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Car Engine Sputtering – Causes & How to Fix It

by Magnus Sellén8 Comments

Driving should be smooth.

But, if you are driving and your car’s engine starts sputtering the first cause of concern would be low fuel.

However, if your fuel gauge is full it could be a symptom of further engine problems. A blocked fuel injector can prevent fuel from reaching the combustion chambers.

If the problem is not corrected immediately, it can lead to further engine damage.

Causes for engine splutter

There are a lot of different reasons which could cause a sputtering engine. Here are a few of the most common symptoms.

1. Faulty spark plugs

engine splutter

Spark plugs are vital to providing the necessary ignition for the air/fuel mixture. However, plugs wear out and can no longer function as intended. In this case, you will have lots of unburnt fuel with causes misfires and the engine to sputter. During your next service, ensure that you have your plugs replaced. Faulty spark plugs will cause misfires, which can be identified by sputtering.

2. Dirty fuel injectors

The fuel injectors play the role of spraying fuel into the combustion chambers. This is then mixed with air and ignited by the spark plugs. When the fuel filter is dirty, then you have less fuel going to the combustion chambers. This will cause your car to experience slow acceleration. You can clean your fuel injectors and the problem may be solved.

3. Vacuum leak

The car has a set of vacuum hoses that, with time, develop leaks. This will cause the engine to produce a sputtering sound when the air-fuel mixture gets too rich or too lean.

4. Dirty mass airflow sensor

The combustion chamber requires the right amount of fuel and air. Modern engines have an onboard computer that monitors the flow of these components. The mass airflow sensors ensure that the right amount of air is supplied to the combustion chambers.

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When the sensors get saturated with dirt particles, they can no longer relay the right information to the ECU. This will cause more or less air going to the combustion chambers. You can solve this problem by having them cleaned.

5. Exhaust system leaks

The internal combustion engine works through the ignition of fuel and air mixture. Exhaust gases are produced as byproducts and these flow through the manifold and then to the atmosphere. The catalytic converter is vital for removing harmful compounds from the exhaust like hydrogen monoxide and carbon monoxide.

These gases are then converted to less harmful inert gases. When there is a leak in the exhaust system, then these gases will start escaping before they reach the tailpipe. You will hear a sputtering sound. The situation can worsen as the exhaust gases are very hot and will melt some of the car’s components.

6. Faulty catalytic converter

The catalytic converter plays a vital role in removing harmful gases from the exhaust. When the catalytic converter is faulty, some of these gases will find their way to the tailpipe. Sulfur needs to be broken down as it is harmful to the environment.

When your catalytic converter is not working well, you will notice a strong smell of rotten eggs. With time, the catalytic converter will break and the car will, at some point, stop working.

7. Dirty oxygen sensors

Most of the modern cars have an onboard computer that monitors all the engine components. Connected to this are oxygen sensors that are responsible for the regulation of fuel into the combustion chambers. A faulty oxygen sensor will cause a rich or lean mixture.

With time, the oxygen sensors become contaminated with dirt and they are no longer are able to relay the correct information to the onboard computer. This causes them to release too much fuel or too little fuel. You should make every effort to replace the oxygen sensors occasionally.

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8. Worn out seals/gaskets

The seals and gaskets prevent exhaust gases and oil from finding their way to the combustion chambers. When these fail, you will start experiencing a sputtering engine. Further seal damage will eventually lead to the complete destruction of the exhaust manifold. The solution to this is to simply replace the seals and gasket if you find any leaks.

How to fix engine sputtering

maf sensor

The engine sputter can be caused by a variety of factors and you will need to carefully examine each component to identify which component is not working. Some of the parts you may need to replace include the spark plugs, wires, rotor or the distributor cap.

The sensors like the MAF/MAP/O2/ECT sensors will need to be cleaned so that they transmit the correct readings to the ECU. You will know it is time to replace your spark plugs if they appear burnt or the wire insulation is worn out. The distributor cap and rotors should be free from any cracks. You should also clean them off any carbon deposits.

Ignition coil

Next, check the ignition coil. You can use an ohmmeter to check that it is passing the right voltage. If the coil is faulty, replace it with the manufacturer’s recommended coil.

Fuel injectors

The fuel injectors are vital for supplying fuel to the combustion chambers.

You can check whether they are in good working condition by using a stethoscope. Turn on the engine and as it idles, place your stethoscope on the fuel injectors. You should hear the valves open and close. If this does not happen, then you have faulty fuel injectors that need replacement.

Vacuum hoses

Vacuum hoses have a high likelihood of developing leaks. The high engine temperatures can cause cracks to the vacuum hoses; hence, hindering engine performance. You will need the help of your local mechanic to replace the vacuum hoses.

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During your next service time, ensure that you replace the fuel and air filters. These often get clogged with dirt with continued usage. In addition, you may need to check your fuel spray pattern. To do this, dismantle the air assembly, and remove the air intake. A well-functioning air intake should have an even spray pattern. If it is uneven, then you will need to replace it.


A spluttering engine is a cause of concern for many motorists. It could mean that your fuel injectors are clogged and are no longer supplying the right amount of fuel. If the catalytic converter is faulty, harmful gases can find their way to the atmosphere.

Some of these gases, like sulfur, are identified by their strong egg smell. Having your mechanic examine the vacuum hoses can identify the source of the leaks. You will also be required to replace air filters and clean the oxygen sensors.

8 thoughts on “ Car Engine Sputtering – Causes & How to Fix It ”

  1. My 2006 Honda Accord hesitates b4 eventually starting what could b the cause of this?

    1. I have a fiesta 03 it has been Harare 14 month it had full mot and was running smooth when garaged no coughing and spluttering on taking it out and starting it any ideas

  2. hi. I have a 2001 nissan sentra and it is sputtering.what could this be?

  3. 2004 Hyundai Elantra, just replaced the water pump, timing belt, and hose from radiator to engine. Now the car sputters while idling in “Drive” stopped at intersections but not while in neutral or park. Upon acceleration the sputtering goes away.

  4. I have a 09 maxima an today it has started sputtering when I press the gas or it will sputter then it will get gas an take off??

  5. Hi i have a 2007 ford escape xlt 4wd. I drive it daily, like all the time. Today it started sputtering when i went to take off. We are checking the sensors. We are having problems with the throttle position sensor tho the screw is stripped and can not get it out. We also just changed the air induction sensor and still the same spitting and sputtering. Its not over heating. Im going to do spark plugs and wires next. Any other options? Thanks

  6. Good day Magnus

    VW Polo 2005 1.4L 16V, engine stalls and sputters intermittently only when the fuel gauge reaches 1st quarter mark, but the engine runs well when the fuel is above the 1st quarter mark on the guage. Service done in February 2020 the only part remaining replacement is the oil filter. I replaced the fuel filter again and bought a new fuel pump but the problem is still persistent. Please help sir.

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