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Car stalling repairs, especially Chrysler, Dodge, and Plymouth

Important Note About Stalling

We have generally found most stalling issues come from one of the following areas, on fuel injected cars. (We do recommend reading this whole page, and strongly recommend first checking for computer error codes).

We would like to note that Chrysler products have a tendency to have failures in relatively inexpensive-to-fix areas, and that mechanics have a tendency to replace large, expensive parts when this happens. How many 1970s cars got new electronic ignitions systems when the $3 ballast resistor failed? How many got new engines and transmissions, or were crushed into cubes, because of ten cents worth of bad vacuum hose?

We hope this page will continue to save people from careless dealers and mechanics, and point them to relatively inexpensive parts that they can replace themselves in less time than it takes to get a ride back from the dealer.

  • Burglar alarms - probably the most common problem now. Often mis-diagnosed ... example (the symptoms often vary): I have a 96 Dodge Intrepid and it would start then just shut off... The lights would strobe and there was a ticking noise coming from somewhere around the fuse panel (inside the car)... Almost cost me $300 for a new fuel pump as that is what I was told was the "most likely culprit"... Turned out to be the security and a simple lock and unlocking of the door a few times totally fixed the problem... (Terra Sears)
  • The Hall Effect sensor - this can fail and not set an error code. However, if the computer gets no data from the Hall Effect sensor, it will assume that the engine is not turning, and will not provide any fuel. This is an inexpensive gadget that sits underneath the rotor, in the distributor cap, on cars without distributorless ignition (so this doesn't apply to cars made after about 1996). A good first step and not hard to replace, even for beginners.
    • In Steve Meade's case, in cold weather, the engine would run for about a minute, then die - each time it was started. Using the gas worked to keep it running until it ran warm. There were no codes set. In his case, he needed a new pickup rotor - part of the distributor ($113).
    • The Auto Shutdown Relay (ASD) - actually, this rarely breaks, but when it does, the engine stays off. One purpose of the auto shutdown relay is to avoid "dieselling." It kills all fuel delivery and spark. The ASD can be triggered by a broken wire or short in another place -e.g. the fuel pump.
    • The MAP sensor - another frequent cause of stalling or non-starting. This measures the air pressure in the manifold. It is usually mounted on a fender, costs around $25, and is easy to replace. You can test it - if your car won't start, just unplug the electrical connection from the MAP sensor. If it starts, replace the sensor. MAP sensor details. (It may act as though the fuel pump is not working properly - starting, then quickly dying).
    • There is a relay between the computer (PCM) and coil, at least on the 2.2/2.5 TBI, that costs about $12. If it fails, mechanics may try replacing the computer (thanks, Ronald Knauf).
    • ...and, of course, the starter relay - often this goes and it is misdiagnosed as the starter itself, the computer, etc. (thanks again, Ronald Knauf).
    • Fusible links: John Auto Tech wrote, "try checking the fuseable links located by the drivers side strut tower. Give each one a [gentle] tug to see if one stretches like a rubber band."
    • Loose or dirty computer or battery connections - surprisingly common! Or (on vintage cars) check the hot wire going into the firewall plug... on the other side the wire goes to the fuse box then to the dash- when it goes to the dash it goes to the alt meter... it is a simple fix and one that should be checked. (It is also a good place for a fire - you've got loose hot wires and lots of loose insulation)
    • The idle speed motor - this can, for example, cause stalling when the engine is cold, but not when hot. If you replace the idle air control motor (IAC), also clean the throttle body and reset the computer (you can just disconnect the battery for a few minutes). This problem can also affect newer cars such as the Neon which have no distributor.
    • Plugged exhaust (e.g. catalytic converter). F.J. MacFarlane wrote about this, noting that most or all US 2.2 carburted engines had two converters in series.
    • Clogged fuel filter or fuel line - this can be under the hood or in the tank. Similar symptoms can be caused by a weak fuel pump. There are, incidentally, two types of fuel pressure test: one which tests an instant of pressure, and a more sustained test. The latter can often solve stumble and stall problems that occur at highway speeds or under acceleration.
    • The speed (distance) sensor - see Ed Hennessy's notes below.
    • Spark plug wires - Rosegate noted that a problem with missing cylinders was resolved by changing the wires. A dealer failed to solve the problem, charging $130 apparently to change a single wire. You can do this yourself in ten minutes; you can get very high quality wires for $40 (four cylinders).
    • The oxygen sensor - somewhat expensive to replace (they cost about $40-60 just for the part), but since the oxygen sensor is the thing that tells the engine whether it's feeding too much or too little fuel, it's pretty important. The oxygen sensor can be damaged by bad gas or excess pollution from another bad sensor or part. Bad oxygen sensors can cause high idling, rough idling, stalling, lack of power, and poor fuel economy, not to mention excessive pollution. "An O2 sensor actually generates voltage and when active, varies between .5 and 1.0 V. which is rich/lean. It's working ok if you see a wave between these numbers. If you see one steady reading the sensor is likely bad. Don't forget the sensor must be hot to stard working." - Wayne Moschella
    • Fuel line cracks - it happens, and they can be hard to find. Turbo engines should be periodically and carefully inspected for leaking fuel lines, due to their higher fuel pressures. Small, hard to see fuel line cracks can cause stalling and non-starting. Check not just the main fuel line but also delivery lines that feed individual injectors (thanks, R. Jake Carr).
    • Low fuel pressure - applies only to 1988-90 models (see below).
    • Jim Zellmer wrote: a rubber elbow coming out of the rear intake manifold [may have a] crack that is not readily visible from the front of the car. The crack would open an cause a vaccuum leak big enough to shut down the engine.
  • For non-fuel injected cars, most stalling issues can be traced to the carburetor or timing settings. A good tune-up with high quality wires, rotor, and distributor cap can often permanently solve stalling. For other ideas, visit Valiant Varieties.

