When Your Car Breaks Down
Car Engine Stalled

Engine Stalling: Causes, Handling a Stall, Prevention & Roadside Assistance

Updated Nov. 22, 2020

When your car engine dies, this is known as “stalling”. A wide variety of different issues can lead to an engine stall, including airflow problems, insufficient fuel, overheating, and mechanical failures. Engine stalls themselves are not usually dangerous, though they can put drivers in sticky situations. If you’re unlucky, it could happen while you are driving on a busy road. The information in this module will help you handle such situations.

Causes of engine stalls

Car engines die for many reasons. If your car is otherwise in good condition, any engine stall you experience should be minor and easily fixed. When more serious or frequent stalls occur, you must seek the advice of a mechanic. A car may stall because:

How to handle an engine stall

This guidance will make sure you can deal with an engine stall without further damaging your vehicle or risking injury to yourself, your passengers or other road users.

  1. 1

    If possible, move your vehicle to a safe location at the side of the road away from moving traffic.

  2. 2

    If it is not possible to move your vehicle out of a dangerous position, the driver and passengers must leave the vehicle and move to a safe location.

  3. 3

    Occupants may remain in the vehicle if it is not in a hazardous position.

  4. 4

    If your engine stalls on a freeway do not walk along the road to seek assistance.
    Wait by the side of the road or in your vehicle for help to come to you.

  5. 5

    Activate your hazard lights or use flares to make your stalled vehicle visible to other drivers.

  6. 6

    Walk in the same direction as traffic, if you must walk on the highway to seek help.

Exercise caution when accepting help from strangers. If possible, remain in your locked vehicle until you are certain that the person offering help does not pose a threat. You can notify the police of the breakdown and that you have accepted assistance. Make sure that the person helping you knows that you have done this; they will not mind if their intentions are innocent.

Roadside assistance

Sometimes, sitting and waiting for help to arrive is the only action you can take. You can signal to passersby that you need assistance by securing a white or colored cloth to your antenna or leaving the hood of your car raised.

Check online or in your driver’s handbook to find out if free motorist assistance is offered in the area. Services such as New Jersey’s Safety Service Patrol (SSP) and Louisiana’s Motorist Assistance Patrol (MAP) cover areas where motorists frequently need help, offering free tire changes, jumps-starts, radiator servicing, fuel and cellphone use. Many other states offer similar support, though remote areas may not be covered.

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When Your Car Breaks Down 5 of 11

Steering Failure

When steering fails completely, the driver will have absolutely no directional control over the vehicle. Partial steering failure is far more common and thankfully, easier to handle. This type of steering problem may manifest as extremely “heavy” steering, where the vehicle becomes difficult to maneuver. You must stop as soon as safely possible.

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Headlight Failure

Your headlights are essential for safe night-driving and driving during other conditions where low-visibility is a problem, such as fog and heavy rain. You must check your headlights regularly to ensure they are fully functional. A single failed headlight may not be too noticeable while driving, but it can still put you in considerable danger if other road users mistake your vehicle for a motorbike.

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Stuck Accelerator

There are few automobile faults more frightening than a jammed gas pedal. A partially or totally jammed accelerator could be the result of a mechanical or electrical failure and it could happen in any vehicle. If your accelerator gets stuck the most important thing to do is remain calm. There are steps you can take to regain control of your vehicle or else steer it safely off the road.

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Limited Visibility

Driving with limited visibility is dangerous, not to mention challenging. If you cannot see the road it will be practically impossible to maintain a safe following distance from the vehicle in front. Plus, you may not see approaching obstacles or hazards in time to avoid collisions.

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Overheating and Fires

High temperatures can put a great deal of strain on your car’s engine. Driving in extremely hot weather, on steep hills, in stop-and-go traffic or while towing another vehicle are all activities that will make your engine run at higher-than-usual temperatures. Driving at high speeds for prolonged periods can also cause overheating and should be avoided as much as possible.

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Car Battery Problems

Without a functional battery the engine cannot start. Drivers must learn how to look after their vehicle’s battery and avoid wearing it out. Running your engine for very short periods is extremely bad for the battery, as you will deplete its power without allowing it time to recharge.