When Your Car Isn’t Missing But Your Engine Is

Does this sound familiar to you? You turn on the radio and think you’ll jam your way to work, maybe with a side trip to the coffee shop to get something to drink.

But not so fast. What’s that sound? It’s not as loud as gunfire, but it sounds like a misfire. It’s the last thing you want to hear. Engine repair, here you come. 

Cars are complex.

A misfire can happen anytime, and there’s no mistaking it. You could be heading up a hill, and even though you step on the gas, the engine jerks, and you can’t go any faster.

Merging onto a highway is definitely not the time to have a backfire! And if you’re passing someone on a two-lane road, you’d best watch out; you need that extra push. You don’t need to feel like you’re driving in sludge.

And What Do We Mean By “Missing”? 

“Missing” means your engine is “misfiring.” It means that at least one of your engine’s cylinders is not producing power, so it’s not working. When a cylinder misfires, what causes it? How can you tell if it’s failing? 

A cracked distributor cap, defective spark plugs, spark plug wires, or dirty fuel injectors could be the cause. 

It might sound like a spinning washing machine, or it might sound like cascading, sputtering, banging, chuffing, or rattling. And that black smoke behind you? It indicates your car’s about to go kaput, and it’s not going to be pretty.

There’s a good chance you’re about to see the dreaded “Check Engine” light if your engine has built-in sensors. 

What Causes Misfires?

One of the biggest problems with automobile maintenance is misfires because (1) they indicate something is wrong, and (2) they can be challenging to diagnose. 

Several components can cause misfires, including your fuel system, fuel filter, or fuel injectors that are clogged or not working properly. It’s impossible to ignore them – at least, you shouldn’t ignore them – and understanding the cause isn’t always easy. Problems can’t be fixed unless you know why they exist. So what could be wrong?

  • The fuel cylinders might be dirty.
  • Is it possible that your gas might be dirty or contain water? A fuel-related misfire usually occurs at idle speed, which is a clue.
  • You may have worn spark plugs or wires in your electrical system. It’s important to note that worn spark plugs may result in the fuel-air mixture not being burned as thoroughly, even though spark plugs last much longer than they used to. If the wires look worn or old, you might want to change them along with your spark plugs.
  • Make sure your ignition coil and its connections are working correctly.
  • You may have a vacuum leak in any hoses or seals that move air to and from the engine. 
  • Perhaps you have problems with your emissions system or the catalytic converter. 


Stalling includes:

  • If the engine nearly stalls at a stoplight, then starts again. You may be able to smell gas inside the car. 
  • Another symptom of an engine misfire is if the car hiccups. Maybe you’re thinking adding gas will keep it running. Gas consumption is likely to increase if the combustion process is working poorly. 
  • Loss of power isn’t what you want to hear, but if the fuel pump quits, you won’t be able to restart your car. 

Your car is the same as any other machine. Unintentionally slowing down or stalling out means your car needs something. Owners of any vehicle should be aware of their vehicle. Something is likely wrong if it doesn’t sound right or has no drive.

Loss of Steering

There are other causes of power steering loss besides stalling. Damaged hoses can cause fluid to leak, and a faulty pump can cause it to fail. Hydraulic power steering fluid needs to be replenished during regular maintenance to ensure proper operation. 

A loss of steering is frightening; you have no control over your car, and all you can do is veer to the side of the road (hopefully, you can do so safely) and call the repair shop.

Rough Idling

We’ve all heard those cars that pull up to us at a stoplight when they sound like they are clunky and rough, but did you know it can be the sign of a misfire? Starting and stopping abruptly is not the most comforting feeling in the world, but it does warn that there might be a problem with the air-to-fuel mixture. This kind of misfire can cause the vehicle’s cabin to smell like fuel and cause bumpy driving. 

So What Can You Do? 

You have to keep in mind that misfires are complicated for most vehicles. Many parts of the car’s engine can be affected by these problems. Because they occur at different times (idling versus acceleration), sound different, and can hide behind other issues, they can be difficult to diagnose. 

Suppose you have a “Check Engine” light on your car – how many things could cause it to light up? You can only decipher the diagnostic codes behind that light with the right equipment and experience. 

How long can you drive when your engine misfires? What if you keep going? Incorrect combustion causes excess heat to damage your car’s systems.

Ignoring the symptoms of a severe problem is never a good idea. Qualified technicians can diagnose and correct any issues causing the misfires.  

Not only can you destroy your engine by neglecting misfires, but there’s also no way to pinpoint the cause without the right equipment and training. The wise move is to find a trustworthy auto repair company to get you back on the road.