    Notes on dealing with bad sensors

    • Dirt and water can get between any sensor and the wire leading back to the computer, so first check the contacts for each sensor. Sometimes, you can buy a "splice kit" which replaces just the part of the wire near the sensor. If it means not buying a full harness, you can also make a temporary fix by buying the end of the wire from a junkyard and splicing it on.
    • It is safest to only buy genuine Mopar / Chrysler parts, especially with the oxygen sensor.
    • Intex Axecat noted that his Hall Effect sensor was soaked in oil - replacing the cheap O-ring on the distributor base fixed it.

    Other possible stalling solutions

    from Vern

    In the 1987 Plymouth Reliant and, likely, other cars of the era, there is a hidden connector in the power lead to the power module. From the top connector, closest to the fire wall, there is a red lead. Unwrap the binding tape from the wire bundle about 6 inches to expose an inline crimp connector (a factory kludge) which may be corroded and intermittent.

    from pckolb

    If you have a van that stalls with a fuel problem, try removing the valve on the passenger end of the front fuel rail, the one with the vacuum hose to it, let the fuel run out and flush the valve and then reinstall it. I did that with my 1990 Caravan and it hasn't stalled since. (Warning: Whenever you deal with gasoline, obey all safety precautions, e.g. first relieve fuel line pressure, do not smoke, avoid sparks, etc. Proceed at your own risk.)

    from Erik Namtvedt

    You should add a section about losing all electrical power to the entire car: this happened to me and with the 1968 Charger RT the problem is with either the ground strap for the battery etc... or check the hot wire going into the firewall plug... on the other side the wire goes to the fuse box then to the dash- when it goes to the dash it goes to the alt meter... here is where my weak link was.... it is a simple fix and one that should be checked. (It is also a good place for a fire- you've got loose hot wires and lots of loose insulation)

    from Daryl Koehl

    (3.3 V6 engine) You cannot see the problem until you actually remove the flywheel because there is a small plate that goes under the bolts that hides the problem. With the plate and flywheel removed you can see that the flywheel has sheared a complete circle around the entire set of bolts. You must remove the flywheel to see this. The effect of this shearing is that the engine timing (which is generated from the slots on the flywheel) is totally random and dynamic.

    From Andrew N.

