12 Reasons Why Your Car Starts Then Dies (With Fixes) (2023)

When you start your car, you assume it’s going to take you places.

But what happens if your car starts then dies right after it cranks?

Examining the cause of a sudden engine stall is often difficult, as there could be many possible problems.

In this article, we’ll help you understand the 12 reasons why your car may start and then die immediately and possibly even fix the problem yourself.

This Article Contains:

  • 12 Reasons Why My Car Starts Then Dies
    • Bad Idle Air Control Valve
    • Severe Vacuum leak
    • Anti-Theft Alarm System Issue
    • Dirty Or Faulty MAF Sensor
    • Ignition Issues
    • Lack Of Fuel
    • Fuel Pump leak
    • Fuel Injection Sensor Issues
    • Bad Carburetor
    • Engine Control Unit Issues
    • Faulty EGR Valve
    • Clogged Or Old Fuel Filter

Let’s get started!

12 Reasons Why My Car Starts Then Dies

If your car starts then dies, the only way to fix it is to first find out the cause.
While you can do it on your own, it’s best to let a mechanic handle it if you’re unfamiliar with the ins and outs of a car.

Here are 12 common concerns you should look into:

1. Bad Idle Air Control Valve

When your car is idle, the idle air control valve (IAC) regulates the air-fuel mixture. It’s connected to the throttle body — part of the air intake system controlling the air flowing into the engine(in response to your gas pedal input).

The IAC also manages engine load changes when your car isn’t moving, like when you turn on the AC, headlights, or radio.

If the idle air control valve fails, your car’s idle may not be the smoothest, or the vehicle may stall completely.

What can you do about it?

You can clean the idle air control valve and check if it stops the car from dying.

If it doesn’t help, chances are there’s an electrical issue inside the valve preventing it from proper functioning.

In such cases, it’s best to let a mechanic handle it.
They will replace or repair the wiring.

2. Severe Vacuum Leak

When there’s a hole in a vehicle’s air intake system behind the mass airflow sensor or MAF sensor, it’s called a vacuum leak.

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This leak allows unmetered air (air that flows not via the mass airflow) into the engine, messing up the expected air fuel ratio and causes the vehicle to run lean.

What’s “running lean” mean?
Your engine runs lean if the fuel in your car’s ignition chamber is igniting with too much air or too little fuel.

Now, your car can run with a minor vacuum leak, but if it’s severe, the air fuel ratio will become too lean, causing an engine stall.

What can you do about it?

You can pop the car’s hood to access the engine bay and check for a ripped or disconnected vacuum line. However, the leaks aren’t always apparent, and you will need a mechanic to help.

They’ll use the smoke test where a mechanic pumps smoke into the intake system to find the exact source of the leak.

3. Anti-Theft Alarm System Issue

An anti-theft system, when active, won’t send any power to the fuel pump. But if you have the right car keys, the anti-theft system should switch off after turning the ignition key to the on position.

But when it doesn’t turn off, the alarm may be triggered or show it’s active on your dashboard. And as a result, the car won’t start.

What can you do about it?

Your anti-theft alarm system should have a key symbol on your dashboard that should turn off a few seconds after starting the car. If it doesn’t, try to lock and then unlock your car to try again.

If it still doesn’t turn off, there could be a problem with your car key or even the alarm. Take your car to a mechanic to find out.

4. Dirty Or Faulty MAF Sensor

A MAF or mass airflow sensor measures the amount of air entering your car’s engine and is quite sensitive.

Any dirt and oil buildup that’s able to go past the engine air filter can easily pollute the sensor.

What happens then?
A dirty MAF sensor may often read incorrect air measurements, which will mess up the air fuel ratio, and your car will die.

What can you do about it?

You can clean the sensor with a dedicated MAF sensor cleaner only to fix the issue. If this doesn’t work, you may have to replace it.

Note: When cleaning, DO NOT touch the mass airflow sensor directly or clean it with other methods. It’s recommended to let the professionals tackle it.

(Video) How to Fix a Car that Randomly Dies while Driving

5. Ignition Issues

The ignition system generates the spark to ignite the mixture of air and fuel in the internal combustion chamber.

Now there can be several issues in your ignition system. It can be:

  • Faulty spark plug
  • Weak car battery
  • Corroded battery
  • Faulty ignition switch
  • Faulty ignition coil

What can you do about it?

Ensure everything is correctly connected at the battery and check for corrosion on the battery terminals.

If you detect excessive corrosion, try to clean the terminals with a battery terminal cleaner.

Next, check each spark plug. If the tip or electrode has excessive wear, it’s time for a replacement. You can also look for fuel and oil contamination in your spark plug.

While you’re at it, take a look at the ignition coil as well because a faulty one won’t provide a consistent spark to the plugs.

