Dan Ferrell writes about do-it-yourself car maintenance and repair. He has certifications in automation and control technology.
A car can stall for one of many reasons. Here are just a few possible issues that might cause your car to stall (though there are plenty more):
- a clogged fuel filter
- a faulty fuel pump
- dirty or faulty fuel injectors
- problems with a throttle position sensor
- problems with a camshaft sensor, spark plug, or ignition coil
Just looking at a list of every single possible part or fault is scary; you wouldn't know where to start. Trying to find the culprit without even a simple plan makes your problem harder and more expensive to solve. You can spend a lot of money swapping components hoping it'll fix the problem.
This guide helps you think about potential clues even before you start checking components, gives you tips, and tells you how to go about diagnosing the suspect part(s) to verify your diagnosis so that you can repair the fault.
To help you with that, The next three sections discuss the three most common conditions under which your car is likely to stall. Then, each section lists the typical components involved under that condition, ordered from the most to the less likely. This way, you can go straight to the section that more closely describes the symptoms in your particular case.
First, a few important suggestions to keep in mind while you go over any particular section:
- Pay special importance to the maintenance schedule for your particular vehicle make and model. You can find the schedule in the repair manual for your vehicle. There's a good reason for this: Most engine related problems—including stalling—can be traced back to a component or system in need of attention (think about those components or systems you have neglected or forgot to service).
- Think about some maintenance task or repair project that you've recently done that may have triggered the fault. Did you unplug or disconnect something you forgot to replace? Did you install the correct part?
- Have you checked your computer for trouble codes? Just because you don't see the Check Engine Light (CEL) come on, doesn't mean that your computer can't help you. See the Getting Help From Your Car Computer section below for more information.
- Have your vehicle repair manual on hand. It'll save you time and money during this diagnostic, and for many maintenance and repair projects in the future. You can buy an inexpensive aftermarket copy at most auto part stores or online.
Keep these suggestions in mind while scanning the next three sections for the potential components causing the fault.
- My Engine Stalls When Idling or During Acceleration
- My Engine Stalls When Warmed Up
- My Engine Stalls Intermittently or While on the Road
- Getting Help From Your Car Computer
1. My Engine Stalls When Idling or During Acceleration
An engine can stall while idling (either cold or warmed up) or while accelerating. Such a pattern may point to a problem in the fuel or emission systems. Here, you'll find the most common components or faults that can be causing you trouble.
A fuel filter prevents foreign particles like rust, dirt and water from entering the fuel system where they can do damage over time. But, a fuel filter will clog after miles of work.
First, you may find your engine losing power at highway speeds and possibly stalling. Then you'll notice a rough idle. Soon, the engine begins to stall at idle.
Usually, you want to replace the fuel filter every year or two. Check your car owner's manual or repair manual.
Besides a fuel filter, a bad fuel pump or fuel pressure regulator can show some of these symptoms. Fuel may flow appropriately at idle, but the engine will stall as soon as demand for fuel increases. Consult your repair manual to troubleshoot the fuel system, if necessary.
Just like a fuel filter, the filter in the air cleaner system is designed to trap dust and dirt particles and other foreign matter to prevent them from entering the intake manifold and combustion chambers where they would wreak havoc with the cylinders.
Over time, the paper element in the filter clogs and blocks proper airflow into the engine. This will cause the engine to idle rough and stall, or stall as you try to accelerate.
If you haven't replaced the air filter in more than two years, replace it. Most car manufacturers recommend replacing the filter every year.
Mass Airflow (MAF) Sensor
This sensor (aka Airflow Meter) measures the density (amount) of the air entering the intake manifold and reports to the car computer. The computer uses this signal to adjust the air-fuel mixture.
The sensor has an internal element that is exposed to incoming air, and thus to dirt and other particles that stick to it. When enough dirt covers the sensing element, it'll prevent the sensor from working and will cause the engine to stall.
You can easily remove the dirt using mass airflow sensor or electronics cleaner spray. Still, another possibility is that you are dealing with a faulty sensor.
This issue is not as common as the previous ones but eventually happens if you fail to pay attention to the fuel system. Carbon buildup inside the throttle body, around the throttle plate or valve, will interfere with its operation. The engine may run rough at idle and stall.
You can fix this by removing buildup using carburetor cleaner. Spray cleaner on a clean shop rag, and use the rag to clean the throttle, around and underneath the valve.
Idle Air Control (IAC) Solenoid
Just like the throttle body, carbon buildup can also interfere with the proper operation of the IAC solenoid. The computer uses this valve to control airflow during engine idle and to regulate idle speed.
