You’re driving along and come to a stoplight. After sitting idle for a moment, the light turns green. As you prepare to take off again you notice your car makes a funny noise, and then stops. Your car has stalled. Why did this happen? It can be embarrassing, especially during rush hour or heavy traffic when the cars behind you can’t get around you. How do you get your car going again once it has stalled? We are going to cover that in this article.
Vehicles can stall for any number of reasons: battery issues, fuel system short-comings, the timing of when gears shift, the electrical system, and the airflow allowed to pass through the engine can all affect if and when a car is at the greatest risk of stalling. Thankfully, there are ways to revive your vehicle if and when stalling occurs. Making sure you are able to get your vehicle off the road and onto the shoulder is the first step. Turn off the engine and let sit for a few seconds. Try to restart it. If successful, try and get to a mechanic right away. If unsuccessful, try jump starting the battery. If still unsuccessful, you may need to call someone for assistance.
There are a few reasons your car may stall while going from a stopped position to driving again. We will go over the various reasons, as well as ways to address and fix the issue.
Reasons Your Car May Stall While Driving
You’re on your way somewhere and your car begins to sputter. What is happening? Or, you come to a stoplight or stop sign. Once you get the green light or a clear way, you begin to take off again only to discover your car has stalled. What’s going on? There are a few things that could be going on. Read below to find out what all could be the cause of your car stalling while you are driving:
- Battery Issues: How could the battery cause your car to stall? The battery actually plays many roles, and a faulty or bad battery can cause a chain reaction within the other mechanisms. For instance, the alternator is connected to your battery. When your battery is no good, your alternator tries to make up the power difference. The alternator is not designed to do this, however, and this can result in your car not functioning properly.
- Alternator Malfunction: Following down the trail of how the engine operates and why it can stall, the alternator is the next topic to review. The alternator is part of the ignition and relies on electricity to run. This helps push the gas through the line and onto the next portion of the engine. If the alternator is not getting the electricity it needs, your car can stall. Typically, if you turn the key and the lights come on, the battery is fine. But as you turn the key and can tell the car is struggling, it very well could be the alternator.
- Dirty Air filter: While this may not be the first thing on your list to check, in some cases your car may stall because of a dirty air filter. Why would this matter? If the air filter is dirty, this can make the motor work much harder than necessary. This can result in the system getting overwhelmed, and if this happens it may result in a stall.
- Low Fuel Pressure: Fuel pressure is an interesting and fairly specific problem that can cause your car to stall. If you are coasting along you may not notice anything. But if your car has low fuel pressure, you will notice it if you are going either up or downhill. That’s because your car does not have the adequate pressure to push the fuel through the engine. This can cause your car to stall.
- Gear-shift Timing: Because the clutch plays such an important role within manual transmission vehicles, timing is important. When it comes to pressing down on the clutch and shifting gears either up or down, make sure you are doing both at the same time. It’s possible to shift gears before you press the clutch down all the way, or vice-versa. Either of these scenarios can result in your engine stalling. The same rule applies when you are done shifting gears. You will need to gently but smoothly release the clutch after the gear has been shifted. Failure to time it right can result in the engine stalling.
- Corroded Electrical System: Cars are made up of fuel systems and electrical systems. Both work together to make a car run smoothly and efficiently. Sometimes, the entire wiring system can become corroded. Other times, it is only a small portion. In both situations, corroded electrical wires can cause stalling. This is because it does not allow electricity to flow through the circuit in a smooth and seamless fashion.
- Flooded Spark Plugs: In comparison to an alternator that doesn’t get enough electricity can cause a car to stall, a spark plug that gets too much gasoline can become flooded and cause problems. It is even possible for the car to stall while in drive, so this type of mechanical error can be the most dangerous.
- Over-moisturized Gas Fumes: Gasoline is converted from a liquid to a gas when it is burned through the engine. If gasoline has too much moisture, this can cause stalling. How? The engine is designed very specifically, and anything as simple as a wrong mixture of pumped gas, a leaky fuel pump, or a loose gas cap can send a signal to the rest of the gas line that something isn’t right and the car is unable to respond in a normal manner.
Transmission: Automatic vs. Manual
Cars are built with either a manual or an automatic transmission. The majority of new car models come with an automatic transmission, but if your car has a manual transmission that can be part of the stalling issues you face. Automatic transmissions will occasionally stall, though. When this happens, you will need a professional to assess where the problems are coming from.