As far as your ignition switch goes, check the switch contacts for wear and tear.
If you spot any damage, you need a replacement.

6. Lack Of Fuel

The most common and obvious reason your car may start then die is the fuel shortage in your engine.

This happens because there’s not enough fuel in the fuel rail, and there’s no fuel pressure to keep the engine alive.

The reason isn’t always you forgetting to fill up your gas tank. It can be faulty:

  • Fuel pump
  • Fuel pump relay
  • Injector
  • Sensor
  • Fuel pressure regulator

What can you do about it?

It’s quite simple to discover your lack of fuel problem just connect a fuel pressure gauge on the fuel rail to check if you have any fuel pressure.

DO NOT experiment with other different methods because you never know what could set a fire. Instead, just call a mechanic.

7. Fuel Pump Leak

A fuel pump is a simple device that moves fuel from one location to another.

If there’s a fuel pump leak, it’ll create issues for the internal combustion process. The engine always needs the right amount of air-fuel mix for ignition.

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A fuel leak or a bad fuel pump won’t let the right amount of fuel travel to the combustion chamber.

What can you do about it?

Most new cars have sensors that detect the problems with the fuel pump or within the fuel system before it develops into something more dangerous. And the car will let you know if this happens via the check engine light.

If the check engine light is on, get your car examined by a mechanic.
Chances are you have to replace it.

8. Fuel Injection Sensor Issue

The fuel injector is a device that uses a certain amount of pressure to inject the right amount of fuel into the internal combustion chamber. And the engine control unit communicates with the fuel injector via the sensor attached to it.

Now the sensor tracks the amount of pressure in the fuel injector, then transmits this information to the engine control unit. Then, your car modifies the pressure accordingly.

If there’s an issue with this fuel injection system or sensor, your car may die because of insufficient amount of fuel needed for proper combustion.

Another reason for a car engine stall, apart from fuel supply issues, can be a clogged fuel injector.

What can you do about it?

A simple trick would be to try and feel on the fuel injectors with your hand as you crank to see if they click. If they don’t make any clicking sound, you’ve at least one faulty fuel injector. It’s best to take a professional’s help to fix this issue.

However, if it’s clogged, you can invest in an injector cleaner kit and do it yourself.

9. Bad Carburetor

For an older vehicle that doesn’t rely on electronic fuel injection, the carburetor is an essential component of the internal combustion process. This device combines air and fuel in the right ratio for combustion.

A bad carburetor (faulty, damaged, or dirty) will likely throw off the air and fuel ratio, causing your car to stall.

What can you do about it?

You can try to clean it with a carb cleaner, rebuild it with a kit, or replace it with a new carburetor.

10. Engine Control Unit Issue

An engine control unit (ECU) or engine control module (ECM) is the computer that manages the main engine parameters and programming for your vehicle.

Issues with this control unit are quite rare, but if there are any, it can be one of the many reasons why your car starts then dies.

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What can you do about it?

Contact a mechanic because an ECU failure usually means there are several electrical systems malfunctions that you need to get checked out.

11. Faulty EGR Valve

EGR stands for Exhaust Gas Recirculation, a valve that controls the exhaust being recirculated into the combustion chamber depending on the engine load.

This valve helps reduce combustion temperatures which, in turn, diminishes Nitrogen Oxide emission, reducing pollution.

If the EGR valve is stuck open, it may let too much air into the intake manifold, causing the air fuel mixture to get too lean. This will result in the car starting and then dying right after.

What can you do about it?

Try to clean it first by removing the EGR valve. Spray it with a carb cleaner and scrub away with a wire brush. If this works, you won’t need a replacement!

12. Clogged Or Old Fuel Filter

A fuel filter is close to the fuel line that screens out dirt and rust particles from the fuel as it passes through before reaching the engine. They’re mostly found in internal combustion engines.

And since it filters the fuel, it’s normal for it to get clogged eventually and may need cleaning or a replacement.

But the point is, if it’s old or clogged, it can stall your car.

What can you do about it?

You can check your owner’s vehicle repair manual, where your car’s manufacturer will recommend when to change the fuel filter. Typically they suggest every five years or 50,000 miles.

However, this depends on your filter’s condition. And in most cases, your mechanic may ask you to get it cleaned or replaced every 10,000 miles.

Final Thoughts

There are many possible grounds for your vehicle to start and then stall immediately. The majority of them affect the air fuel ratio.

And even though you may be able to detect the exact issue yourself, it’s best to let the professionals handle it because you never know what else could be wrong.

If you don’t know who to contact, don’t worry!
Just reach out to a professional like RepairSmith to keep your car from dying.

RepairSmith is a convenient mobile auto repair and maintenance solution, offering easy online booking, upfront pricing, and a 12-month / 12-mile warranty. Our repair advisors are here for you 7 days a week.

