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Car Dies When Put In Gear: 8 Common Causes & Fixes

Stalling a car when first learning to drive a manual transmission (stick shift) is a rite of passage. Also, stalling a new car with manual transmission is pretty normal, as each car’s clutch has a different feel and temperament.

But having an automatic car die when put into gear is different. It’s a sign that a mechanic is in your future. But some of these causes can impact manual cars, too.

Common causes for a car dying when put in gear are:

  1. The alternator or battery is dying
  2. Overfilling the tank
  3. Low fuel pressure
  4. Troubled torque converters
  5. Dirty air filters
  6. Coolant sensor is hot
  7. Bad fuel pumps
  8. Clutch malfunctions

1. Cars Stall When Their Alternator Or Battery Is Dying

Cars can stall when put in gear if they have problems with the alternator or a dying battery.

Getting the fuel injectors to fire takes some decent voltage, and you won’t have it if your alternator isn’t doing its job or the battery is running out of juice.

The Solution

You need to get the alternator and battery tested. A new battery isn’t going to help you if the alternator is faulty. Nor is there any point in paying the big bucks to fix or replace an alternator when it was only your battery causing the problems.

Thankfully, many battery shops will happily do this test for you for free.

2. Overfilling The Tank Can Stall A Car

Back in the day, overfilling the tank caused frequent drama, including stalling. But these days engines have better ventilation.

Nonetheless, overfilling your car could cause fuel to go down the vapor intake. This can get sucked into the charcoal canister, proceeding to damage other parts.

A pump is primed to stop when there is a lack of airflow. Fuel vents allow air to equalize the pressure between the tank and the outside.

Without enough air, there can be sprays, spills, and overflows into unfortunate places. All of which is a waste of money, even if it doesn’t cause damage to your vehicle.

The Solution

Resist trying to fill up your tank to the maximum. Instead, stop once the pump has clicked off, so you don’t waste gas and risk costly repairs.

However, if you’ve already caused damage by overfilling, then you might need to see a mechanic.

3. Bad Fuel Pumps Cause Stalling And Other Issues

Fuel pumps are handy: delivering gas from the tank to your engine. It’s not the fanciest part of your car, but bad things can happen when the fuel pump gets cranky, including stalling.  

Pumps can die due to the following:

  • Rust
  • Dirt
  • Old age
  • Overheating
  • Contaminated fuel

The Solution

Sometimes a fuel pump acts up due to poor electronics, and once that is fixed, the fuel pump is fine. However, if the fuel pump is damaged, the best fix is to replace it.

4. Car Dies When Put In Gear Due To Low Fuel Pressure

Fuel pumps need enough pressure to pump the gas into the engine. Low fuel pressure creates problems with this vital process and can lead to many issues, including the car dying when put in gear.

The Solution

If you are dealing with low fuel pressure, it’s smart to have a mechanic pinpoint the problem. As noted above, the problem could be your fuel pump.

But low fuel pressure could also be due to the following:

  • Jammed fuel injectors
  • Faulty sensors
  • Faulty pressure regulator
  • Clogged fuel filters
  • Leaking fuel lines
  • A defective fuel pump relay

5. Troubled Torque Converters Will Stall A Car

If your torque converter is having a bad day, so will the rest of the car. In the crudest terms, a torque converter is an automatic’s clutch.

The clutch of a manual allows a driver to shift gears without stalling. Thus, if your torque converter is malfunctioning, one of the signs is the car dying when put in gear.

The Solution

Torque converters are typically replaced rather than fixed. But before you sob into your emptying bank account, a faulty torque converter doesn’t mean your entire transmission is a dead-man-walking.

Sometimes it is just this part, and you’re back on the road. 

6. Dirty Air Filters Can Cause Stalling

Dirty air filters impede airflow. As mentioned, with overfilling a car, airflow is vital to an engine operating properly. Dirty or old fuel is the likely culprit to jammed, clogged, or filthy air filters.

The Solution

Dirty air filters can be cleaned. But it is essential to do it gently so you don’t damage or stretch the filter.

To clean the air filter, gently:

  1. Remove it
  2. Fill a bucket with water and grease-fighting cleaner like liquid dish soap
  3. Do not use any solvents or kerosene
  4. Add filter to the bucket of water and gentle grease-fighting cleaner
  5. Swish gently
  6. Rinse (use a bucket of clean water or carefully run under the faucet)
  7. Allow to dry
  8. Replace

7. Cars Stall When The Coolant Sensor is Hot

If the coolant sensor is hot or thinks it is hot, it can cause the car to stall. The fix depends on whether the car is overheating or the sensor is a lying jerk. 

The Solution

If the sensor is the problem, it is a matter of replacing or reprograming it so it stops telling your car’s computer lies. When the computer has the correct data, it sends out the right amount of fuel to do the job per your engine’s temperature.

If the sensor is correct and your car is overheating, and you don’t know why, you have bigger problems, and a mechanic will need to troubleshoot that right away before you wreck something very expensive.

8. Car Dies When Put In Gear Due To Clutch Malfunctions

Clutch malfunctions in a manual transmission are not always due to driver error. Sometimes the clutch is having problems because:

  • Worn-out pressure plate
  • Warped flywheel
  • A leak
  • Misalignment

The Solution

A mechanic can zero in on why the clutch is malfunctioning and make the appropriate repair or replace the part.