    The vehicle is an 1988 Dodge Aries 2.2. I was having issues with the car stalling in hot weather when I would come to a stop sign or trafic light. The fuel pump was replaced but then it would start and run for about 2 to 4 seconds then stall. The auto shutdown relay was replaced with no change. A good supply of fuel was being delivered, and the return line at the throttle body had pressure; but at the gas tank there was just a trickle coming from the return line. A section of line was removed and a blockage blown out of the line. It would appear if the pressure on the return line is too great, the engine will automatically turn off. The old pump still allowed the engine to run as it was not sending enough pressure to cause the shut down.

    from Ed Hennessy

    (In response to someone whose Aries coughed, sputtered, and died sometimes when coming up to a stop sign - and sometimes recovered to a smooth idle. No computer codes were set.)

    This is a classic symptom of a dead speed-distance sensor. The hall effect tends to fail only when hot and doesn't usually matter if you stop or not. It won't start that easily again until it cools. A bad speed sensor will stall the engine, but it will always fire right up immediately.

    What happens with a bad speed sensor is that the computer can no longer tell that the car is moving or not, so it can't tell when to open the AIS motor so the motor will idle when you stop. So the engine spits, and sometimes the computer can catch it.

    I have done 3 ('87 LeBaron K 2.5, '86 Reliant 2.5, '91 Acclaim 2.5) and none have ever set a code. Apparently, the signal was in range for the computer (so no code) but completely inappropriate for conditions. All three cars had the same symptoms as yours. The LeBaron was mine, and it had a digital dash. The digital speedo had erratic readouts as well.

    You can check the sensor with an ohmmeter. Pull the sensor, and then connect the probes to the two terminals. You should see 8 pulses of zero resistance with infinite resistance in between. Anything else, and the sensor is bad. The LeBaron's had 8 zero pulses, with relatively high (but not infinite) resistance in between.

    From Victor Coutu

    (1986 2.2L Canadian Dodge Aries.) My car would abruptly die for no obvious reason. Didn't matter if I was stopped, idling, accellerating or slowing. And it would be difficult to start afterwards, ie: cranking but not firing.

    I had already replaced the O2 sensor (which was bad), plugs and wires. The fuel filter was new, and the 'Hall Effect' had been replaced by the previous owner in October of '99. I replaced the gas tank and the fuel pump as part of the requirements for a 'fitness' when I bought the car shortly afterwards. When the car ran, it ran like a song.

    I had the car scoped, and it wasn't throwing any codes, even though it stalled during the test. We were all baffled, until another mechanic wandered by and poked his head in. He noticed 'wetness' on the fender below the ignition coil, and suggested the coil might be leaking, resulting in an intermittent short.

    We pulled it, and discovered it was damp and rotten, but saw no holes and no new seepage after wiping it down. I bought a new one anyway, and took the car home to install it. When I started to remove the coil, I found a huge amount of fluid running down the underside of the 'can'. The clamp apparently had contributed to the problem, by 'squishing' the 'can' enough that it separated from its 'lid'. This was why it didn't leak while it was out of the clamp at the garage. I replaced it, and am pleased to say that the problem has disappeared.

    Low fuel pressure (Artie M.)

    This stalling problem is very common on all 1988-1990 2.2 liter engines with automatic transmission and air conditioning. It was resolved in 1991 when the computer was redesigned and the fuel pressure was increased. We had both an 88 and an 89 Sundance. Both had this problem.

    The car idles normally when in drive, but not when the a/c compressor is on. Putting the car in neutral when idling with the a/c on solves the problem, but is very annoying. The problem starts between 50-60k miles and gets worse. Changing the parts suggested is previous responses won't work.

    For some reason (I never could find out why) the automatic idle speed motor runs out of adjustment range (motor wear? tranny wear? a/c wear?) We solved the problem using two not very elegant fixes. On one car we jury rigged an old a/c solonoid (the type used on cars w/carburetors). It was a pain to hook up but it did work, opening up the trottle plate about a sixteenth of an inch when the compressor engaged. On the other car, we adjusted (which you are not supposed to do) the throttle plate adjusting screw about 1 1/2 to 2 turns clockwise which was easy to do. The car idled OK in drive with the a/c on, except in very hot weather (when the compressor had to put out higher pressures). The downside was that with the tranny in park and the a/c off, the motor idled at about 900 rpm.

