Car shuts off while driving? If this happens regularly, it can be a frustrating experience. It’s essential to check all the car parts, including the oil, gas, and coolant, to pinpoint why your car is shutting off while driving. Nowadays, modern vehicles have different functions and sensors, making it hard to figure out why it shuts off.
This guide will discuss the common reasons why your car shuts off while driving and different solutions to the problem.
Your car can shut off while driving for different reasons. It’s important to examine it and determine the cause before fixing.
Top 15 Reasons Why Your Car Shuts Off While Driving
The main reason your car shuts off while driving is the fuel system. It can also happen because of the crankshaft position sensor, faulty alternator, car engine sensor issues, or bad ignition switch. Or, it could simply be because your fuel tank is empty.
1. Fuel Tank is Empty
For many car owners, an empty fuel tank is the reason why the car shuts off while driving.
If your car shuts off while driving, the first thing you should do is check the fuel tank. Although you might want to assess your vehicle to find potential causes, the reason might simply be because you have no fuel in the gas tank.
Suppose you have sufficient fuel in the fuel tank; you can check other reasons below. Remember that if you have a faulty gas gauge, it will be difficult to check how much fuel you have.
2. Fuel Pump is Faulty
A faulty fuel pump is a likely problem when your engine shuts off while driving. Whenever you turn your car on, all the electrical components receive a signal to work. The fuel pump is also meant to receive this signal and will create pressure to move the fuel through your fuel injectors.
If the fuel pump is faulty, it cannot create the needed pressure, and your car won’t receive the amount of fuel it needs. This will cause your vehicle to shut off while driving. This is often called a stumble, and it’s essential to get this fixed because it can cause damage to other car parts.
3. Fuel Filter is Dirty
Another reason your car shuts off while driving is a dirty fuel filter. The job of a fuel filter is to stop contaminants from entering the gasoline. When there are too many contaminants, the fuel filter becomes blocked, thus restricting the flow of air and gasoline.
When your car doesn’t receive the gas it needs, the engine won’t start or will stall.
4. Throttle Body is Faulty
Your car can shut down while driving because of a bad throttle body. The throttle body is meant to supply a balance of air and fuel to your engine, thus supplying power. This car engine part is in between the engine and gas pedal.
Whenever you press down on the gas pedal, the throttle body receives a signal and lets more air into the combustion process. This provides power to your engine. But when the throttle body is faulty, it does not give any power to the engine.
5. There is no Fuel Injection
In some cases, there is no fuel injection at all. This can be because of a blown fuse, wiring issue, bad ignition module, or faulty engine control unit. But, the main reason why there is no fuel injection is dirt. With a dirty fuel injector, your car will die.
You can notice a dirty fuel injector when your car runs for a few minutes and shuts off while driving. To get your vehicle running again, you need to clean the injectors.
6. Air Filter is Clogged
Your car can also shut down while driving because of a clogged air filter. This is why it’s essential to maintain your air filter regularly, as it’s supposed to last as long as your vehicle’s lifespan. But most people overlook the importance of their air filter, making it clogged after a while.
If your air filter is clogged, replace it rather than try cleaning it. The cost to change your filter depends on the type of vehicle and engine size, but it shouldn’t cost more than $150 at a local repair shop.
7. MAP Sensor is Faulty
Whenever sensors in your car are faulty, you will notice flickering lights on the dashboard and even bad headlights. It’s important to fix this early and prevent an accident.
The MAP sensor can also be a culprit when your car shuts off while driving. This is the manifold absolute pressure sensor, which measures the atmospheric pressure in the intake manifold. The sensor sends signals to different systems that keep the car running, including the engine management system.
If your MAP sensor is faulty, you should immediately ask a mechanic for help.
8. MAF Sensor is Bad
On the other hand, the mass airflow sensor can also cause your car to shut off while driving. This sensor controls how much air gets into the engine. When it fails, your vehicle might either stall while driving, shut off completely, or run erratically.
If the MAF sensor is faulty, you must replace it as soon as possible. If not, driving won’t be safe.
9. Crankshaft Position Sensor is Faulty
Another electronic sensor in your vehicle that can cause the car to shut down is the crankshaft position sensor. This is a cheap part of your car, but it fails often and can cause your car to stall or shut down while driving.
The crankshaft position sensor can be contaminated or broken and wear out over time. If it does, you should ask a professional mechanic for help.
