Car Sputtering? Here’s Everything That You Need To Know

A sputtering engine is never a fun thing to deal with. Regardless of what it is related to, you may start to wonder if you have the budget to take care of it. With this guide, you will be able to take care of any problems when you hear your vehicle start to sputter.

The most common reason your car sputters comes from the fuel system. These issues can include anything from low fuel to a faulty fuel pump. To address these concerns, your best bet is to take it to a skilled mechanic who will be able to diagnose the issue before it gets expensive. 

In the rest of this article, we will go through different situations that can cause sputtering. If you plan any DIY repairs, be sure that you disconnect your battery, activate your parking brake, and place down immobilizers. 

Fuel System Issues Can Cause A Sputtering Engine

If you have little fuel, that can cause major issues with your car. Check if your gas gauge is on “e” before moving on. 

If you have a full tank of gas, another fuel issue is related to dirty fuel injectors. Dirty fuel injectors prevent your car from running the combustion chamber properly. In some cases, your fuel injectors can be busted, meaning they need to be replaced.

Check out this video below if you want to learn how to clean fuel injectors cheaply:


Another cause coming from the same area includes a dirty fuel filter. Fuel filters keep dirt out of your engine, which allows your car to run at optimum efficiency. If you haven’t replaced your fuel filter in the past two years, it is time to make a replacement. 

If none of these work, your issue is likely related to something electric.

Spark Plugs Not Igniting Your Combustion Chamber

We mentioned it somewhat in the previous section, but another common problem you can run into is spark plugs. Spark plugs ignite the fuel in your combustion chambers, allowing the vehicle to move forward with the power of explosions.

Without a spark, the fuel in your combustion chambers will eventually build-up, leading to a poor air-fuel mixture. As a result, you can flood out your engine, which leads to the unwanted engine noise we talked about earlier. 

You may also find it comes from faulty wiring, preventing power from getting to other vital areas. The biggest issue with modern cars is that computers run everything, so one of the first steps in checking any car symptom is to hook it up to a code reader. 

A Dirty Mass Airflow Sensor 

The mass airflow sensor in your vehicle monitors your parts to ensure it has the right mix of fuel and air. If you have a dirty mass airflow sensor, that means your car won’t determine what it needs. As a result, your combustion chambers don’t receive the right amount of air or fuel to get things moving. 

If you want to know how to clean a mass airflow sensor, check out this video below:

Exhaust System Leaks Releasing Exhaust Gases Into Your Engine

A leak in your exhaust can cause fumes from your car to escape into locations they aren’t supposed to be. As a result, your sputtering engine can result from the exhaust fumes overheating and melting your vehicle parts. Also, these exhaust fumes can cause you to suffer from lightheadedness. 

If you suspect an exhaust leak, quickly take it to a mechanic to handle the issue. If you don’t, you risk breathing in hydrogen monoxide, which smells like rotten eggs.

A Failing Catalytic Converter Can Also Release Exhaust Gases Into Your Vehicle

The biggest issue with your exhaust system relates to a catalytic converter. A catalytic converter works to take harmful chemicals (like carbon monoxide) out of your exhaust so you don’t end up killing the people around you. 

If you have a rotten egg smell, that is a vital sign that you need to stop driving your car and call a professional. If you let this go on for too long, this may result in car repairs exceeding the value of your vehicle. 

Worn Out Seals and Gaskets

Many of the issues listed here come from age. An old car can cause repairs to add up quickly. Also, you are more likely to listen to engine sputtering at this point. 

Much like leaks in your exhaust system, any hoses with worn seals and gaskets will need replacement. Look around the connection points of these hoses to see if they have become loose. Failing to do this can result in your exhaust manifold having significant issues. Gases that would normally be released by the exhaust will reach your engine, causing the potential for permanent damage.

Checking For A Vacuum Leak In Your Hoses

If you find yourself driving along many gravel roads, little rocks can plunk up into your vacuum hoses and create tiny holes. These small holes will prevent your car from having a proper seal. Your overall engine performance is going to suffer. 

If you can see the leak, you can sometimes use a basic hose patch to solve the short-term problem. However, you will want to take it to a mechanic to ensure there are no long term issues. 

Your Ignition System

When you turn the key in your vehicle, the ignition coil sends a small electric signal that the rest of the engine can start working. If the ignition system is unresponsive, it can result in your other engine components being unresponsive. 

You can test your ignition coil by placing an ohmmeter on it, which will detect whether or not it is conducting electricity. Be sure that your vehicle is off as you test the ohmmeter. Details on what the ohmmeter should read will be in your owner’s manual. 

A Throttle Position Sensor 

When your throttle position sensor (TPS) goes bad, it will work much like a failed fuel injector. In this case, we are talking about air not being able to get to your vehicle, resulting in an unbalanced fuel mixture. 

In this case, your car engine won’t start at all, causing symptoms similar to what may happen if you have a seized engine. If this happens to you, you will likely need to call a tow truck to get your vehicle to an auto shop.

Things You Might Need To Replace (Distributor cap, filters, etc.) When Your Car Is Sputtering 

These are the most common things that you may need to replace if you hear your engine sputtering:

  • Distributor cap
  • Faulty wires
  • Spark plugs 
  • Vacuum hoses 
  • Gaskets and seals
  • Filters

How Much Does It Cost To Replace These So I Can Avoid An Expensive Repair?

  • Replacing a distributor cap can cost up to $200, including the cost of labor and parts. About $50 of this is parts exclusively.
  • The wires’ cost typically doesn’t go over $10. Given that wires are so complicated, However, labor costs can be up to $1500.
  • The cost to replace spark plugs totals out to $350. Depending on your vehicle, the cost per spark plug can be anywhere from $15 to $100.
  • Replacing car vacuum hoses cost about $15 for parts and up to $100 per labor. This number can vary heavily depending on the year, make, and model of your vehicle. 
  • Air filters cost no more than $50 for parts, with another $100 for replacement. Expect the same for other kinds of filters, but that can vary depending upon how complicated it is to get to your filters.

How Do I Prevent Total Engine Failure When My Car Starts Sputtering?

Your first step is always to avoid driving your car as much as possible. If you suspect one problem in your engine, you should expect that to multiply by ten if you keep driving a vehicle that’s on the verge of breaking. That is why you need to see experienced technicians who have the skill set to identify this sputtering sound.

For example, a dirty air filter is more likely to allow dirt particles through to the engine. Given that your engine isn’t very good at processing dirt, this can cause a major malfunction to the combustion engine. As a result, you might need to buy an entire motor, which can set you back several thousand dollars. 

We can apply that same logic to people who have a habit of ignoring their check engine light. If your check engine light turns on, that means your vehicle computer can recognize there is a problem with your engine. 

So rather than turn a $400 repair into a $4000 repair, show some restraint by not driving your car if you suspect issues. If needed, try and borrow your friend’s car while you are waiting. 


A sputtering car engine isn’t fun. Whether the issue is related to your fuel system, spark plugs, or any other engine components, it is your job to take care of the problem before it turns into something significant. 


The constant reminder that you need to maintain your vehicle regularly can get a bit tiresome, but it is crucial. Through regular service checks at your local auto shop, you can avoid many issues that come with the most expensive car fixes.

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