Mass Air Flow (MAF) Sensor 1996 Taurus
Before you blame the MAF for your ills, have you changed the air filter lately (or ever)... A clogged air filter will also cause engine knock or ping by starving the engine for air.
The MAF sensor controls how much fuel is injected into the engine based on the amount of air flowing past it. In most vehicles it is past the air filter inside one of the ducts attached to the intake. On the 96, the MAF is in the duct directly attached to the air filter cover and attached with two safety torx screws.
When the MAF gets contaminated, the fuel / air mixture is incorrect and you will get excessive pre-detonation (engine "knock" or "ping"). Eventually the Check Engine Light will come on and a code indicating a fuel system error (too rich or too lean) will be present. Mine lit at about 70K Mi. If your Check Engine light has come on and you have been noticing more pinging, even under light acceleration, it is probably* the MAF.
Ford says some ping is normal in the Taurus line. While true**, it is a symptom of poor fuel / air mixture and ignition timing. Ford's comment about "Normal ping" just means the engine control program can not cope with all driving conditions! When you car's ping starts getting noticeably loud under normal driving conditions, it is probably time to clean the sensor and / or the air filter.
Save money clean your MAF
You may choose to make this part of your normal maintenance***. Perhaps when you change the air filter (~30K) or plugs (-100K). You will need cleaner made specifically for the MAF sensor. Other electrical cleaners may work, but may leave a film that can contaminate the sensor. Your auto parts store will have the spray. If you don't see it --- ask.
If you have a safety torx set, you can remove the two screws and pull the sensor out of the duct. Take care not to bump it against the duct wall. Spray the sensor end several times according to the directions on the can. Let it dry before reinstalling.
If you don't have a safety torx set, unfasten the duct from the air filter cover and loosen the clamp to remove the section of duct holding the sensor. You will be able to spray the sensor elements with the straw that comes on the spray can. Let everything dry and reassemble.
* There are other issues that will cause ping or engine knock. Burned out spark plugs, wires or a bad spark coil may cause pre-detonation. You need to verify what codes are shown and reset the check engine light when the issue(s) are fixed.
** All 3 of my Taurus' pinged on heavy acceleration.
*** Careful, this can be a delicate job, if you damage the sensor by touching it or bumping it with the spray nozzle, you may have to replace it. They are not cheep!
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