    We never had any problems with either car, both got over 30mpg on the highway and had about 150,000 miles on them when we got rid of them. The only non-maintenance items we relaced were 2 map sensors on each car, and a radiator on one.

    Stalling in wet weather

    Try replacing the wires and making sure they are all tight, and spray with silicone spray all wires related to the ignition under the hood (including the electronic ignition wires - not the ignition brain itself, and watch to avoid getting the silicone into the connectors.) You can also check to make sure the wiring harnesses are seated properly. I think Chrysler recommends taking 'em out, cleaning them, spraying them wtih a special white grease - not ordinary lithium grease - and putting 'em back in again. Also check and clean the battery cables where they attach to the posts!

    Dakota cold stalling

    My '91 Dodge Dakota started giving me drivability problems - meaning it would die out when cold, then restart when I shut off the key and restarted. Allpar led me in the right directions to troubleshoot the components that feed the engine computer, and I finally decided it had to be changed. One long-standing problem had been a bad voltage regulator (part of the computer) which I had "wired around" with the regulator out of an '89 diesel model, so I replaced the engine computer and removed the external regulator.

    The engine computer comes in two versions, california spec and other-49. my truck started life as a california spec, but I don't live in california, so decided to try to save a hundred bucks by getting the other-49 computer and see what would happen. Everybody told me it would never work, the engine would either not run or self-destruct. What a surprise! Starts better, runs smoother, has more initial pickup than ever before! will have to see what the long-term fuel economy change is, but I am really glad I did this!

    From jerry rogich: fuse block

    My 1993 Dakota 5.2L would buck, stall and sometimes not start. I had a 42 error (ASD) /51/52 and found the ASD relay was ok but the voltage was disappear. Found that under the fuse block, inside the harness there is a junction of 3 green wires that had oxidized and was intermittent. Fixed this and everything was ok.

    MAP sensor note

    Jim Siperek wrote: There was a tech bulletin for this that suggested a MAP sensor valve kit (basically a vacuum tee, a short piece of vacuum hose and a vacuum valve) that cures the problem of failing MAP sensors. My '87 Reliant wagon ate 3 MAP sensors in less than a year (2 vacuum failures & an electrical failure) until a dealer told me about this kit. Try talking to your local CPDJ dealer and have them look this up for you. It never failed again after I installed it.

    Bad pump ("seatiger")

    Found that my 1987 Dodge Shadow ES began stalling when idling and turned the steering wheel. The hydraulic steering pump is almost dead. Disconnected the belt pump and the car run smooth and without rough idling.

    Water in the sensors

    “I have a 1993 Chrysler Town & Country minivan - 3.3L V6, 160,000 miles - that would momentarily cut out - sometimes for just a split second, and sometimes for several seconds. Didn't matter whether I was accelerating, cruising, slowing, or idling. Looked everywhere online trying to find a similar problem. PepBoys and the dealer said either the CRANKSHAFT or CAMSHAFT position sensors were the most likely culprits. Read online somewhere that these sensors don't like rainy weather, and can act up from such. All I did was crawl underneath, found the crankshaft sensor, wiggled it around a little, and that fixed the problem!!!! (Might try unplugging and plugging it back in too).
    Felt like I should post this since I haven't seen much about these two important sensors (my van has distributorless ignition, so it doesn't have hall-effect).”

    From Jay Smith

    A number of years ago my 1989 Ramcharger would start and then immediately stall. I could let it sit from anywhere between 1-12 hours before it would start and stay running. After a total of 3 days over a one month period, a dealership was unable to locate the problem. One day I started going though everthing... as I was laying under the truck, I noticed that the gas tank was deformed (plastic tank)... the whole center of the tank was bowed upward! I reached around the side to the gas cap and as I loosened the cap, I could here air being pulled into the tank and the center of the tank fell back to where it should have been. I'm assuming that when I had a low fuel level, the valving in the gas cap wasn't letting fresh air into the tank; as fuel went out while driving, a vacuum was created and the center of the tank would pull up and interfere with the fuel pickup. If the truck sit long enough, enough air would bleed back into the tank to stop the interfence. I took the cap apart and cleaned it but it happened again so I just drilled a very small hole through the cap and haven't had a problem in 14 years. [Allpar would recommend buying a new cap to avoid unnecessary evaporative emissions.]

