Why Does My Car Splutter or Chug?

Fuel Doctor

Why Does My Car Splutter or Chug?

As someone who deals with cars day in and day out this is a question I get asked very often. If you Google the question you will find the widest (and wildest) selection of answers you ever wanted to see. So, I thought I might write a bit about it to give you my take on the answer.

All vehicles are different. They have all been through different experiences in their lives. Because of this there is no one correct answer to fit all cases. However, as a specialist contaminated fuel technician my first thought when someone tells me that their engine is chugging is “have they misfuelled it”. Attempting to drive a vehicle with contaminated fuel can cause the engine to splutter and chug. This is the easiest thing to check and it won’t cost you a thing: Simply take a look at your last few fuel receipts, or open the filler cap and take a sniff. Both petrol and diesel have distinctly different smells. If you don’t know the difference then get another vehicle that you know is fine and smell the fuel in it to compare.

Once you’ve checked this, find a diagnostic tool (or find a friend who has one) and find out what fault codes are reading. Other problems that can cause an engine to sputter include, but are not limited to:

– Faulty spark-plugs/coils
– Defective throttle body
– Mis-adjusted timing
– Blocked, clogged or worn fuel lines, filter or injectors
– etc

Get the diagnostic checks done before you send it into the shop or else risk building up a huge bill for “exploritory surgery” as the mechanic tries to fix all possible faults without finding the actual cause and just fixing that.

4 thoughts on “Why Does My Car Splutter or Chug?”

  1. i have a question i just done a radiator flush in my 98 dodge stratus but when i got done with it, it still keeps making a chugging noise, its not the head casket no oil goes into the antifreeze the spark plugs and wires have also been changed. so can you tell me what it could be that causes it to chug? and if its normal?

    1. Hi Terry,
      Without being able to look at it I couldn’t really say. Have you run a diagnostic on it?
      Something that might help, however, is this link I found specifically on Dodges. Check it out.
      The Fuel Man

  2. Hello,

    Thank you for your post, I have one question. I have a 2011 Kia Rio that chugs all the time….if I’m idling and especially if I’m trying to gas up. I took my car to Kia with the issue, and they ran all diagnostics on it and all they could come up with was they don’t know what’s causing it. Do you have any ideas?

    1. Hi Catherine,
      Unfortunately, as I said in the post, there could be any number of reasons for this problem. Did you try what I suggested in the post?
      The only other way to resolve it would be to get it in to a trusted mechanic to do a full diagnostic check. Your local dealership might not have the best technician working on the vehicle. I once had a Citroen that was acting up. The local Citroen dealer was not able to find the fault after 3 weeks of working on it. Ironically I managed to solve it myself in the end by replacing the throttle body – something the dealer hadn’t even checked – although he should have.
      Sorry I can’t be more helpful but without having it in front of me I can’t really give an accurate answer.
      The Fuel Man

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