The car starts then sputters and dies is a very serious problem that can frustrate you especially if you’re planning to rush somewhere. But, regardless of being frustrating, starting your engine only for it to sputter and die can be a sign of a deadly underlying issue, which if not remedied on time, can cause serious consequences.
You see, the engine is the heart of your car and any problem can point to costly repairs if not remedied on time. Various factors can cause the car to sputter and die such as faulty filter and fuel pump, vacuum leakage, or dirty MAF sensor.
While some of these issues are easy to fix in your home garage, others are quite complex forcing you to hire a licensed and experienced mechanic to diagnose them. So, in this guide, we’re going to discuss a detailed step-by-step procedure on how to solve this issue. To simplify everything up, we’ll point a possible cause then explain how to fix it.
Car Starts Then Sputters and Dies: Step by Step Guide
Step One: Check the Fuel Pump For Signs of Leakage
Before you even take your car to a mechanic, the first thing you need to do is to use a fuel gauge to confirm the level of fuel in the fuel tank. For the engine to start and operate smoothly, it needs the right amount of fuel.
But, what if the problem seems to persist even after fueling your car? Well, the only possible explanation is a fuel pump leak. You see, when there’s a fuel leak in the fuel pump or the fuel injection system, the internal combustion process is likely to be greatly compromised as the engine demands an ideal mix of fuel and air for efficient combustion.
So, if the fuel pressure is low, the correct amount of fuel will not make it to the combustion chamber which simply means your vehicle won’t start smoothly.
How to Fix it
To solve this problem, you only need to replace the rubber tubes with new ones. In case the leakage is caused by a worn-out fuel pump, then all you need is to replace it immediately.
Step Two: Check the Battery For Any Bad Connection
Once you’ve inspected the fuel pump and the fuel lines for any signs of leakage, the next step is to check the battery. You see, the battery is responsible for providing power to ignite the engine. So, if the battery is faulty or if the terminals are loose, then there will be insufficient power to ignite the engine. Another issue with the battery is the accumulation of excess grease/grime in the battery terminals.
How to Fit it
The first step of fixing a faulty battery is to check the terminals to ensure they’re not loose or covered with grime. In case the terminals are greased, clean them thoroughly using a degreaser or cleaning agents such as WD-40 or PB Blaster.
In case the terminals are clean and tightly connected, then the problem might be the battery itself. Try swapping the battery with a battery from another vehicle to see whether the problem persists. In case it does, then the problem is likely to be the electrical wiring.
Step Three: Check the Car Alarm System
The next step is to check the car’s alarm system, popularly known as the anti-theft alarm system. When the alarm system is activated, it can easily turn off the engine by failing to send any power to the fuel pump. In most cases, the car is likely to start then turn off immediately.
How to Fix it
Now, to fix this problem, try locking and unlocking your car to see whether the key symbol in the dashboard turns off. If it doesn’t, then you can try disconnecting the alarm system directly. But, since this is a delicate process, you should seek help from a licensed alarm specialist. This way, they’ll determine whether the problem is the alarm itself or the car key/remote.
Step Four: Check for any Ignition Issues
The ignition system is very crucial to the combustion chamber as it creates the spark that’s needed to ignite the fuel/air mixture. If any part of the ignition system is faulty, then this can call for trouble. In fact, one sign of a faulty ignition system is a car starting and dying suddenly. Some of the components that form the ignition system include the spark plug, the battery, and the ignition switch.
How to Fix it
In case the problem is caused by the battery, all you need is to inspect the terminals to ensure they’re not loose or corroded. In the case of spark plugs, check them thoroughly to ensure they’re not old, burned, or shorted. Always check the spark plug wires and ignition coils for any signs of damage.
In case they look okay, wipe them thoroughly before installing them back. In case they’re badly damaged, simply replace them with new ones.
Other than the spark plug, check the ignition switch for any signs of damage. In most cases, a faulty ignition switch will allow the engine to turn on then off after a few seconds. In most cases, it’s impossible to replace the ignition switch alone so you’ll have to replace the entire ignition lock.
Step Five: Inspect the Carburetor
The carburetor is a very critical component of the internal combustion engine. Mostly installed in older car models, that don’t rely on electronic fuel injection, the carburetor is responsible for adjusting the ratio of fuel and air during cold starts.
So, if the carburetor is faulty or malfunctioning for some reason, then it will cause some inconsistencies in the fuel/air ratio causing the engine to sputter or face troubles maintaining power. As a result, the engine will start and die immediately.
How to Fix it
To fix the carburetor, you’ll need to start by inspecting it thoroughly for any signs of damage or dirt buildup. In case it’s gummed or dirty, use a carburetor cleaner to clean it thoroughly.
In case some of its key parts such as the castings and the throttle shaft are warped, damaged, or cracked, then you’ll have no other alternative but to replace it. When replacing the carburetor, you need to note your car’s model, brand, year of manufacture, and the carburetor’s ID tag to get the exact replacement.
Step Six: Check the MAF Sensor for Any Signs of Dirt Accumulation
The mass airflow (MAF) sensor is one of the most delicate and sensitive parts of any car engine. Its main purpose is to calculate the amount of air getting into the engine for efficient fuel/air mixture during combustion.
Over time, the MAF sensor can accumulate extensive dirt and oil buildup that can massively affect its efficiency leading to incorrect air measurement. When this happens, the ratio of fuel and air is likely to be compromised leading to a poor combustion process. As a result, the engine is likely to start then die shortly after.
How to Fix it
To fix this problem, you’ll need to start by cleaning the MAF sensor using a recommended MAF sensor cleaner. In case the problem persists, then the next course of action is to replace the faulty MAF sensor with a new one.
Step Seven: Inspect the Car’s ECU
The last step of diagnosing your car when it sputters and shuts is to inspect the onboard computer, commonly known as the engine control unit (ECU). The ECU is the main computer that controls most of your car’s functions via a series of sensors. One of these functions is controlling the fuel injection system.
But, just like any other computer, the ECU can bug and glitch causing it to malfunction. Other times, the problem can be caused by faulty sensors that might end up sending erroneous information to the onboard computer. When this happens, the ECU can fail to control the fuel injection system causing the engine to run then shut down unexpectedly.
How to Fix it
To fix the ECU, you’ll have to use a code scanner to read the error codes. In most cases, you’ll have to take your car to a licensed mechanic who will plug the code scanner into your car’s OBDII to read the specific error codes.
As you can see, there are many causes of car stalling and shutting down unexpectedly. Since we’ve discussed some of the steps you can follow to remedy the problem, it’s easier to correct them before it turns into a costly repair.
Now, in case you decide to troubleshoot these problems at home, it’s recommended that you refer to your manual as well as follow online forums that match your car’s make and model. Lastly, in case you notice that some of the issues are quite tricky to diagnose, then it’s wise if you hire a professional mechanic to access the situation for you.