What Does the Engine Code P0012 Mean?

The P0012 engine code signals a potentially serious issue with your car’s variable valve timing system.
Written by R.E. Fulton
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
The P0012 engine code indicates that something’s wrong with your car’s variable valve timing (VVT) system. Diagnosing this issue will almost certainly require a visit to the mechanic—which you should schedule as soon as possible. 
An OBD-II trouble code scanner can help you understand what’s going on inside your car’s engine. However, some codes are easier to understand than others. Here to help you translate the engine codes your car is showing is
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In this article, we’ll break down the P0012 engine code — what it means if you see it, how to rule out possible diagnoses, and what to do next. 
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What does the engine code P0012 mean?

Definition: Intake (A) camshaft position timing - Over-retarded (Bank 1)
If that definition leaves you more confused, don’t worry: essentially, this trouble code points to a fault in the car’s variable valve timing (VVT) system. VVT improves fuel efficiency and engine performance by controlling the sequence in which the exhaust and intake valves open and close. 
To alter the timing, your car’s engine control module (ECM) uses an oil control valve to adjust the camshaft angle. If any of the components involved in this system — from the ECM to the oil control valve, or the oil itself — are malfunctioning, an OBD-II scanner will return the P0012 trouble code. 

How much will it cost to fix?

It’s hard to say for certain how much repairs for a P0012 engine code will cost since the root cause could range from low engine oil to a serious engine problem. Most shops will charge between $75 and $150 to diagnose the problem, but repairs could be anywhere from a $20
oil change
to an engine replacement that could run you into the thousands of dollars. 

What can cause the P0012 engine code?

Because so many engine components are involved in valve timing, this code has a number of possible causes, including: 
  • Engine oil incompatible with the manufacturer’s instructions
  • Oil control valve stuck in the open position
  • Malfunctioning circuits
  • Damaged camshaft phaser
  • Worn or broken timing chain
It’s difficult to diagnose the exact cause of the P0012 engine code without advanced scanning tools and automotive expertise. 

Common symptoms of the P0012 engine code

The P0012 is associated with serious mechanical issues that can have a noticeable impact on your car’s operation. If you’re seeing this code, you may notice any of the following problems: 
  • Hard starting 
  • Decreasing fuel efficiency 
  • Stalling or rough driving 
  • Knocking or rattling noise from the engine

How serious is the P0012 engine code?  

The P0012 engine is a sign of serious trouble with your engine. Don’t try to drive a car with this trouble code — take it to a trusted mechanic as soon as possible to avoid further damage. If you continue driving, you may be looking at extensive repairs that will cost even more than if you’d gone to the shop when you first noticed the problem.  

Can I fix the P0012 engine code myself?

The P0012 trouble code is difficult to diagnose without advanced equipment and training. Unless you’re quite confident in your automotive expertise, it’s best to take the car to a licensed mechanic so that they can determine what repairs are needed. 

How to rule out some simple causes of the P0012 engine code

Before you take the car to the shop, you may be able to rule out a few simple causes of the P0012 engine code without any expert assistance. 
First, try clearing the code and running the car again. If the code returns, you can be confident that there’s a mechanical issue. If not, it may have been a temporary problem that triggered the code. Keep an eye out for further trouble, but you may not need to make any repairs, especially if you don’t notice any issues with your engine’s performance.  
You can also change your car’s oil to try to resolve the problem. If you’re already seeing significant performance issues such as stalling and
engine knock
, you likely need more than an oil change. But if all you’ve noticed is the code or the check engine light, it’s worth changing the oil to see if it improves the situation. 

Finding insurance for your vehicle

Facing a hefty repair bill can be intimidating, but it’s better not to put off service for a P0012 engine code. Another car expense you shouldn’t let dread deter you from? Shopping for
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