    Bohdan Bodnar's troubleshooting: 2 examples

    Stall at low rpm

    I have been having problems with my 1987 Horizon. When I go to take off, it wants to die. The only way that I can get it to take off is to take the rpm's up to about 6000. When I speed up, it will hop. When it does this the tach. will also hop or jump around.

    The distributor pickup will not cause these types of problems -- it will cause the engine to either cut out or cut in. I don't know whether this is a fuel injected engine or not so some of the following comments may not be applicable; I also don't recall whether this car has an automatic transmission or not:

    Fuel injected with automatic transmission.

    Pull diagnostic trouble codes. After the "55" has been flashed, move the transmission gear selector from Park to Neutral to Reverse/Drive. The power loss light should flash indicating that the computer is seeing changes in the neutral safety switch. If no changes are seen, the engine may bog when switching gears because the idle anticipation will not work. Injector base pulse width is also partially controlled by this switch.

    Fuel injected.

    Check to ensure that there are no TPS related diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs). In an EFI engine, the TPS serves as an "electronic" accelerator pump. If the TPS circuit is not operating, the computer will not be able to react to sudden changes in throttle setting.

    Check fuel pressure against factory specs. If this is TBI, pressure should be 14.5 psi +/- 1 psi.

    All engines.

    The symptoms you've described appear to be "trailer hitching." This is often traced to the ignition system malfunctioning. My recommendation is that you measure the resistance of the ignition wires and replace any which exceed roughly 15k ohms (you can operate substantially above factory specs IF the rest of the ignition system is in pristine condition -- like in my 1986 Le Baron). If the rotor appears to be worn, replace rotor AND cap. Check the resistance of the ignition coil -- primary should be about 1.5 ohms whereas secondary will be a few kilo-ohms. If you have access to a conventional oscilloscope, scope the primary side of the ignition coil; the pulse width (burn time) should be between 0.85 ms and about 2 ms (my Le Baron has between 1.9 and 2.1 ms). Also, the pulse during the burn time should BE FLAT. If it's tilting upward, then you have either excessive circuit resistance or lean misfire. The firing voltage (spike) should be around 200 volts; if it's substantially less than that, then either you have a short someplace in the secondary ignition system or the primary has excessive resistance. If you have an EFI engine, measure the voltage from the + side of the ignition coil to ground -- it should be within a few hundred millivolts of battery voltage (the positive side also goes to the fuel pump -- the entire circuit is fed by the ASD relay in the computer/power module). Check sparkplugs -- gap on the Champion RN12YC sparkplugs is 0.035" (THIS I know by heart!).

    Clean the coolant temperature sensor connections with television tuner cleaner -- these will often corrode and cause the computer to see an abnormally low temperature (and thus flood the engine).

    Carbureted engine

    Assuming you've done all the above, connect a high impedance dwell meter to the mixture control solenoid. Set the meter for the 6 cylinders scale. With the engine in closed loop, the average dwell should be 30 degrees (50% duty cycle on the m/c solenoid). See the FAQ for further details.

    Immediate stall

    It starts, then immediately stalls, warm or cold...like the bottom falls out. About a month ago I had it diagnosed and replaced the SMEC (computer). It seemed to fix it until Wednesday, when I had the battery replaced. Same problem again. Start, stall, start stall. I replaced the oxygen sendor, the EGR, temp sensor, took off the throttle body and cleaned it with gumout spray. It seems to run better for a while after fuel injector cleaning. A new fuel pump was installed about 4 months ago with a new filter. 14.5PSI and the DBI reads the AIS is OK.

