When your car engine stalls, it means that your engine has died. While this can happen at any time, it’s most alarming if it happens while you’re driving. A car that stalls when it’s in motion puts you, your passengers and everyone on the road around you at risk, so it’s important to know what can cause a car to stall, what to do when it happens and how to fix the problem as soon as possible.
Cars can stall for a number of different reasons, so being familiar with some of the causes and knowing how to prevent those situations from arising is a great way to improve your safety. Let’s look at five reasons your car may be stalling — and how you can resolve them.
No. 1: You Have a Problem With Your Battery
You already know that your battery plays a critical role in helping the engine turn over, but its job isn’t over once the engine roars to life. Even if your car starts, if you have a battery that is starting to wear out, it could result in your engine stalling while you’re driving.
However, even if your battery isn’t failing, you could end up with a stalled car if the battery terminals are corroded or need to be replaced. Because your engine depends on the battery to power its electrical system, corroded terminals can cause your car to stall because they prevent the engine from getting enough voltage.
Your mechanic can tell you fairly quickly if you have a dead battery by measuring it with a voltmeter (or, if you own a voltmeter you can check it yourself). From there, you can determine if it’s a battery-related issue and if the battery needs to be replaced or the terminals need to be cleaned.
No. 2: Something is Wrong With Your Fuel System
Your fuel pump does the critical task of sending adequate fuel to the engine. However, when it stops doing its job, your engine might be starved for fuel and that prevents combustion from occurring properly.
That’s not the only way that your fuel system can affect your car’s performance. If it is over-fueling, it can send too much fuel to the engine and cause the engine to flood, so in that case, you’d want to have it checked for faulty fuel injectors. If your car stalls when going up or down hills, low fuel pressure is the likely cause.
Cracks in the fuel line, water in the fuel and a clogged fuel filer also could be the culprits that are making your engine stall, so a visit to your mechanic to see where the problem originates is definitely in order.
No. 3: Your Timing is Off
Timing is everything; that’s true in sports, relationships and especially in car engines.
Engines use a timing belt or chain to sync the different functions of certain parts and make sure that it runs smoothly and efficiently. When a timing belt or chain is starting to wear out or has been damaged, it can skip a tooth (or several), and this will cause the engine to stall. Even more urgently, this situation can cause internal damage to the engine, so it’s important to looks for signs of a timing belt that might be failing and make sure you have yours replaced as per the manufacturer’s specifications.
No. 4: There’s a Problem With Your Electrical System
Technology has made our lives much easier, but it also can create new issues for our vehicles. Today’s engines are controlled by computers and modules that have to talk to one another, and when that communication fails, you can end up with a stalled vehicle. That’s because, without proper signals, the components aren’t sure what to do.
There are several different things that can cause problems within the electrical system; they can range from bad wiring that isn’t properly connected or has become loose to wires that are beginning to corrode. Regardless of the nature of the electrical issue, it needs to be looked at by a professional to determine and resolve the cause of the problem.
No. 5: You Don’t Have Enough Airflow
Without the proper airflow, your engine can’t perform at its peak level. (That’s why changing your air filter regularly is so important.) If you live in an area with a lot of dust or debris, your vehicle is at greater risk for stalling and experiencing other performance issues. Driving through an area with thick smoke or debris in the air can lead to a stalled vehicle, since the air filter can become clogged with smoke, ash or other pollutants that reduce the amount of air reaching the engine and, ultimately, prevent the car from being able to operate properly.
Maintaining your air filter and having it checked by your mechanic each time you have the oil changed or as part of a tune-up is a good way to ensure that your car stays running at its peak.
What Should You Do if Your Car Stalls?
Having a vehicle stall while you’re driving can be an alarming experience, so it’s a good idea to know what to expect and how to respond. When the engine loses power, you’ll lose power steering and brakes, so you need to act immediately. Push the brakes and steer it over to the side of the road. (Turn on your hazard lights to make sure other drivers see you and realize you aren’t moving.)
Shut off the engine, then try restarting it. You can try jumping it with jumper cables to see if that gets you moving again, but if that doesn’t work, you’ll probably need to call for help and get your car towed to a trusted mechanic so you can find out what’s causing the problem and make sure that it’s fixed.