Why is My Car Stalling? | Engine Stall Causes and Prevention

Whenever an unfortunate incident occurs, a stalled car engine can quickly become a stressful endeavor. If your car stalls, it means the engine has stopped working for several reasons. This can be the result of a mechanical issue or a problem with the air or fuel the car is receiving. In fact, your car engine can even stop running while you’re driving. This article mainly explains the causes of car stalling causes and how to fix it.

What does it mean when a Car Stalls?

A stall is the slowing or stopping of a process, while in the case of a car engine refers to a sudden stopping of the engine turning, usually brought about accidentally.

engine Stall

It is commonly applied to the phenomenon whereby an engine abruptly ceases operating and stops turning. It might be due to not getting enough air, energy, fuel, or electric spark, fuel starvation, a mechanical failure, or in response to a sudden increase in engine load. This increase in engine load is common in vehicles with a manual transmission when the clutch is released too suddenly.

If your car engine is stalling, you need to address the situation as soon as possible. The first step is knowing and understanding the causes of a stalled engine. Stalling can occur at a variety of times, including when starting your car, when coming to a stop, and when idling. In certain rare circumstances, a vehicle can also stall when cruising at operating speeds, which can be especially concerning.

Causes of Engine Stalling

Following are the major causes of car engine stalling:

  1. Empty fuel tank
  2. Dead battery
  3. Inadequate air-fuel mixture
  4. Clogged air filter
  5. Bad fuel pump
  6. Bad timing belt
  7. Spark-Related issues
  8. Bad torque converter
  9. Faulty alternator
  10. Bad sensor 
  11. Clutch release issues
  12. Vacuum leaks
  13. Faulty coolant sensor
  14. Corroded distributor cap

Causes of Car Stalling

1) Empty Fuel Tank

If your low fuel warning light is on and has been on for a while, this is probably the most likely cause.

2) Dead Battery 

The dead or bad battery of your car is one of the major causes of the car engine stalling.

If the charge drops too low, the spark plugs can’t efficiently generate the spark, and your cylinder’s air-fuel mixture will fail to ignite.

If your cylinders aren’t properly igniting, your engine may stall. This issue may also appear as you are roaring down the highway. It can happen if the battery’s cells are still fully charged. Dirty or corroded contacts can even cause it.

 A battery is easy to diagnose. You can identify corrosion and dirt with a simple visual inspection. You can test the charge with a multimeter.

If you don’t know how to use one, don’t worry. Any certified mechanic will surely have one on hand and can test your battery for you, many times free of charge!

3) Inadequate air-fuel Mixture

If your car is stalling when it’s cold or stalling intermittently, your fuel mixture might not be adequate. This usually happens when the mixture of fuel and air isn’t rich enough.

Proper engine function requires an appropriate fuel-air mixture inside the cylinder. Too little fuel and combustion will be weak, not providing enough force. Too little air and there isn’t enough oxygen for full combustion, which will foul your engine. 

4) Bad or Clogged Air Filter

An air filter is designed to keep dirt and debris out of your engine. However, like all things on the road, it will eventually get dirty.

Extreme environmental conditions can clog your air filter prematurely, a common issue in areas with frequent wildfires. Smoke particles can rapidly clog your filter, which can at times cause engine stalling. 

Read More: Symptoms of a bad Air Filter

5) Bad Fuel Pump

If your fuel pump quits or isn’t working properly, then your engine won’t get the fuel it needs to run, which results in the engine stalling. You won’t be able to restart your car if the fuel pump quits.

6) Bad Timing Belt

Most internal combustion engines use a timing belt or timing chain to synchronize the motor’s operation. Like other automobile components, timing belts and chains don’t last forever, and they eventually wear out and need to be replaced.

A bad belt or chain can cause stalling because they can skip one or more teeth during rotation. This desynchronizes different parts of the engine and causes irregularities in operation, often causing the vehicle to seize.

Read More: Timing Belt Symptoms and Causes

7) Spark-Related Issues

A petrol engine relies upon spark delivery to ignite the air-fuel mixture within each cylinder. If this spark suddenly ceases, engine stalling will occur as a result.

Faulty ignition coils, deteriorated distributor caps, and damaged rotor buttons are all common sources of spark loss, which have the ability to induce a stalling condition. Such issues can occur at any speed or at idle.

8) Bad Torque Converter

Automatic transmission vehicles need to manage the level and pressure of transmission fluid when the car is idling. They do this with a component called a torque converter. When this converter fails, your engine will stall.

There are several potential causes of torque converter failure. It may have been damaged by overheating or by dirty automatic transmission fluid.

Your torque converter can also be damaged if the engine’s computers fail and attempt to engage the transmission at too low or too high an RPM level. This RPM level is known as the engine’s “stall speed” and can be tested by any certified mechanic.

9) Faulty Alternator

Your alternator is responsible for charging your battery and running many essential functions in your engine. If your alternator quits, your car will quit too. However, there are usually plenty of warning signs of impending alternator failure, including dimmed lights and your battery not charging.

Read More: Function of Alternator

10) Bad Sensor 

Issues with certain sensors will induce engine stalling. This occurs when irrational, incomplete, or incorrect data is provided to the powertrain control module.

