When your car engine starts but stops afterwards, whether immediately or after a few minutes, there could be one or more specific systems or components behind the failure. For example:

  • the ignition or injection system
  • a low idle speed in need of adjustment
  • a maladjusted carburetor
  • vacuum leaks
  • one or more bad sensors

To make matters worse, stalling may happen under one or more operating conditions. For example, the engine may:

  • stall as soon as it starts
  • stall during idle
  • stall when warm
  • stall intermittently under any condition

The conditions associated with your stalling problem will give you clues as to what systems or components are causing your problem.

So the best way to start your diagnostic is to identify, when possible, the conditions under which the stalling occurs, and focus your attention on those systems or components associated with the failure under that particular condition.

How to Investigate and Diagnose Your Problem

The following sections discuss different operating conditions associated with stalling, and which systems and components are most likely to cause stalling under those conditions. The last section focuses on what to do when stalling happens intermittently and seemingly randomly.

So, start by checking those components or systems in the section that best describes your particular engine problem, and then, if necessary, move on to systems or components described in other sections, especially if you suspect these systems need maintenance or have given you problems in the past. This approach will make it easier for you to diagnose the problem much faster and will work in most cases.

Check for Codes

Also, be sure to check the computer system for any diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs) that might be stored in memory, whether the “check engine” light has come on or not. One or more sensors may have triggered a pending code. If you don’t have a scanner tool, you may be able to take your vehicle to a local auto parts store to get the codes retrieved, or the store may lend you the scanner. Better yet, buy a relatively inexpensive but quality automotive scanner from your local auto parts store or online.

A Tip: The Anti-Theft System

If you’ve seen the anti-theft light blinking recently, make sure the anti-theft system is working properly. The system itself can be the source of the problem. Sometimes you need to reset the system (make the system go through a re-learning procedure) to get the engine working right again. If necessary, consult your vehicle repair manual.

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