10. Engine Control Unit is Bad
Suppose your car shuts off while driving; you should also check the engine control unit. The control unit gets signals from different sensors, and if it goes bad, the car won’t be able to drive.
The ECU might not be working by misreading signals from other sensors, causing your car to shut down. Other faulty sensors mentioned above can also cause the ECU to receive false signals.
11. Alternator is Damaged
A faulty alternator can also cause your car to shut down while driving. An alternator keeps your car battery charged, so when it is defective or dead, the battery won’t be able to hold a charge and will also die.
The alternator can be damaged because too many electrical components are placing a load on it, or the car’s computer is receiving faulty signals. It’s best to replace your alternator if this is the problem.
12. Ignition Switch is Faulty
A faulty ignition switch might be the problem if your car shuts off while driving. Although this is a problem that can be overlooked, when the ignition switch is bad, you can’t turn the car’s electrical components on or off.
A faulty ignition switch can also cause other components in your car to stop working, from the headlights and airbag system to the stereo. It’s dangerous to drive with a faulty ignition switch, so you should replace it immediately.
13. Ignition Coil is Faulty
Another reason your car will shut off while driving is a bad ignition coil. The ignition coil is an essential part of the entire system, and you can find it on top of your spark plug. If your car has been misfiring or shutting off while driving, the ignition coil is the likely culprit.
Keep in mind that the signs of a bad ignition coil depend on your car’s make, model, and engine size. If the coil is faulty, you need to replace it. You can ask a mechanic to test your coils and replace them if needed.
14. Spark Plugs are Damaged or Dirty
Your spark plug can also cause your car to shut off while driving. The spark plugs are on top of the cylinder head, and your car won’t start when they are dirty, fouled, or damaged, your car won’t start. You need to replace the spark plug or ask a mechanic to do so.
You can notice that your spark plug is dirty if your vehicle consumes more fuel or stalling while idling or driving. While you can clean or replace your dirty spark plug with a few tools, you can also ask a professional to do it.
This video will teach you how to clean your spark plug:
15. Car Battery is Dead
The final reason your car shuts off while driving is a dead battery. If this happens regularly, you need to check your battery’s health. For one, there might be a parasitic drain problem causing your car battery to die periodically.
You can notice problems with your battery health when your stereo is acting up.
What To Do After Your Car Shuts Off While Driving
If your car shuts off while driving, find a way to pull over immediately without causing harm to other drivers.
Suppose your car shuts off while driving; there’s a good chance that you will get stranded on the road or disrupt the traffic. Here is what you should do if your car shuts off while driving.
The first thing you should do when your car shuts off while driving is to avoid panicking. Instead, you should pull over to the side of the road while trying to stop yourself from hitting other cars. Remember that it will be hard to slow and steer your vehicle, but it’s better than staying in the middle of the road.
Try to Restart Your Car
Now, you can attempt restarting your car. If you succeed in doing this, you can drive to the closest auto repair shop and check for the reason why your car stopped in the first place.
Alert Other Drivers
You should also consider using emergency flashers to inform other drivers that your car is immobile. This will keep you safe and stop you from disrupting traffic.
Call for Roadside Assistance
Now, you can call for a tow truck to get your car to the nearest repair shop. Once you get to the shop, the mechanic can fix the problem.
How to Diagnose Your Car That Shuts Off While Driving
If the car does not shut off while driving while you’re on the road, you can diagnose the problem and fix it. Remember that it’s a bit difficult to diagnose the problem, as it can be as complicated as a dead battery or as simple as needing to top up the fuel tank.
Follow these steps to diagnose your car when it shuts off while driving.
- Check the fuel level. If unsure, you can fill the tank with four liters or one gallon of fuel and restart your car. This will also help you identify problems with the fuel level gauge.
- Use an OBD2 scanner to check for trouble codes in the engine control unit. If you get any codes, you can pinpoint the problem.
- Check your car battery with a battery charger. You should also check the battery voltage. If your car comes on after charging the battery, measure the voltage. With a 13 volts rating, the alternator system has a problem while the vehicle is running.
- Use a fuel pressure gauge to check if the engine receives the correct pressure. If the pressure is low, check your filter and pump, and replace them.
- Use your diagnostic tool to check live data of your car, and look for any strange ratings.
- Check for an RPM from the crankshaft sensor while cranking the engine.
Possible Solutions for a Car that Shuts Off While Driving
When your car shuts off while driving, you should check the fuel level and gauge first before using other solutions.
