Engine Sputtering: When Starting, Accelerating (Fixed)

Engine Sputtering when starting

Engine spluttering when starting, accelerating, or while driving is easily one of the more common vehicle problems. Thankfully, 90% of the time, it should be an easy problem to fix.

With a bit of mechanical knowledge, you could probably fix the problem from the comfort of your own home.

On this page, we want to give you an overview of the reasons why your engine may be spluttering. Of course, we will also tell you exactly how to fix the problem. In some cases, this may mean a trip to your local mechanic.

Out Of Gas

You would think that this one would be obvious, but you would be surprised at the number of people that think their engine is on the ‘out’ when really it is nothing more than a case of their vehicle being on the brink of running out of gas.

If your vehicle is running out of gas, then barely anything will be getting into the engine. This will cause a spluttering sound.

Thankfully, this is one of the problems that you should have no issues fixing yourself. We are going to assume that you are well-versed in filling up your vehicle! 

Read also >> Does Revving Your Engine in Park Damage It? (Here Is Why)

Broken Spark Plugs

This is probably the most common reason for an engine spluttering and, thankfully, an issue that you can easily rectify yourself. Perhaps the most challenging thing to do is track down the right spark plugs for your vehicle.

Although, if you can’t find the right spark plugs in your local area, then you will find countless websites online that have the spark plugs for you.

Once you have the spark plugs, pull out your vehicle’s manual. This will tell you where the spark plugs are. You will need to unscrew the old spark plugs using a wrench or a socket set.

Once you have located the spark plugs, gently undo them using your wrench or socket set. They should come out easily. If they do not, then you can spray a small amount of oil in there.

It is important that you do not put too much pressure on the spark plugs. They are pretty sensitive car parts and if you put too much pressure on them, there is a good chance that they can just crack.

If that happens, then you are going to need to make a beeline for your local mechanic. It isn’t a problem that you can fix yourself. 

You will need to reverse the process to put your new spark plugs back in. However, you will need to use a torque wrench for this. Spark plugs can only be put in at a specific ‘tightness’.

Your vehicle’s manual will tell you exactly how to fit the spark plug into your vehicle. It does vary a little from model to model, so it is impossible for us to give you a step-by-step of how to fix this.

Read also >> Can a Broken Spark Plug Damage Engine? (Here Is What To Do)

Clogged Air Filter  

If it isn’t your spark plugs, then there is a good chance that it is your vehicle’s air filters. Technically, these should be replaced every one to two years (whenever you have your service), but there are some people that will skip the replacement, just to save a bit of money.

This has always been odd to us since a clogged air filter doesn’t cost a whole lot to replace. You may need to replace it more frequently if you spend a lot of time driving in dusty locations.

Again, you will need to consult your vehicle’s manual to know what to do here, since the air filter will be located in different places.

It is really just a ‘swap job’. Pull out the old air filter and slide a new one into place. The only thing that you really need to be thinking about is ensuring that you have picked up the correct air filter, but any car parts supplier should be able to help you with that part.

Dirty Fuel Injectors 

The job of the fuel injectors is pretty descriptive. Your vehicle will likely have a few of them.

While it is rare, they can get clogged up if you have been using low-quality fuel (or there is an issue elsewhere in your vehicle). This can lead to less fuel than intended getting into the engine which is going to cause it to splutter.

You can’t really ‘clean’ out dirty fuel injectors. You will need to replace them, although they tend to be quite an affordable component to replace. 

While, in theory, removing fuel injectors seems simple, it isn’t. A lot can go wrong and, in some cases, what can go wrong is incredibly dangerous.

This is a job that you will probably need to leave in the hands of professionals. 

Failing Sensors

The next most common reason for engine spluttering will be failing sensors. Unfortunately, this is not a problem that you can fix yourself. Without having an OBD2 scanner to hand, you may not even be able to diagnose it yourself.

However, we do suggest that you pick up an OBD2 scanner if you plan on doing a lot of vehicle maintenance. It will save you almost constant trips to the mechanic to get your vehicle diagnosed. 

There are two sensors in your vehicle that can cause engine spluttering:

  • Oxygen Sensors
  • Mass Airflow Sensors

The oxygen sensor is something that may not have an immediate impact on your engine. It really impacts the exhaust fumes. This, eventually, causes engine trouble. This can lead to the engine spluttering.

