Why Your Car is Stalling or Sputtering When Driving?

Why Your Car is Stalling or Sputtering When Driving?
Posted in: How To and Tips

Dirty Air Filter or Bad MAF Sensor?

Two of your car's most essential systems are its air intake system and its exhaust system. While your car is running, your car brings air to the engine and then expels air out of your exhaust. Because these systems of airflow are so essential to your car’s performance, car problems can start if your airflow gets blocked. Symptoms of blocked airflow might cause engine stalling, sputtering, or slow acceleration when you press down on the gas pedal.

There are many different reasons for blocked airflow. You could have a dirty air filter, or you could have a clogged air inlet tube. Narrowing down the problem doesn’t take long. We’ll tell you how to check your engine’s airflow.

Symptoms of a Dirty Air Filter or Bad Intake

You can experience a few different symptoms from bad or failing air intake parts. For example, a bad air filter, or a failed mass air flow sensor. Watch out for the following symptoms:

  • Hard starting. Turning the key, the engine wants to turn over but doesn’t seem like it’s getting enough gas to fire.
  • The check engine light turns on for your air-intake system. Check your car’s manual so you can identify air intake codes on your dashboard.
  • A whistling or chattering noise. This is often a result of something obstructing airflow.
  • Rough idle. The car is shaking, making strange noises, or changing RPM while the car is idling or not under acceleration.
  • Engine misfiring. This is a more violent shake than the rough idle. The vehicle will usually jerk pretty hard, back and forth, when a misfire is present.
  • Reduced horsepower. The vehicle just doesn’t seem to accelerate as fast as it did. Maybe the engine sounds a little less consistent when stepping on the gas. *If you have an older car without an on-board computer, you might experience additional symptoms:
  • Black smoke from your exhaust system.

  • If your air filter is dirty or clogged, the engine will burn through fuel to keep running.

What Causes Restricted Air Flow?

Your engine relies on a strict air/fuel ratio for combustion. For every 1 part of fuel your engine burns, it needs to use 14.7 parts of air. When that mixture gets unbalanced, you’ll get performance issues for your vehicle. Your engine will still be able to run, so you may not immediately notice something is wrong.

Cause 1: Air Filters That Are Dirty or Clogged

To keep your air intake from getting clogged, your car uses an air filter to catch debris. If you’re experiencing symptoms like the ones described, the first thing you can do is check your air filter for any debris. Objects like dirt or leaves may be blocking your airflow.

If you don’t notice any debris, check your air filter to see if it’s damaged or bent. This can also lead to restricted airflow.

Your air filter may also be excessively dirty. Inspect the air filter fins for a buildup of dirt. Any filter that’s damaged or has gotten too dirty needs to be replaced.

Dealing With a Clogged Air Inlet Tube

Your air filter has a housing it goes into. That housing has an inlet tube, that’s usually along the engine compartment’s front or side. Like your filter, this inlet tube can get damaged or full of debris. Be sure to inspect it for any signs of blockage. If there is trash in the inlet tube, your air intake system won’t be able to pull in air.

Cause 2: Broken Air Intake Parts

If your engine is having difficulties, it might be due to broken air intake system parts. For example, a broken MAF sensor or air intake hose.

Testing Your Air Intake System For Broken Parts

If you want, you can pick up an advanced system scan tool to look at your car’s diagnostics. Using this tool, you get access to data like engine speed and airflow. If there are problems with your air intake system, you should notice your MAF sensor readings will be inconsistent because you’re getting inconsistent airflow.

A car with a healthy air intake system has an RPM reading that spikes but then levels out while it is idling. Your MAF readings should level out as well.

Dealing With Your Engine In Limp Mode

When your intake system’s airflow gets restricted, your check engine light is often your first indicator before other obvious symptoms start. Then your car might go into limp mode. Limp mode is a built-in security function for your car’s engine; it’s designed to protect it from permanent damage.

While in limp mode, your engine powers down slowly, giving you enough time to pull over to the side of the road safely. If you notice your car’s engine power decreasing, pull over to the side of the road and investigate once you are in a safe position. Call for assistance if needed.


Partshawk.com has the parts you need to keep your car or truck’s air and fuel delivery systems functioning as they should. If you ever notice symptoms as we described above, trust the parts we deliver to get you back on the road. Fast!

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