What Should I Do When My Car Stalls?

Mercedes-Benz SL-Class stalls in Maryland flash flood

It’s sudden, and it’s unpleasant.  Your engine isn’t supposed to randomly quit, it’s supposed to run on your terms.  So when it doesn’t, what should you do when your car stalls?  A few steps will help ease the downtime.

Stay calm.  If you’re in traffic and stall, you may be able to keep rolling but you won’t have power assist to the steering or brakes.  You can still maneuver but it will take more effort.  Turn on your flashers and roll to a safe stop.  Stalling is more disconcerting on the road than in your driveway, but it’s not the end of the world.

Investigate.  Check the car’s vitals for any obvious signs.  Look at fluid levels.  Even check the gas gauge.  The tank doesn’t have to be dry for the car to stall.  Gauges can and do malfunction.  Also, a low fuel level can give the fuel pump fits that lead to stalling and even fuel pump replacement.

Consider the fuel...and weather.  In this case, not just the fuel level but fuel quality.  Most cars can self-adjust to run fine on any common grade of unleaded, but a few are finicky.  Certain small-displacement turbos come to mind here.  They’ll burn lower-octane gas, but they won’t like it.

For our gas- and diesel-driving friends alike, extreme cold is not kind.  With diesels, fuel gelling can still be an occasional worry, even with advances in engine technology and blending.

Catch up on maintenance.  Your car needs a particular blend of air, fuel and spark to run.  When any or all of the three are off kilter, the engine will probably stall if it runs at all.  If your car has progressively struggled to stay running on its own, especially at idle, it’s probably overdue for routine maintenance.

Address repairs.  So maybe maintenance is current.  The stalling has come on suddenly.  In that case, a component has probably failed.  If the sudden stalling is accompanied by smoke, steam or odd smells, you most likely have repairs in your immediate future.  Better to call for a tow than force the issue and subject your car to further damage.

Go easy on the car.  If you can get your car started again, don’t rev the engine to redline or else you’ll have more problems than just stalling.  It’s not like clearing your throat.  It requires a combination of patience, maintenance and repairs.


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