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All new cars and some older models have electronic fuel injection. This requires a computer to regulate the amount of fuel that is delivered to the engine. This computer communicates with the Oxygen Sensor to determine how much and how frequently to deliver the fuel.
Your Oxygen Sensor is usually in the exhaust manifold. It connects from the exhaust system to the computer which reads the sensor when determining how much fuel to deliver. The computer will adjust from too much or too little fuel based upon the Oxygen Sensor's input.
If your Oxygen Sensor fails, the computer will have no way of knowing how much fuel to deliver to the engine. The sensor does have a mileage rating, an indicator of how long the sensor will last. You should check your owners manual as it will state the expected lifespan for your Oxygen Sensor. Generally, sensors in older cars will last about 30,000 miles while newer models can last as long as 60.000 miles.
It is a good idea to keep records as to when your Oxygen Sensor was last replaced. Replacing it as directed can help your gas mileage as well as prevent a myriad of other related car problems.