As with the throttle body, buildup accumulates over time in the passages of the IAC valve and can cause the engine to stall during idle. But a bad IAC valve can produce the same symptoms.
You can fix the problem by unplugging the IAC solenoid, removing it from the engine, and using carburetor cleaner to remove buildup form passages on the mounting surface. Be careful not to spray carburetor cleaner on the valve electronic components, though.
If you need to troubleshoot the sensor, consult your vehicle repair manual.
Positive Crankshaft Ventilation (PCV) Valve
On some vehicle models, a stuck PCV valve can cause the engine to stall. If the valve sticks open, too much air will reach the intake manifold and cause the engine to stall during idle or acceleration.
The valve is usually easy to check. Remove the valve and shake it with your hand. If it doesn't rattle, the valve is likely stuck. On some models, the valve is a solid piece and will not rattle. You can remove gunk from inside a PCV valve with carburetor cleaner, but the valve is cheap and you can readily replace it in a minute or two.
Engine Coolant Temperature (ECT) Sensor
This is another electrical device that can cause your engine to stall at idle.
Your car computer uses information from the ECT to enrich or lean the air/fuel mixture. But the coolant sensor can fail after miles of operation. A common sensor electrical failure is an open or short in the circuit.
If the sensor circuit suffers an open, the computer will think the engine has reached operating temperature, lean the mixture, and cause the engine to idle rough and possibly stall.
The ECT sensor is used on most electronic fuel injected models, along with (usually) an air temperature (AT) sensor as well. The same issues apply to the AT sensor. So check both if you suspect a coolant temperature sensor. Consult your repair manual.
Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) Valve
The EGR valve allows exhaust gases to recirculate through the intake manifold and into the combustion chambers. This helps reduce engine temperature and harmful oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emissions.
Most EGR valves are operated through engine vacuum or electronically, and only open after the engine has reached operating temperature and during acceleration.
When an EGR valve fails and sticks open, you'll notice the engine running rough at idle and stalling. It is possible to check the EGR valve at home. Consult your car repair manual, if necessary.
Manifold Absolute Pressure (MAP) Sensor
This sensor measures atmospheric pressure. The car computer uses this information to control engine fuel needs.
If the MAP sensor sends the wrong information to the computer, it may cause the engine to stall. Check the electrical connection, rubber hose and wires when troubleshooting the sensor. See your repair manual for more information.
A leaking vacuum hose, intake manifold or throttle gasket can also rob the engine of needed air and make it stall.
Depending on its size, a vacuum leak may not be a problem while your engine idles, but may cause the engine to stall during acceleration or at highway speeds, when the engine's demand for air increases.
2. My Engine Stalls When Warmed Up
Temperature and electrical circuit problems can also combine to cause your engine to stall. This usually happens when one or more electrical or electronic circuits in a component open and brake electrical flow.
The component may function properly while the car is warming up. But once temperature rises, it causes wires in the circuit to expand. The broken wire disconnects, the device turns off and the engine stalls.
This is a common problem on devices exposed to high temperatures like the ignition control module, ignition coil, and even the crankshaft (CKP) or camshaft position sensor (CMP).
It can also happen to an electrical fuel pump. Although fuel helps cool the fuel pump during operation, if you often drive your vehicle with a tank low in fuel it can cause the pump circuitry to heat and fail.
You can suspect one of these devices if your engine stalls, starts again after the temperature drops, and stalls again once the temperature rises again.
3. My Engine Stalls Intermittently or While on the Road
One of the hardest diagnostics to do is to locate a fault that is causing your engine to die intermittently. Yet, you can try checking a handful of components that may commonly cause this problem after having logged miles of work.
Distributor Cap, Spark Plug Wires, Spark Plugs, and Distributor Components
These components form part of the ignition system. Cap, wires and spark plugs should be checked and replaced at your manufacturer's suggested intervals. Consult your repair manual to check and troubleshoot these components.
- Carbon traces can cause the distributor cap to fail. Remove and examine the top and underneath the cap, look for lines or carbon or even cracks on the cap.
- Watch out for worn out or leaky spark plug wires. Worn out or leaky wires will interfere with current flow, causing the engine to stall intermittently, specially on rainy days.
