How a Wideband O2 Sensor Works
Internally, wideband O2 sensors and A/F sensors appear to be similar to conventional zirconia planar oxygen sensors. There is a flat ceramic strip inside the protective metal nose cone on the end of the sensor. The ceramic strip is actually a dual sensing element that combines a "Nerst effect" oxygen pump and "diffusion gap" with the oxygen sensing element. All three are laminated on the same strip of ceramic.
Exhaust gas enters the sensor through vents or holes in the metal shroud over the tip of the sensor and reacts with the dual sensor element. Oxygen diffuses through the ceramic substrate on the sensor element. The reaction causes the Nerst cell to generate a voltage just like an ordinary oxygen sensor. The oxygen pump compares the change in voltage to the control voltage from the PCM, and balances one against the other to maintain an internal oxygen balance. This alters the current flow through the sensor creating a positive or negative current signal that indicates the exact air/fuel ratio of the engine.
The current flow is not much, usually only about 0.020 amps or less. The PCM then converts the sensor's analog current output into a voltage signal that can then be read on your scan tool.