There are many reasons your car shuts off while driving, but it depends on how you fix the problem. Here are some possible solutions to keep in mind, depending on the issue.
Check the Electric Cables
One of the quickest fixes is to tighten the electrical cables. If you suspect your car’s problem is because of wires, you can fix it on your own without the help of a professional. Check the fuse box and battery, and locate any loose cables.
You can tighten the cables or replace those that have been damaged permanently.
Refuel the Car and Check the Fuel Gauge
Most of the time, your car shuts off while driving because you’ve run out of fuel. Your car will start running once you refuel it. Sometimes, you will also have to fix the fuel gauge if it does not give you the correct indication of how much fuel is left.
Replace the Fuel Pump
Your car might shut off or lead to loss of power and acceleration while driving because of a faulty fuel pump. You will have to install a new fuel pump, and it’s recommended to hire a professional mechanic to solve the problem.
Learn how to replace your fuel pump in this video:
Replace the Alternator
The alternator might also be the problem, so you must keep it clean or replace it outright. If you have a faulty alternator, you will notice it through flickering headlights, quick battery drainage, rough engine and driving, and a warning light on the dashboard.
You can clean the alternator or replace it if it is damaged. Alternators are affordable and can easily be replaced without professional help.
Get Your ECU Inspected
Take your car for a complete ECU inspection if no other solution works. The ECU is an essential part of the vehicle but can cause your car to misbehave or shut down. Although you can use an OBD2 scanner to check the error codes, it’s better to ask a professional for help.
How to Avoid Your Car Shutting Off While Driving
Maintaining your car engine and other parts of the car is important in preventing problems like shutting off while driving. Keeping your car engine clean is an essential part.
You need to carry out proper maintenance if you don’t want a car that shuts off while driving regularly. Always replace and clean the essential parts of your vehicle, as it is dangerous for it to stop, especially while you’re on the road. Here are some tips to keep in mind.
- Replace your faulty spark plugs when they are worn out or if there are gaps between their electrodes.
- Always check your fuel pump for faults or defectiveness, as it can cause your car to stall.
- Constantly check the ignition coil and distributor cap, as faulty or improperly installed cables can cause engine misfires.
- If you notice your fuel efficiency reducing, check the gasket of your gas cap.
- In the case of road vibration, while driving, your loose engine mount might be the problem.
- If you have any warning lights or notice anything off with your car, get it fixed immediately.
Can a Bad Battery Cause a Car to Shut Off While Driving?
This is rare since the alternator will also provide the needed power for your car to run. If your car battery is bad and the alternator is damaged, it can cause your car to shut off. Also, a short circuit in the car battery causes it to shut off.
Can Low Oil Cause a Car to Shut Off?
Low oil levels don’t cause your car to shut off, except it is causing your oil pressure to also reduce. The car will shut the engine off to protect it, especially in modern vehicles.
Why Did My Car Shut Off While Driving and Refuse to Start?
If your car shuts off while driving and doesn’t start afterward, it can be because of low fuel pressure or a bad alternator. You can check the problem with a diagnostic scanner or hire a professional mechanic.
Why Does My Car Cut Off When I Stop?
This is because your engine is susceptible at idle. A lean fuel mixture can cause the car to cut off when you stop, but it can also be because of a faulty throttle body.
How Long Can You Ignore Engine Stalls?
It depends on how severe the problems are. If there aren’t a lot of signs, you can safely drive for weeks, but it’s better to fix it to avoid shutting off while driving.
Suppose your car shuts off while driving; you should focus on pinpointing and fixing the problem immediately. While it could be because you’re out of gas, it can also be because of a problem with your engine. Aside from ending up with expensive repairs, you might also cause an accident if your car stops abruptly while driving.
Jim Wicks is the founder of MotorVehicleHQ. With over two decades of experience in the automotive industry and a degree in Automotive Technology, Jim is a certified car expert who has worked in various roles ranging from a mechanic, car dealership manager, to a racing car driver. He has owned more than 20 cars over the past 15 years. Ask him about any vehicle you see on the road and he can tell you the make, model and year. He loves the aesthetics of all things cars, and keeps his vehicles in pristine condition.
In his free time, Jim enjoys getting his hands dirty under the hood of a classic car or taking long drives along the country roads. His favorite car? A 1967 Shelby GT500, a true classic that, according to Jim, “represents the pure essence of American muscle.”