(Video) Toyota Repair Engine Starts and Dies Immediately

Contact us, and we’ll send one of our expert mechanics to fix your car, so you can be back on the road ASAP.


Why does my car start but then shuts off? ›

The most common reason your car starts then dies immediately is because of a lack of fuel in the engine. This often happens because there is a small amount of fuel in the fuel rail, which helps to start the engine. However, there is no fuel pressure to keep the engine running.

What sensors can cause a car not to start? ›

The most common sensors that will stop your car from starting include the camshaft sensor, the crankshaft sensor, the mass air flow (MAF) sensor, the manifold absolute pressure (MAP) sensor and the throttle position sensor.

What are signs of a clogged fuel filter? ›

  • You have a hard time starting car. If the problem is the fuel filter, and it isn't changed soon, you may find that your vehicle won't start at all.
  • Misfire or rough idle. ...
  • Vehicle stalling. ...
  • Fuel system component failure. ...
  • Loud noises from the fuel pump.

What are the signs that the sensors are failing? ›

First, what are the signs an O2 sensor may have gone bad?
  • Check Engine Light Comes On.
  • Noticeable Loss of Fuel Efficiency.
  • Sulfur or 'Rotten Egg' smell from Exhaust.
  • Black smoke from exhaust.
  • Emission levels reach high levels.
  • Your engine hesitates, skips, begins bucking or has power surges.
2 Oct 2019

What are the most common engine starting problem? ›

A dead battery is the most common reason why engines fail to start up. A common reason for batteries to fail is drain. Your car's battery typically expends a small portion of its storage to start your car up, and then recharges from your alternator as you move.

How do you diagnose starting problems? ›

How do you troubleshoot starter problems?
  1. Look under the hood. Check the battery and battery cables to see whether everything's in working order. ...
  2. Tap the starter. Try lightly tapping the starter a few times with a hard object, making sure not to pound it. ...
  3. Adjust the transmission. ...
  4. Check the fuel gauge.
29 Apr 2019

How can you quickly tell if you have a problem with the fuel system? ›

Difficult Starts

If your vehicle's fuel pump cannot get gas from the tank to the engine, you will have trouble starting your car. The car will struggle to start and run because the pump cannot push enough gas through. A worn pump loses its pressure and the engine is being starved of gasoline.

What are the symptoms of a weak fuel pump? ›

Decreased Fuel Pressure

Low fuel pressure can lead to engine misfires, low acceleration, rough idles, and engine stalls. If your check engine light is on and your car has been stalling out, you may have a fuel pump failure.

How do you reset sensors? ›

To reset a sensor, turn the device over and look for the circle on the back labeled "RESET" (See photo below). Insert a paperclip or other thin wire through the label to make a hole, and depress the reset button. You'll feel it 'click' when it is depressed. The sensor will reset and rejoin the network.

How do I know if I need to replace my engine sensors? ›

Other signs that you need a new oxygen sensor include a rough idle, misfiring spark plugs, lack of power, stalling or a significant increase in fuel consumption.

How do I know if a sensor needs replacing? ›

Signs That Your Oxygen Sensor Is Bad
  1. A Glowing Check Engine Light. The bright orange Check Engine light in your dashboard will usually glow if you have a bad oxygen sensor. ...
  2. Bad Gas Mileage. ...
  3. An Engine That Sounds Rough. ...
  4. An Emissions Test Failure. ...
  5. An Older Vehicle.
2 Mar 2020

What are the top 5 signs of engine trouble? ›

  • 5 Signs Your Engine Needs a Checkup. Share. ...
  • Check engine light comes on. A check engine light that stays illuminated on your dashboard after starting your vehicle is an early sign of an issue. ...
  • Hard starts. ...
  • Stalling. ...
  • Rough idling or acceleration. ...
  • Reduced gas mileage.

What are 3 symptoms of a problem in the starting system? ›

  • Grinding noise. When the starter drive gear is worn out or not engaging properly, it will often produce a grinding noise. ...
  • Freewheeling. ...
  • Intermittent issues starting the vehicle. ...
  • Starter stays on after engine started. ...
  • Smoke. ...
  • Batteries.
22 Feb 2018

What are the three 3 things you need for a engine to start? ›

It's often said that an engine needs three things—fuel, spark, and compression—to start.

Why does my car keep having trouble starting? ›

If your vehicle won't start, it's usually caused by a dying or dead battery, loose or corroded connection cables, a bad alternator or an issue with the starter. It can be hard to determine if you're dealing with a battery or an alternator problem.