- Fouled spark plugs from oil or fuel and those with damaged electrodes or insulation will prevent the spark from reaching the ground electrode. Also, as a spark plug wears, the gap between the electrodes widens, making it hard for the spark to jump. Remove and examine the plugs. Clean the plugs, if necessary, and check their gap with a wire feeler gauge. If you recently installed new spark plugs, double-check their gap. Some new spark plugs come with the manufacturer recommended gap for each particular application, but it's a good idea to double-check. Also, check once more that you bought the right spark plugs for your particular engine. Your car owner's manual or repair manual have the recommended spark plugs for your model and the correct gap for the plugs.
- Failures in other internal distributor components are not as common, but they do happen and may cause the engine to stall as well. Consult your repair manual.
Camshaft Position (CMP) Sensor
The computer uses this signal to make several adjustments, including spark timing and fuel.
Depending on your particular vehicle make and model, a failing camshaft sensor may cause the engine to stall intermittently, lose power, accelerate poorly, surge, start with difficulty, or misfire. Check your repair manual for the proper way to test your CMP.
Throttle Position Sensor (TPS)
The TPS tracks throttle position and sends the signal to the car computer. The computer uses the signal to adjust engine timing and increase engine efficiency.
When the TPS goes out of adjustment or wears out, it can cause the engine to stall intermittently. Depending on your particular TPS and fault, you may need to adjust it or replace it.
Neutral Safety Switch and Ignition Switch
Any of these switches can suffer an open or wear out and cause the engine to stall intermittently. Consult your repair manual for testing or replacing the switches.
A similar intermittent stalling problem can be caused by a bad battery cable. Car batteries use large-gauge cables composed of several strands. If several of those strands break, they will interrupt electrical flow every time the vehicle travels over road imperfections, causing the engine to stall.
Carefully check along the length of each battery cable for damage, corrosion and strands condition at each end where they join the terminals. A quick check is to start the engine and wiggle each wire to see if they cause the engine to stall.
4. Getting Help From Your Car Computer
The newer your vehicle model, the more components there are that may cause your engine to stall if the right conditions are present. Yet, a modern car computer can be of great help, including with many of those components mentioned in the previous sections.
If the Check Engine Light (CEL) is lit on your dashboard, it means a trouble code has been set in the computer memory. But you don't need to wait for the CEL to come on. The computer may have pending codes you don't know about that can give you some direction about where to start troubleshooting.
If you don't have a scan tool, take your car to a local auto parts store. Many of them will scan your car computer and let you know of any stored codes.
When retrieving one or more trouble codes, visually inspect and troubleshoot those components indicated by the codes and, if necessary, the circuits involved.
Remember, though, that a car computer can only tell you what system or component is involved in a potential failure; it can't tell you if a specific component or circuit has failed. A related component not present in the trouble code may be at fault. So it is important to test components and circuits before making any replacements.
The following video shows you how a worn-out vacuum hose is causing an engine to stall at idle. A regular inspection at home can help you catch this and other potential faults.
When your car stalls, it can happen for one or several reasons, and each one can happen under different conditions. That's why it's important to pay attention to the clues your own engine gives you: Does the engine stall when idling, as you accelerate, or after it warms up?
Here, you found some of the most common reasons for an engine to stall. So pay attention to the hints your engine gives you. Remember to make a visual inspection of any suspect componento—or components—and troubleshoot before making a final decision. And don't forget your computer. The vehicle repair manual for your particular make and model should be of great help here.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: My 2001 Dodge truck dies out. The fuel temperature and oil pressure don't register until it sits for 20 minutes to 2 hrs. What could be the issue?
Answer: Sometimes when an igniton coil or a fuel pump are on their way out, they'll cut off until temperature goes down. Check the ignition coil first.
Question: I have a 2017 Jeep Wrangler with 26000 miles on it. The car starts fine every time, but intermittently stalls. When the car is put in reverse, the car will start right back up as if nothing happened. There are no codes in the PCM. Any suggestions?
Answer: If you can start it right back up when put in reverse, it could be a wiring harness problem. But you may want to check the oil level as well. Other times, when this happens in other gears the problem is usually the IAC valve/solenoid.
Question: My 2008 Ford Taurus X, 132,000-miles, twice now has stalled. First, it was very slowly cruising in a parking lot. The second time was at a stop sign on a steep hill. It died when I went to accelerate. Both times restarted right up. Checked battery and alternator, test said fine. Nothing else seems to be wrong otherwise. (Except for the AC unit has a part dying, though I don't see that having a connection.) My next thought is the fuel pump? Suggestions, please.