The mass airflow sensor plays an important role in ensuring that you have a good mixture of air and fuel in your vehicle’s engine.

After all, you need the right combination for the engine to work. If the mass airflow sensor messes up, then there could be too little or too much air getting into the engine. When this happens, it can cause the engine to start spluttering.

The one job that you can do (which may work) is to clean the sensors yourself. In rare cases, the sensors get dirty, which can cause issues.

To do this, you will need to locate where the sensors are in your vehicle (check the manual) and then blow them clean with compressed air. It’s simple. If you are lucky, they will work again! 

As we said, if they are broken, this isn’t really a problem that you can fix yourself. You will need some mechanical knowledge. Although, thankfully, it is a problem that you can diagnose yourself. This way, you can work out whether you need to head to a mechanic.

To diagnose, you will need an OBD2 scanner. This will plug into your vehicle (check the vehicle’s manual).

You will then be given an error code. You can then compare this against the list of error codes for your vehicle.

Damaged Intake Manifold

The intake manifold is one of the most important components of your engine. The job of the intake manifold is to make sure that fuel and air are put, in equal quantities, into each of your engine’s cylinders. As you can imagine if there is an issue with your intake manifold, then your engine may splutter.

There are several ways in which an intake manifold can be damaged. In most cases, it shouldn’t be damaged beyond repair. There could be issues with:

  • Seals
  • Pipes

If either of these is damaged, then air could be leaking out, which causes that spluttering. Thankfully, these issues can be diagnosed and repaired at home, although how you do this will be dependent on the engine that you have.

Once again, your vehicle’s manual will come in handy here, as will countless YouTube videos.

Your first job is to diagnose. There are a few methods that you can use here, but only one of them is suitable for ‘at home’ use. This way you won’t have to pick up a ton of expensive equipment.

To test the seals and pipes, spray some soap on them, and then switch your vehicle to idle. If there is a leak, then you will see the soap bubbling. Pretty simple, especially since most intake manifold leaks won’t be immediately obvious.

If there is a leak, then most of these components can be unclipped/unscrewed and replacement parts slotted into place.

You can’t really go wrong here, and as long as you follow your vehicle’s instruction manual, then everything should be fine. 

Faulty Catalytic Converter 

The catalytic converter helps to keep your fuel emissions clean. Although, as you can imagine, it can get dirty on occasion.

If it gets dirty, then it could cause engine issues, including spluttering. If the catalytic converter isn’t cleaned out regularly, you could end up destroying your engine! 

If you suspect your catalytic converter is behind your engine spluttering woes, then you can clean it out yourself. If cleaning doesn’t work, then your catalytic converter may need to be replaced (expensive!).

Only a trained mechanic should be replacing it. You can’t really get it wrong, as if you mess it up, your vehicle is pumping out unclean emissions (illegal in some places), and you could end up breaking your engine. 

You can remove the catalytic converter from your vehicle, but we believe the easiest method is to purchase catalytic converter cleaner:

  • Drain fuel from your tank until it is 1/4 full.
  • Add the catalytic converter cleaner to your tank as per the instructions on the bottle.
  • Drive for 15 miles.
  • Fill up your tank (doesn’t have to be completely full).

If the catalytic converter was only mildly filthy, then this should get rid of your spluttering issues. If the dirt inside is caked on, then you may have no choice but to remove the catalytic converter from your vehicle and soak it overnight in water.

Although, this is a much bigger job as you will need to take apart your vehicle’s fuel assembly. 

Engine Sputtering: Common Reasons Why Your Car Engine Is Sputtering >> Check out the video below:

Final Thoughts

Sadly, outside of a few issues, there isn’t much about engine spluttering that you can fix yourself. At the most, you will probably be able to replace a clogged fuel filter and some spark plugs.

However, there are so many different issues related to a spluttering engine that it is better to call in the professionals.

Remember, the sooner you call in the pros, the less chance you will have long-term damage to your engine, which can be incredibly costly to deal with!



Steve P.

Steve is an automotive technician, technical writer, and Managing Editor. He has held a lifelong passion for cars, with a particular interest in cars like the Buick Riviera. Steve is based in Boise, Idaho.

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