Skip the auto shop - Our mechanics make house calls

Q: Engine idle fluctuates

asked by on

When traveling above 20MPH, if I use the breaks and take the load off the engine (press clutch/shift to neutral) the engine RPM drops instantly to 1,000 and bounces between that and 1,500 until either my speed falls below 20MPH, or I let off the break pedal. My engine has a high idle problem I'm also working to diagnose and the two may be related. Normally with no load on the engine it idles at around 2K. Sometimes this can be adjusted by revving, which drops it by 500-1K. The idle fluctuation when breaking problem is somewhat intermittent. I have an after market K&N filter on it. I've cleaned the MAF and throttle body. Replaced the idle air control valve. Changed spark plugs.

My car has 175000 miles.
My car has a manual transmission.

This may need to have the throttle stop screw adjusted. The throttle stop screw’s primary function is to prevent the throttle blade from closing too far and getting wedged/stuck in the throttle bore. However, it serves as a secondary function to adjust the minimum air setting. The “minimum air setting” is what is used to describe the amount of air that is allowed to enter the engine thru a “closed” throttle. Because the throttle valve cannot be allowed to completely close (because this would result in it getting wedged/stuck closed in the throttle bore), some air will always be allowed to enter the engine around the throttle valve. On a 100% factory stock engine, you should never need to adjust the throttle stop screw. But there are times when the adjustment of this screw is necessary. One example of this is when the engine is modified, or a different throttle body is being used than what originally came with the engine. Larger displacement engines require more air to maintain a set idle speed. Aftermarket camshafts with lots of duration or lots of overlap tend to lower the amount of vacuum an engine can generate at idle. Lower vacuum levels translate to less pressure differential between the intake manifold and outside (ambient) air. This means there isn’t as much pressure difference to force air into the engine around the throttle blade or thru the IAC passage at idle. Either the IAC needs to open up or the throttle blade must be opened more to allow more air to enter the engine. Engines that have higher compression or are new/rebuilt can have higher internal loads/friction which can also result in a drop of idle vacuum levels. In short, any condition that increases load on the engine will result in the vacuum level to drop at idle, which will require the IAC or throttle blade to be opened up to compensate.

Was this answer helpful?

Need advice from certified mechanic? Get help now!

Over 1000 mechanics are ready to answer your question.
The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details

Ask a Mechanic
(100% Free)

Have a car question? Get free advice from our top-rated mechanics.

Ask A Mechanic
Over 10,000 questions answered!
  1. Home
  2. Questions
  3. Engine idle fluctuates

Get an instant quote for your car

Our certified mechanics come to you ・Backed by 12-month, 12,000-mile guarantee・Fair and transparent pricing

Get a quote

What others are asking

Q: At highway speeds, car loses power

I would check the fuel pressure (for being low) before doing anything else. If it is, check the fuel pressure regulator. (A clogged catalytic convertor would be a constant problem, not intermittent as you describe.) A professional mechanic, like one...

Q: How do you know if your water pump is bad on a gm3400 v-6? It is not leaking, but continues to run hot with a new radiator/stat.

The cooling system on these cars are notoriously difficult to deal with. I have extensive experience with this model of vehicle, and I can say with confidence that getting the cooling system bled can be quite hard to do at...

Q: Hard start, rough idle, then idles fine, acts like not getting fuel, has new fuel pump

Hello there, thanks for writing in. Many faults will cause a rough starting and lack of power with your 2001 Toyota Corolla. The most likely causes of this are a clogged fuel filter, spark plugs, coil, failed fuel injectors, wiring...

Related articles

What Causes Hoses to Leak?
While the largest part of your engine is mechanical, hydraulics plays a significant role. You’ll find fluids at work in a number of different areas. Your car's fluids include: Engine oil Transmission...
What are the Car Pool Rules in Hawaii?
Hawaii is widely regarded as a land of vacation and relaxation, and as such, its scenic roads and routes are far better known than the state’s freeways. But, as with all...
How Much Does a Mechanic Make in Vermont?
Automotive technician jobs in Vermont have an average mechanic salary of $37k, with some mechanics earning a salary of $53k.