Troubleshooting a stalling engine is often problematic because it can be caused by so many different factors. An experienced mechanic should be able to narrow down the possible culprits, but even then, diagnosing the stall can be challenging. The problem may be hiding in the fuel system; it might be lurking in the ignition system; or it could be related to an assortment of components outside these systems.

Below, we'll describe some of the most common reasons an engine will stall. A lot depends on the circumstances surrounding the event, which we'll mention throughout when the information is relevant. For most people, troubleshooting a stalling vehicle requires too much time and effort to do themselves. If you're willing to try, however, the following information will provide a useful guide.

Problem In The Ignition System

Your car's ignition system is responsible for igniting the air-fuel mixture in your cylinders. It is composed of the spark plugs, plug wires, distributor, distributor cap, and ignition coil. Voltage travels through these components with the spark plugs at the end of the line.

Inadequate Fuel Pressure

Often, engines stall because they receive too little fuel to keep them running. This can usually be traced to a problem involving the pressure, which may be attributable to one of many components in the fuel system. For example, a lot of drivers will cold-start their vehicles in the morning only to see them stall immediately, or soon after. Here, the issue can be a failed fuel pump, a blown fuse that controls the pump, or even a clogged injector. If the pump is the reason, you're unlikely to be able to start your car again.

Faulty Powertrain Control Module

Your powertrain control module (PCM) - essentially a computer chip - influences several functions that affect the performance of your engine. For instance, it controls the fuel injectors, ignition timing, and emission controls. The PCM receives amperage from a relay that is susceptible to failing. If the relay fails, the PCM will stop working, which in turn means the fuel injectors will stop working. Sometimes, the computer itself will fail. In both cases, your engine will stall.

Bad Battery Or Loose Connections

Most car batteries will last up to four or five years, after which they begin to lose their ability to hold a charge. When this happens, the alternator is forced to keep the depleted battery recharged while you're driving. The problem here is that the extra workload forced upon the alternator may cause your idling speed to drop. If it declines low enough, your car will stall.

Failing Sensors

There are two main sensors that send data back to your powertrain control module: the oxygen and coolant sensors. The oxygen sensor may fail due to a heavy accumulation of dirt. This prevents it from sending data to the PCM, which uses the information to manage the amount of fuel that reaches the engine.

The coolant sensor's job is to keep the PCM informed regarding the engine's operating temperature. The computer uses this information to adjust that amount of fuel that reaches the cylinders. If this sensor malfunctions, it may send faulty data to the PCM. This can cause the computer to make poor judgments regarding the air-fuel mixture in the chambers. In some cases, your engine will stall.

Compression Leak

Over time, engines can develop leaks that affect the level of compression within the combustion chambers. This usually occurs when certain components, such as the piston rings or valves, wear down. If the compression leak is severe enough, your car may stall while idling.

Troubleshooting engine stalls can be frustrating, especially when they occur sporadically. Unless you have experience working on your vehicle, you may be better served by letting a trained mechanic diagnose the underlying problem.

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What causes the engine to sputter?

Start of with the maintenance items: Tune up parts-cap, rotor, plugs, fuel filter, air filter, pcv, wires. The plug condition may help clue what is going on. Clean Throttle plates and intake valves
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Factors That Can Cause Your Vehicle's Engine To Stall
By Lawrence Reaves
Several problems can occur within this system. For example, the ignition timing may be faulty; the coil might be failing; the plugs may be fouled; or, the ignition switch might be malfunctioning. Each of these parts should be tested to ensure they are functioning properly.
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