Not many things are as frustrating as suddenly losing engine power when trying to accelerate. Whether you’re attempting to merge onto the highway or needing to make a crucial pass, an abrupt loss of acceleration can be completely jarring, not to mention dangerous.
While it may seem like your engine is giving out at the worst possible moment, in most cases there is a mechanical or electrical culprit behind your car’s power problems. Here are the most common causes of a car that loses power when accelerating.
Common Reasons Your Car Loses Power While Driving
Unfortunately, determining the cause of your vehicle losing power isn’t as easy as some other problems. For that reason, it’s always a good idea to start with the cheapest and/or easiest solutions when it comes to proper diagnosis.
1) Bad Spark Plugs
The internal combustion engine of your vehicle relies on the spark plugs for transmitting the electrical signal from the ignition coils to the internal combustion chamber. Once that happens, an electric spark ignites the mixture of fuel and air.
Therefore, if you have faulty spark plugs that cannot transmit this electrical signal, then the performance of your engine will weaken and you won’t be able to accelerate as fast. It will eventually get to the point where it won’t accelerate at all.
2) Bad MAF Sensor
Your Mass Airflow Sensor (MAF) directly influences how your car’s engine control unit (ECU) balances the air and fuel mixture. If you’ve got a faulty MAF sensor, you’ll notice a decline in engine power as it results in an improper mix. Keep an eye out for rough idling or trouble starting the car as signs of a MAF sensor malfunction.
3) Faulty Ignition Coil
The ignition system has ignition coils which convert 12 volts of power from your battery into the 20,000 volts of power needed to ignite the engine. If you were to have a bad ignition coil, then the mixture of fuel and air inside the engine would not be ignited adequately. This means you would lose power as you put your foot on the gas pedal.
4) Clogged Fuel Filter
Imagine your car’s trying to sip gas through a clogged straw – that’s what a clogged fuel filter will do. A fuel filter that’s dirty or has a blockage will restrict the flow of fuel to the engine, leading to a drop in performance, especially noticeable when trying to accelerate.
This is due to the simple fact that the engine requires more fuel when increasing speed, and a clogged filter can impede the necessary fuel volume from reaching the engine.
5) Bad Fuel Injectors
A car engine depends on its fuel injectors inside of the fuel system. A fuel injector is responsible for actually spraying the fuel, brought in by the fuel pump, into each cylinder.
Obviously, if the fuel injector goes bad or is clogged, then it won’t be able to adequately spray fuel into the engine. This would result in the engine being unable to produce enough power to accelerate.
Often, running a fuel injector cleaner through your system can clear up a clogged injector but other times, replacement may be necessary.
6) Bad Fuel Pump
The fuel pump is how fuel inside of the gas tank is brought to the engine for combustion. The fuel pump also regulates the pressure of the fuel as it is transferred in order to accommodate the engine’s needs.
A faulty fuel pump would cause an inconsistent supply of fuel to be transferred. This will result in poor engine performance and acceleration.
7) Low Compression
The internal combustion process relies on strong cylinder compression for the vehicle to generate enough power to accelerate. If there is a low level of compression due to bad seals or other issue, there will be a low level of power being generated by the engine.
8) Exhaust Pipe is Clogged
The exhaust pipe is comprised of two filters called the catalytic converter and the muffler. The catalytic converter reduces the pollution produced by the exhaust fumes. The muffler reduces the noise produced.
If either of these filters or the exhaust pipe were to have something clogging them, then it would impair the engine and cause the power it generates to be reduced. Before replacing a clogged or dirty catalytic converter, it’s worth using a good catalytic converter cleaner first.
9) Bad Throttle Body
The throttle body controls the amount of air entering the engine, and if it’s not functioning properly, it can lead to a variety of issues including uneven acceleration, rough idling, engine stalling, and a lack of power.
A faulty throttle body may not open fully or respond correctly to the gas pedal, resulting in poor engine performance and reduced acceleration
10) Dirty Air Filter
When the internal combustion chamber mixes air and gasoline to produce power, the air first goes through an air filter before it enters the chamber. This filter helps keep out all the outside debris and bugs from the chamber.
If you were to have a clogged or dirty air filter, then not enough air would be getting into the engine for optimal combustion. Thus you will have a lack of power when trying to accelerate.
11) Turbocharger and Boost Problems
Got a turbo? Problems with the turbocharger or related components in a turbocharged engine can result in a lack of expected power under acceleration.
For example, damage to turbo blades or bearings can cause the turbo to not properly generate increased engine boost pressure under acceleration. Air leaks in the tubes between the turbo and engine will also decrease usable boost.
Additionally, any sensors or controls related to the turbocharger and boost system could malfunction and not signal the engine to produce adequate power when accelerating.
12) Transmission Issue
Sometimes, what may feel like the engine losing power is actually caused by a transmission problem.
Worn clutch plates may slip when torque is applied, failing to transfer power from the engine to the wheels properly. Low transmission fluid levels can starve internal components of needed lubrication, causing delayed engagement or slippage.
Faulty solenoids that control gear engagement may not activate on cue, leading to bands slipping instead of locking firm. Internal leaks can also reduce line pressure, compromising the transmission’s ability to firmly shift gears.
In any case, the result is accelerated RPMs without proportional vehicle acceleration due to power transfer inefficiency within the transmission.
13) Engine Knock
Engine knock, also known as predetonation or “pinging” is uncontrolled fuel ignition inside the combustion chamber.
Combustion engines are precisely timed so they can maximize power and efficiency. If the fuel burns before it’s supposed to, the piston may not be in the correct position in the cylinder. This could cause loss of power and even catastrophic engine damage.
14) Clogged Catalytic Converter
The catalytic converter is responsible for cleaning exhaust gases, converting toxic gases such as NOx and carbon monoxide into less toxic molecules.
A restriction in the catalytic converter would prevent the exhaust gases from exiting properly. In extreme cases, this can even cause a fire so this issue should be addressed as soon as possible.