    Bohdan Bodnar wrote: I think a lot of stuff was blindly replaced without thinking things through. If this was my car, here's what I'd do:

    On a cold engine, read the coolant temperature sensor output and see if it agrees with the ambient temperature. On my 1986 Le Baron, the measured temperature and ambient agree to within about 2 degrees F (sometimes, the agreement's even better). If you don't have a scan tool, take a reading with a high-impedance voltmeter and send me the voltage reading -- I have a table of temperature vs. voltage for all EFI Chrysler products through 1992 (1993?).

    Measure the resistance of the secondary side of the ignition coil to one of the primary terminals. It should be (working from memory here) around 8k ohms. If it's more than about 12k, replace the coil. Primary side resistance should be around 1.3 ohms (from memory). If it's above 2 ohms or below about 1 ohm, replace the coil. If you have specs, use THEM, not me -- I haven't measured the resistance on one of these coils for over a year.

    Stick a high impedance voltmeter from the switched battery feed on the ignition coil to ground and put the ignition key in run. For about two seconds, you'll read something very close to battery voltage -- the difference should be < 500 mV. The positive side of the ignition coil is electrically connected to the fuel pump; this circuit is driven off of the autoshutdown relay inside the SMEC (Power Module, in my case).

    Measure the resistance of the fuel injector + throttle body harness. It should be around 1.2 ohms. Resistance specs for this injector vary year-to-year. In general, the resistance is around 1 to 1.5 ohms. The harness introduces around 0.3 ohm extra resistance.

    What is the condition of the spark plugs? This engine takes Champion RN12YC with 0.035" gap.

    Measure the resistance of the ignition wires. Each wire should be, at most, around 10k ohms (Chrysler's specs are lower than this, but I don't have the pertinent information available). If any wire's significantly higher than this, replace it. Is the cap and rotor ok?

    Connect a high-impedance voltmeter to the red wire on the MAP sensor and put the car in "run" (engine off). You should read 5.0 volts. Now, read the signal return voltage -- it should be around 4.9 volts (green wire, probably). Connect a vacuum pump to the MAP sensor and pump up a vacuum. The voltage should fall. If it doesn't, replace the sensor. Examine the vacuum hose which you just disconnected; does it have a silicone gel visible? If so, then the MAP sensor's falling apart internally. Check the hose going from the MAP sensor to the vacuum source for integrity.

    My intuition is that this is an ignition problem. On a cranking engine, the a/f mixture is very rich and therefore easy to ignite. Once you start the engine, the computer will lean the a/f mixture. Your fuel pressure looks perfect (if the return hose was clogged, the pressure would be MUCH higher. Is the fuel system intact? With the fuel pressure gauge connected to the intake side, put the ignition key in "run" (engine off). The computer will turn on the fuel pump for about 2 seconds and pulse the injector. The fuel pressure should be stable for several minutes. If it drops quickly, then something's leaking (injector, regulator, or bad check valve in the pump).

    New "immediate stall" repair

    I had this exact problem with my 1989 Caravan (2.5L TBI engine). The van was running fine then started acting like I would expect if the fuel pump were about to die. Within a couple days it had progressed to a start then immediate stall condition exactly as described [above]. Here's what's going on (or at least in my case).

    There appear to be two controls for the injector, one which fires the injector during startup and another (the main ECM) which takes over controlling the injector approximately 1 sec after start. The start circuit seems to have have much more current behind it than the ECM running feed. (I suspect to allow starting with a low battery where the ECM may not get sufficient voltage during cranking) .

    When the plunger in the injector is sticking due to varnish build up, this start signal is able to operate the injector while the running feed from the ECM doesn't have enough current (injector function is an electromagnet - more current=more pull on the internal plunger). It would start, but immediately stall every time. In my case I removed the injector from the car and backflushed it with cleaner. Problem solved.

    Since my method of backflushing the injector is probably a bit technical for the average DIY (involving a modified 9v power supply to pulse the injector at 60hz, hose and a hand pump), it may be advisable to recommend people simply replace the injector, especially considering the average person may not understand the cleanliness factor while doing this as any dust or grit accidently flushed up through the bottom of the injector could ruin it anyway, resulting in another misdiagnosis when they reinstall a stuck injector thinking it is now "good".

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