Some of the most common sensors responsible for engine stalling include the engine coolant temperature sensor (ECT), mass airflow sensor (MAF), and throttle position sensor (TPS).

Additionally, issues related to a vehicle’s throttle body or idle air control (IAC) valve can also induce a stalling condition.

11) Clutch release Issues

This only happens on manual transmission vehicles, and it occurs when you take your foot off the clutch while in gear without giving it any gas. It may also occur if you try to shift into too high of gear without the RPMs to support it. If this happens, just shift into neutral, put in the clutch, and start the engine again.

12) Vacuum Leaks

A vacuum leak is most accurately described as the introduction of unmetered air into an engine.

Large vacuum leaks can cause a lean condition within a vehicle’s engine, meaning that fuel delivery is insufficient to match the volume of air within each combustion chamber. This, in turn, can lead to stalling at random intervals.

Problems of this nature are often most noticeable at start-ups in colder weather, as a richer fuel mixture is required for operation.

13) Faulty Coolant Sensor

If your vehicle has a coolant sensor, then overheating can cause your vehicle to quit to prevent engine damage immediately. In some cases, this sensor might be faulty and give wrong readings that result in stalling.

Read More: Bad Coolant Sensor Symptoms

14) Corroded Distributor Cap

The distributor cap covers the distributor and sends voltage to the spark plugs. If your distributor cap has corrosion, it can cause your car to stumble during acceleration or even stall.

What should I do if My Car Stalls while driving?

You need to avoid panicking and calmly restart your car.

Follow the below-given steps when your car stalls while driving:

  1. Turn on your Hazard Light: Turning on your hazard lights indicates to other drivers that you’re having car trouble. Find the button – designated by a red triangle – on your dashboard.
  2. Steer the car to safety: Obviously, you don’t want to be stuck in the middle of traffic. If you’re able to, put your car into neutral and cautiously navigate your car to the side of the road, out of harm’s way.
  3. Try restarting your engine: If your car contains a manual transmission, then shift it into neutral first; if you have an automatic, shift into park. Turn the ignition key to start the engine. It may require a few tries before it starts. Once it does, let the engine run for a while before you take off.
  4. Shift into first gear and drive away.
  5. Diagnose the cause and have the problem fixed.

FAQ Section

What does stalling mean?

The term “stalling” is used to describe the sudden loss of power to a vehicle’s operating systems. Stalling can happen for several reasons, some of which are mechanical in scope, while others are of an electrical nature.

What would cause a car to stall while driving?

There are multiple reasons why your car might stall while driving. Following are the most common causes due to that your car stall while driving:

  1. Dead alternator
  2. Dead battery
  3. Bad torque converter
  4. Damaged timing belt
  5. Bad spark plug
  6. Bad fuel injector
  7. Bad coolant sensor
  8. Insufficient fuel supply

What happens if an engine stalls?

If the engine quits while you’re driving, the car will first lose power steering and then power brakes. Your first course of action should be to apply the foot brake and steer gradually over to the side of the road. Then, turn on your hazard lights and try to restart your car.

Why did my car shut off while driving and won't start?

It could be an issue with the battery or alternator. Check the electrical systems, connectors, and terminals. If not, then inspect the timing belt for damage or retighten. Check for a clogged fuel filter if the car dies while driving but restarts again.

Does stalling damage the car?

Stalling the car extremely frequently, especially with load(passengers), can put additional stress on the transmission components but again, it’s highly unlikely you will kill the car with the stall.

How much does it cost to fix a stalling engine?

If your car is stalling, it could cost from $190 to $2600 to fix. There’s no way to know until you’ve had an engine diagnosed by a professional. It takes time and money to get it fixed right. When faced with this price point, you’ll have to ask if it’s better to sell your car or fix it.

How do you stall a car?

  1. Put your foot on the brake.
  2. Put the clutch all the way in.
  3. Put the car in neutral.
  4. Restart the engine.
  5. Select 1st gear.
  6. Check your mirrors and over your shoulder to see if any cars are trying to pass you. If not, drive on forward.

Practice this process on a quiet road. Do it until you can quickly and confidently restart the car without having to look down at what you’re doing.

How to fix a stalling Car?

The first step is to make sure that it isn’t a simple issue, such as an empty fuel tank or improper clutch application. Once these have been ruled out, you can move on to more complicated reasons. If you know your battery is old and you don’t have any symptoms of alternator failure, then your battery could be the cause.

Other easy fixes include adding an injector cleaner if your vehicle stalls on inclines or replacing your air filter if you check it and it looks dirty. Beyond these, most drivers will need professional help to track down the reason for stalling and then get it fixed.

How do you stop stalling?

  1. Press the clutch down with your left foot.
  2. Make sure you’re in first gear.
  3. Gently put pressure on the gas (not too much, or your car will over rev)
  4. Slowly lift pressure off the clutch until you find the biting point.
  5. Remove the handbrake, and you should pull away gently.

Can automatic cars stall?

Yes, an automatic car can still stall. An automatic car uses a torque converter to manage the transmission fluid, which keeps your engine running when you are at a standstill, and if your torque converter fails, then the engine will most likely stall.

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