How do you fix a car that has trouble starting? ›

What to Do If Your Car Won't Start
  1. If the Car Clicks When Trying to Start. Try Cycling the Key. Try Tapping on the Battery Terminals. Try Tapping the Starter.
  2. If There's No Click When You Turn the Key. Try Shifting the Shifter.
  3. If the Engine Cranks But Won't Fire Up. Try Swapping Relays. Try Smacking the Fuel Tank.
12 Apr 2022

What are some common causes of starting system problems? ›

These are 5 of the most common reasons a car won't start.
  • Failed Ignition Switch. The ignition has a couple important roles. ...
  • Failed Alternator. The alternator produces electricity in the vehicle. ...
  • Malfunctioning Starter Motor. ...
  • Fuel Delivery Problems. ...
  • Dead Battery.

Why won't my car start but I have power? ›

If your headlights can turn on, but your car won't crank, that means that your battery is charged, but either the starter or ignition is the problem. If the starter or ignition is the problem, a starter engine can be jumped by using a charged battery.

Will a camshaft sensor cause a no start? ›

Car Will Not Start: Over time, as the camshaft position sensor fails, the signal it sends to the engine control module weakens. When the engine no longer receives the signal, you will not be able to start your car.

Can a temperature sensor cause a car not to start? ›

The sensor will not cause a no start. It could cause a hard start and a rich or lean condition only.

Can a MAF sensor cause a no start? ›

A bad MAF will not prevent a car from starting, but will prevent it from running/driving properly. not MAF will not prevent the car from starting.

What do I do if my car wont start but everything else works? ›

What to Do If Your Car Won't Start
  1. If the Car Clicks When Trying to Start. Try Cycling the Key. Try Tapping on the Battery Terminals. Try Tapping the Starter.
  2. If There's No Click When You Turn the Key. Try Shifting the Shifter.
  3. If the Engine Cranks But Won't Fire Up. Try Swapping Relays. Try Smacking the Fuel Tank.
12 Apr 2022

Why car won't start but battery is good? ›

If your car won't start, but your battery is fine, chances are you have a bad alternator. This is another charging system issue, like a dead battery, that won't let you start your car.

What happens when fuel filter is dirty? ›

A clogged fuel filter causes low fuel pressure that results in a lean fuel condition and engine misfire. This can result in poor fuel mileage, rough idling and possibly cause the check engine light to come on. Once that light is on, it's time for a trip to the repair shop.

What are the symptoms of a faulty camshaft sensor? ›

A glowing check engine light, stalling, poor acceleration and bad fuel mileage are all possible signs your camshaft position sensor may be failing. Gone are the days of carburetors and distributors, replaced by a variety of sensors that help a car's computer get the maximum performance out of the engine.

How do you reset a camshaft sensor? ›

How to reset the camshaft position sensor? Evidently, you cannot reset a camshaft position sensor. Therefore, you will need to replace the component if your camshaft malfunctions (check engine light on, acceleration issues, sputtering and stalling, etc.).

What happens if you don't fix a crankshaft sensor? ›

If the crank sensor fails, the computer won't know how to set the ignition timing, so the engine may stop running or refuse to start. Engine stalling is also a symptom, which can possibly trigger the check-engine light. The engine may run poorly or acceleration may be affected, as well.

How does a car act when the thermostat is bad? ›

Overheating is the most common symptom of a failing thermostat. Due to corrosion or aging, your car's thermostat can get stuck in a closed position. If this happens, the thermostat will not let the coolant reach the radiator, and, as mentioned above, the engine will overheat, causing severe damage.

What sensors are needed to start a car? ›

Types of Car Sensors Used in Automobile Engine
  • The Mass Air Flow Sensor (MAF) Mass Air Flow Sensor is important for drivers (photo source: Parts Genuine) ...
  • The Engine Speed Sensor. ...
  • Oxygen Sensor. ...
  • Manifold Absolute Pressure Sensor. ...
  • Fuel Temperature Sensor. ...
  • Voltage Sensor.
22 Dec 2020

Where is the cold start sensor? ›

It sits in your car's intake manifold and links with the cold air intake. Your engine needs to be at the temperature to deliver power around the car. While older cars use a choke to deliver extra fuel, the cold start valve is its equivalent in modern cars.

Can a O2 sensor make your car not start? ›

The O2 sensor will not cause the no start. The no start can be caused by the fuel pump or the ignition system. You should check the engine for spark and fuel pressure, when it is not turning on to help narrow the problem down.

What happens if you don't fix mass air flow sensor? ›

A bad MAF sensor can cause your vehicle to experience poor drivability issues such as engine stalling, jerking or hesitation during acceleration. This could happen while speeding up on the highway on-ramp or cruising down a city street. These issues can create dangerous situations causing accidents and injury.

Can a dirty MAF sensor cause car not to start? ›

Starting Trouble

A malfunctioning mass airflow sensor can also make it difficult to start your automobile. This can be due to the air and fuel in balance in the combustion chamber or because the main computer chip has received an error code from the sensor and does not want to start your car.


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