized with the camshaft via a timing belt, chain, or gears.
Valve OperationDirectly (OHC/DOHC) or indirectly (OHV) actuates valves.No direct role in valve operation.
Mechanical RoleEnsures precise timing for air-fuel mixture intake and exhaust.Converts reciprocating piston motion to rotational force.
Balance & VibrationLess prone to vibration issues.Uses counterweights and harmonic balancer to minimize vibration.
Influence on PerformanceValve timing affects engine power, efficiency, and emissions.Stroke length and design affect torque and engine balance.
Design VariationsSOHC, DOHC, OHV configurations.Inline, V-type, flat designs.
Power SourceDriven by the crankshaft via a timing belt, chain, or gears.Driven by the force of the pistons during the combustion process.

What are the Symptoms of Camshaft Damage?

A failing camshaft can be a precursor to significant engine damage, affecting the cylinder head, valvetrain, and even the crankshaft. Here are some key indicators to look out for to catch a camshaft issue early:

  1. Illuminated Check Engine Light: The first sign of a potential camshaft problem might be a check engine light on your dashboard. Use a diagnostic tool to retrieve the error code and see if it relates to the camshaft or camshaft position sensor.
  2. Loss of Power: If you notice a sudden dip in power, especially during acceleration, it could be a sign that the valves are not opening and closing in sync with the pistons due to a faulty camshaft.
  3. Irregular Engine Backfiring or Misfiring: Engine backfiring or misfiring can occur if the timing between the camshaft and crankshaft is off. This could lead to unburned fuel entering the exhaust system, causing popping noises.
  4. Abnormal Noises: Ticking, tapping, or rattling sounds coming from the engine bay could indicate excessive wear or damage to the camshaft. These sounds are often more noticeable at idle or low speeds.
  5. Metal Debris in Oil: If you notice metal debris in your engine oil, it could be a sign that a part of the camshaft has broken and is contaminating the lubricant. This is a serious issue and requires immediate attention.
  6. Rough Idle: A faulty camshaft can affect the smoothness of your engine’s idle. If you notice the engine shaking or vibrating more than usual, it could be a sign of camshaft trouble.
  7. Decreased Fuel Efficiency: An improperly functioning camshaft can affect the engine’s combustion efficiency, leading to reduced fuel economy. Keep an eye on your gas mileage and note any sudden drops.

It’s important to note that some of these symptoms, like power loss and backfiring, can also be caused by a faulty camshaft position sensor. However, the sensor is a much simpler and less expensive component to replace compared to the entire camshaft.

If you suspect a camshaft failure, it’s crucial to have your vehicle inspected by a qualified mechanic. A broken camshaft can cause extensive damage to your engine, including valvetrain components, cylinder head, block, crankshaft, connecting rods, and pistons. Left unchecked, it could lead to an engine replacement, which is a costly repair.

How to Replace the Camshaft

Replacing a camshaft is a complex task that should be approached with caution and thorough preparation. It is strongly recommended to refer to your vehicle’s factory service manual for specific instructions tailored to your model.

Preliminary Steps

Before beginning, ensure you have all the necessary tools and supplies:

  • New camshaft
  • Floor jack and jack stands
  • Wheel chocks
  • Ratchet with extensions and sockets
  • Pry bar
  • Torque wrench
  • Valve cover gasket
  • Timing belt or chain (if needed)

Basic Process

Here is a step-by-step guide to replacing a camshaft:

  1. Prepare the Vehicle: Engage the parking brake, place wheel chocks behind the rear wheels, lift the front of the vehicle using a floor jack, and secure it on jack stands.
  2. Access and Remove the Old Camshaft: Remove necessary components such as the valve cover and timing belt or chain cover to access the camshaft. Rotate the engine to align the timing marks, then carefully remove the timing belt or chain and unbolt the camshaft.
  3. Install the New Camshaft: Position the new camshaft in the engine, align it according to the manufacturer’s specifications, and secure it with bolts following the recommended torque specifications.
  4. Reinstall Timing Belt or Chain: Ensure the timing marks on the camshaft and crankshaft are aligned, then reinstall the timing belt or chain with proper tension and alignment.
  5. Reassemble and Check the Engine: Reinstall all removed components, replace the valve cover gasket, and double-check all connections. Start the engine, listen for unusual sounds, and inspect for leaks to ensure everything is functioning correctly.

Post-Replacement Steps

After the camshaft replacement, it’s important to monitor the vehicle closely:

  • Test Drive: Take the vehicle for a test drive to ensure everything is functioning correctly.
  • Check for Leaks: After the test drive, inspect the engine bay for any signs of oil or coolant leaks.
  • Re-torque Bolts: After a few hundred miles, recheck the torque on critical bolts to ensure they remain properly secured.

Replacing a camshaft is an advanced automotive repair task that requires precision and attention to detail. If you are not confident in your mechanical skills, it is advisable to seek assistance from a professional mechanic to ensure the job is done correctly.

Why do Crankshafts and Camshafts Need Polishing?

Polishing can significantly reduce the roughness of the crankshaft and camshaft surface, making the surface smoother. For the crankshaft, polishing can improve its surface accuracy and dimensional stability, so that the crankshaft surface to form a stable lubricating film, uniform transfer of bearing capacity, thereby reducing the risk of abnormal wear, burn and even scrap.

For the camshaft, polishing can further improve its surface quality, make its surface roughness profile more fine, and improve the performance index of the engine. Abrasive free low temperature polishing technology, as a new polishing process, can improve the surface quality of camshaft without thermal deformation and reduce machining errors.

Which is More Important, Camshaft or Crankshaft?

Both the crankshaft and camshaft are essential components of an internal combustion engine. The crankshaft converts the pistons’ reciprocating motion into rotational motion, while the camshaft controls the valves’ opening and closing. Both components work together to ensure the smooth and efficient operation of the engine. Therefore, it is difficult to say which one is more important as they are both crucial to the engine’s performance.


In summary, the camshaft and crankshaft are essential components of an internal combustion engine, each playing a distinct but interdependent role. Understanding these differences provides insight into the intricate workings of automotive engineering and the importance of precision in engine design.

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What is the function of a camshaft?

The camshaft’s function in an internal combustion engine is to control the opening and closing of valves to regulate the flow of fuel, air, and exhaust gases.

How much does it cost to replace the camshaft?

A new camshaft typically costs between $350 and $800. If you replace it yourself, you can save on labor costs. Professional replacement usually adds $1,250 to $2,000 in labor charges, depending on your vehicle and location.

What kinds of camshaft and crankshaft sensors are there?

Camshaft and crankshaft sensors are primarily Hall effect and variable reluctance types. Hall effect sensors offer precise speed and position measurement, while variable reluctance sensors generate analog signals to detect rotational position. Both play crucial roles in monitoring and controlling engine performance.

Catalog: CNC Machining Guide

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