Answer: Usually, a stalling issue on deceleration or when reaching a stop points to a problem with the IAC motor, MAF sensor or vacuum leak. If this only happens when the AC is running, there could be a problem with the computer not getting the proper signal from the AC. If the engine starts right up after it stalls every time, then there's an electrical problem, probably from a sensor or a sensor circuit. Check first the IAC motor and MAF sensors. This other post may help you here:
Question: Code is 07e8. Mass air cleaned. Throttle linkage cleaned. Spark plugs changed. No service light. Could it be the computer has failed?
Answer: 07E8 points to a module or controller. You need to access that component and read the codes from it. That'll guide you to the system with the problem. Just make sure to test the components in the system and, if necessary, the circuit, before replacing any parts.
Dan Ferrell (author) on June 27, 2020:
This other post may help:
the hat on June 27, 2020:
95 corolla dx 1.8 stalls when put in gear D,R
'ONLY" when "COLD" early a.m.FIRST START chngd,cleand, replcd elect distrib parts rad clean,iac,batt,throt bdy,grnds,trans-solnds,idle-choke,fluids,filters..after warm and day outside temp increases its fine no stall or sputter,not freezing but 45-60,calif. going 2 chng valv gaskt,tube gaskts,clean cover parts,pcv?? will put new pcv in--..My 04 odyssey chngd all valv cvrs,gskts,all cel lights went off tcs,charc can leak light gone,ran smoother, dont understand that, but figure try on toyta needs it bad, never been done by me had 4 12 yrs..??bad pcv even tho i clnd it and rattled? can cam pos sens cause this stall, havnt touched that.?torq conv but i dont think so like i say its fine all other driving even using later after rest off, again no stall, except when COLD, THX ALL
Dan Ferrell (author) on June 22, 2020:
It seems like an intermittent general power failure. If the radio looses power, then you might want to start at the ignition switch and see if there's something loose making power to break. The fault may be in the fuse box for the main fuse or the circuitry between those two systems. But, first make sure the battery cables are not damaged, well connected and tight. You may need a testlight to check the ignition switch and fuse box. Wiggle the wires with the testlight connected and see if you find anything. Also, check voltage drop. This other post may help:
Hope this helps.
Dawn on June 21, 2020:
I am having major problems with my Jeep. It’s a 2016 and it’s been doing some very odd things lately but showing no diagnostic code and no mechanic (out of 20) can tell me what is wrong or even an idea of what it could be. I was emailing to ask if y’all have heard of other issues like mine mainly and see if y’all could help in any way as to what it might could be or any leads on anything. I’ve googled and read tons of Jeep forums and it’s unlike anything I’m reading. So a few months ago, about 6 times now, it has shut off at a red light while the car is idling in park.
It says “shift into P then the desired gear”. I turn my car off put it in park and crank it right back up. This past week it was different it shut completely down at a red light, gave me no lights or indication of anything just completely black screens: I could not remove my keys at all either even with it in park: about an hour later it cranked back up for the guy that towed it to big o doege. I was told by 20 different mechanics and shops that without a code they can’t find it or do anything. This morning I went to leave and it wouldn’t start at all, wasn’t clicking or anything. A few mins later it did start and as I was pulling out of the driveway the traction control light flashed on for a second as my car jumped forward and then disappeared and has been running ok since.
Every time it malfunctions in any manner like this it always resets the clock on my radio and the climate on my radio: only those two things. A little background is that in oct of last year I had a harsh cold start replaced, then my thermostat went back, then my entire radio went out and was unable to be updated so I had to replace the whole radio:
Then this started happening. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated! Thank you!
Dan Ferrell (author) on January 09, 2020:
Check for diagnostic trouble codes. There could be a sensor issue. The problem seems to be temperature related. Sometimes this point to an ignition coil or fuel pump issue. Next time it stalls after five minutes. Close the ignition key and open it again and hear for the fuel pump. If you don't hear anything, the pump might be faulty. Hope this helps.
Terry T 5272 on January 07, 2020:
2000 Dodge Caravan will not stay running run runs good for 5 minutes then started missing after that have to unplug the battery cable for the reprogram cranks up again runs for another 5 minutes and start back mister replace the cam sensor replace the crank sensor replace the computer spark plugs and wires clean out the throttle body took the exhaust system loose just to make sure Cadillac converter water stopped up please help me it's been 3 months don't know what to do next
Dan Ferrell (author) on October 11, 2018:
it seems like a circuit problem. But check fuel pressure, and spark. You may need your repair manual, but it's not hard to do.
Hope this helps. Good luck.
Repo on October 11, 2018:
2007 town/county hard to start when it does its hsrd to keep it running fuel pump been repaced also new plugs wites and short pig tail for fuel pump be replaced when its humity os its more harder to start