How to Prevent a Car from Dying

Cars are complex mechanical and electrical parts of our daily lives. Many different systems can cause the vehicle to die, usually when it is most inconvenient. The most important part of preparing is having regular maintenance performed.

This article will cover the various items to check and maintain that can cause the vehicle to die. The parts are the electrical system, oil system, cooling system, ignition system and the fuel system.

Part 1 of 5: Electrical charging system

Materials Needed

car

The vehicle's charging system is responsible for keeping the vehicle's electrical system charged so the car can continue to run.

Step 1: Check the battery voltage and condition. This can be done with a multimeter to check for the voltage or a battery tester which also tests the condition of the battery.

Step 2: Check the alternator output. The voltage can be checked with the multimeter or an alternator tester.

Part 2 of 5: Checking the engine and transmission oil

Material Needed

  • Shop rags

Low or no engine oil can stop the engine from running and cause it to seize. If the transmission fluid is low or empty, the transmission may not shift right or operate at all.

Step 1: Check the engine for any oil leaks. These may range from areas that look wet to areas that are actively dripping.

person inspecting oil reading

Step 2: Check the oil level and condition. Locate the dipstick, pull it out, wiping it clean, and reinsert and pull it out again.

The oil should be a nice clear amber color. If the oil is dark brown or black it needs replaced. Make sure the oil level is at the proper height as well when you check it.

Step 3: Check the transmission oil and level. The method to check the transmission fluid varies with make and model and some may not be able to be checked at all.

Fluid should be clear red for most automatic transmissions. Check for any oil leaks or seeps on the transmission body, too.

Part 3 of 5: Cooling system check

The vehicle's cooling system is responsible for keeping the engine temperature within a specified range. When the temperature gets too high, the vehicle can overheat and die.

Step 1: Check the coolant level. The cooling system coolant level will need to be checked.

Step 2: Inspect the radiator and hoses. The radiator and hoses are a common source of leaks and should be inspected.

Step 3: Inspect the cooling fan. The cooling fan should be inspected for proper operation so the system is running at its best.

Part 4 of 5: Engine ignition system

Spark plugs and wires, coil packs, and the distributor are the ignition system. These provide the spark that burns the fuel allowing the vehicle to run. When one or more components are not working, the vehicle has a misfire which can prevent the vehicle from running.

worn spark plug vs new one

Step 1: Check the spark plugs. Spark plugs are a regular maintenance item and should be replaced at manufacturer's service intervals.

Be sure to note the coloration and wear on the spark plugs. Usually the spark plug wires if equipped are replaced at the same time.

Other vehicles are equipped with a single distributor or coil packs on each cylinder. These components all are checked to make sure the spark gap does not get too large or the resistance gets too high.

Part 5 of 5: Fueling system

Material Needed

The fuel system is controlled by the ECU and supplies fuel to the engine to be burned to keep it running. The fuel filter is a common maintenance item that must be replaced to avoid clogging in the fuel system. The fuel system consists of the fuel rail, injectors, fuel filters, gas tank and fuel pump.

person checking fuel pressure with a gauge

Step 1: Check the fuel pressure. If the fuel system is is not operating properly, the engine may not run at all, causing the engine to die.

Intake air leaks can also cause the engine to die because the ECU leans the fuel/air ratio out, causing stalling. Use a fuel gauge to determine if your pressure is within the proper range. Consult your vehicle’s manual for specific details.

When the car cuts out and loses power it can be a scary situation, one that should be avoided at all costs. Many different systems can cause the car to cut out and lose all power. You should be sure to have a safety inspection performed and to keep your car on a regular maintenance schedule.


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Pardeep

21 years of experience
857 reviews
Pardeep
21 years of experience
Ford Fusion - 75 Point Safety Inspection - San Jose, California
I have ordered a 75-point inspection of the car since my dealership claimed it had an oil leak and the timing cover replacement was due (this kind of repair costs in the ballpark of a thousand dollars). I mentioned the need for a second opinion on that since the car had been bought relatively recently from that dealer (certified pre-owned) and not very actively used. Pradeep performed the safety inspection in a very timely manner and addressed my main question by honestly concluding that there was no leak but just some dust collected over time. This has saved me much time and money. Finally, I was also very glad to learn a tip on how to find a matching paint for a body scratch from him.
Ford Escape - 75 Point Safety Inspection - San Jose, California
Pradeep immediately found the suspension problem I was worried about and fixed it. We had just purchased this car and now feel a lot better about it now that he has checked it out.

Honorio

19 years of experience
828 reviews
Honorio
19 years of experience
Hyundai Accent - 75 Point Safety Inspection - Sunnyvale, California
Honorio not only told me what is going on with the car but was so honest about everything. Looking forward to having Honorio taking car of my requests.
Acura RDX - 75 Point Safety Inspection - Palo Alto, California
Honorio went above and beyond my expectations. He was honest about which repairs needed to be done even though my service revision decreased his income. Will absolutely use again!!!! Thank you!

Robert

4 years of experience
51 reviews
Robert
4 years of experience
Nissan Versa - 75 Point Safety Inspection - Lakewood, Washington
Robert is a rockstar. I can't express enough (again) the quality of his work and his ability to work around our schedules here. Honest, professional and courteous. I would recommend his services to any and everyone.

Juan

12 years of experience
28 reviews
Juan
12 years of experience
Mazda Protege5 - 75 Point Safety Inspection - Vacaville, California
Professional, clear, & courteous when discussing results of inspection & recommendations going forward. If I still live in the area when I need to do future services, will definitely book again.

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