The internal combustion engine inside your car is a work of engineering brilliance. It’s incredibly complex and not only did it need a staggering level of ingenuity to develop, it also takes meticulous precision to build and a certain degree of skill to operate within a car. In fact, one of the first things you’ll learn as a learner driver is how to move the car without the engine sputtering out of action. But what should you do if, through no fault of your own, your car keeps on stalling? Read on to find out.
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What Does It Mean When A Car Stalls?
Put simply, a stall is when the engine (of any vehicle, not just cars) stops working unexpectedly and without being deliberately turned off. The simplest and most common reason for a stall is driver error, something that new drivers will experience regularly until they’re more experienced behind the wheel.
However, mechanical failures can also result in an engine stalling. There is quite a list of things that can go wrong to cause stalling, and we’ll examine each problem further down the page.
What Is Causing My Engine To Stall?
If your car cuts out while driving and you’re not sure why, take a look at this list and see if any of the reasons we’ve collated match up to the behaviour of your own vehicle:
- Lack of fuel – We’ll cover the basics first. If you forget to keep an eye on your fuel gauge, your engine will cut out when it runs out of juice.
- Poorly mixed fuel & air – Fuel and air need to mix to a certain level within the engine to keep the combustion process going. If this doesn’t happen for some reason, your engine will stall.
- Fuel pump problems – That fuel is injected into the engine using an internal fuel pump. If it stops working, the engine won’t have enough fuel to keep running.
- Low fuel Pressure – Inadequate pressure can also cause the engine to stall by not allowing it to use the fuel properly.
- Alternator failure – The alternator is what gets your car battery going and continues to charge it. If this breaks, it’ll be the electrical power that lets your vehicle down, not the petrol or diesel.
- Flat battery – In similar fashion, a flat or downright dead battery will prevent you from starting your car and could result in the whole thing cutting out on you.
- Air filter maintenance – The air filter in your car needs to be kept clean and free of debris, otherwise the engine will start to experience problems.
- Overheating – In extreme cases, your engine could cut out due to excess heat. It could do this automatically as a safety precaution to prevent damage, or it could happen because the engine has already gotten too hot to operate any longer.
- Sparks and distributor – Problems with the spark plugs in your car, or the distributor which helps them work, can result in engine stalls.
- Poor driving – Inexperienced drivers with bad clutch control can also cause engines to stall. Clutch control, particularly on steep inclines or in slow moving traffic, can give new drivers nightmares!
Why Does My Car Keep Cutting Out When I Stop?
This scenario might seem a little more unexpected. If your engine cuts out as you’re coming to a standstill rather than when you’re putting your foot down, it could be due to a number of different reasons:
- Faulty Idle Air Control solenoid – This component regulates the amount of air taken into the engine when idle, but it can become dirty which will stop it from functioning properly.
- Vacuum leaks – Faulty hoses or gaskets can cause leaks that will only affect the engine and cause a stall when idling. Mass Air Flow (MAF) sensor equipped cars are more likely to suffer this.
- Faulty oxygen sensor – Similarly, a faulty oxygen sensor can leave the engine without enough air to keep ticking over when you’re stopped.
- Fuel system problems – On the other hand, you could be suffering from problems with the fuel system that means your car isn’t getting enough fuel through. This can also happen when idling.
- Worn clutch – While ultimately down to human error, the driver’s job can be made much more difficult by a worn-out clutch with a higher-than-usual bite point. Clutch control can be more challenging and as such, stalling can become common when slowing.
What To Do If Your Engine Stalls
If your car stalls while you’re driving, it’s crucial that you remember to maintain control of the car. You’re going to come to a gradual stop, but your brakes still work! Navigate the car to the side of the road in the nearest safe place that you can reach. Then, put your hazard lights on.
Once you’re safe, turn the key in the ignition again and see if the engine will spark back into life. If it does, you’re good to go but it’s worth bearing in mind that there is clearly something wrong with the car and that the same thing could very well happen all over again.
If the car is as good as dead, it’s time to figure out what the problem is but do not attempt to repair your car if you’ve come to a stop on the hard shoulder of a motorway. Leave the vehicle via the passenger side, climb over the barrier if there is one and keep clear of the road.
On other roads, as long as you’re in a safe place (use your own judgement if you’re not sure) you can attempt a repair but for the average driver, the best course of action is likely to be to call a breakdown recovery company.
How Do You Fix A Stalling Car?
Because of the huge number of problems that could cause a stall, it’s hard to explain how to fix it in one blog post – there’s really no catch-all solution. If you’re having trouble with your fuel or the mixture of petrol/diesel and air, you could simply need to clean up some of your components or you might need parts replaced.
But, you might find that you’re stalling because of a bad battery or alternator, in which case you’re probably going to need to get new ones. A battery replacement can be fairly easy if you have at least a bit of knowledge about how cars operate, but remember that if you’re in doubt about any problems with your car, take it to a professional mechanic to be looked at.
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