-Automatic transmissions do not have a manual clutch component, so there is no available comparison for this area.
-Manual transmissions do have a clutch component. This needs to be implemented when shifting gears, both when shifting up and shifting down. The clutch is located on the left side of the floorboard and needs to be pressed with your left foot as your shift gears with your right hand.
-Manual transmissions do not have a torque converter, so there is not available comparison for this area.
-Automatic transmissions do have what is known as a torque converter. This device helps manage the flow of transmission fluid and keeps your engine running when the car is idle. If the torque converter stops working, your car may stall.
-What would cause a torque converter to stop working? Anything from overheating, dirty transmission fluid or RPM-related stall speed issues can create problems. If your automatic transmission vehicle stalls and you need to find out why, conducting a stall-speed test will hopefully help you find some answers. Otherwise, a professional will be needed to help diagnose where the problem is coming from.
What Do I Do If My Car Stalls?
The first – and probably most important thing to do – is to not panic! Stalling can be an awkward and sometimes scary situation. Thankfully, keeping a cool head can help you think rationally and hopefully avoid a wreck. Here are the steps that will help you know what to do if your car stalls on you while you are driving:
Step 1: Hazard Lights- When you first notice there is an issue, turn your hazard lights on right away. This will let other drivers around you know that something is wrong, and hopefully they will go around you.
Step 2: Get Off The Road- Because your power steering and brakes use energy from the car, they may be affected by the stall. Do your best to pull over onto the shoulder, or side of the road. Once there, try to put your car in Park. From there, you can turn your ignition off.
Step 3: Alternative Scenario- If you happen to be stuck in traffic, do not get out of your car. Remain seated, and as long as you are safe you can call Roadside Assistance.
Step 4: Try to Restart Your Car- Once you are safely off the road, see if you can restart your car. If it starts, try and drive to either your house or the closest mechanic. If you choose to go home, you can see if you can find where the problem lies. If you choose to go the mechanic, they will help you save time by diagnosing the problem with some technical tools you may not possess. If, however, your car will not restart, you will need to leave it where it is and call a tow.
Step 5: Assess The Source of The Issue: Now would be the time to pop the hood and see if you can locate why your car is stalling. Referring to all the above possible reasons, you can begin going down the list and check each area to see if that is why your car is stalling. Starting with the battery, then the alternator, and going down the line, you should be able to see where the problem is coming from. If you try all of the things listed in the previous section and still cannot get your car to start again, it may be time to ask for help.
Step 6: Recruit Help- It may be tempting to hitch a rope up to your front bumper and ask a friend to help you tow it yourself, but that is not a safe thing to attempt. Doing so could potentially damage the transmission.
What Does It Cost to Fix a Stalled Engine?
If your car stalls, one thing you may be thinking about is how much it will cost to fix it. It’s quite possible that it was a one-time-thing, and simply restarting the engine will get you back on the road. This scenario would save you quite a bit of money indeed. If, however it happens to be due to a malfunction of some kind, the cost of repairs could quickly add up.
If the battery is to blame, it’s possible the only thing you will need to do is clean off the connections. If, however, the damage is the battery itself, you will need to replace it. A new battery can run anywhere from $70-$200. If you don’t know how to replace a battery yourself, you will need to hire a professional. This is where the price can drastically increase.
If the alternator is the problem, replacements can be anywhere within the $300-$500 range, sometimes more.
If you need to replace a sparkplug, those average between $115 – $259. This would likely include labor.
Any other issue may require a custom quote.
Can I Prevent My Engine from Stalling?
Manual transmission vehicles have a greater tendency to stall. Learning how to properly drive a manual transmission vehicle can take time, and a lot of patience. The best way to prevent your car from stalling is to learn how to properly shift gears, as well as monitor your RPM.
As you accelerate, your RPMs (rotations per minute) will increase. With a manual transmission vehicle, it’s import to shift up so that the engine can keep up with the demand of the accelerator. If gears are improperly shifted, the vehicle may stall.
While it is definitely no fun to have your car stall on you, it is something that many of us face at some point or another. Knowing the different reasons why a car may stall can help save you time and energy, especially when it comes to diagnostics. Keeping safety in mind and taking quick action can also help the situation go much more smoothly. And, with any luck, you will have a story to tell.
Hi, I am Brad. Car Independent is your source for independent views on cars and car accessories. Whether you looking to buy a new car or something cool for your car, you have many options. My aim to help you make the best-informed choices.