9 Reasons Your Car Jerks When Accelerating

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Cars have become increasingly complex over the years, and with that have been a growing number of symptoms that can mean multiple things. Thankfully, many of these symptoms can be diagnosed and remedied without specialty equipment.

If your car jerks when accelerating, it can be an indication of several current or potential problems. Here we’ll go over the most common culprits and how to fix the issue.

Why Your Car Jerks, Lurches, or Stutters When You Accelerate

When car feels like it’s jerking, surging, bucking, or stuttering after you step on the gas pedal, it’s usually a result of inadequate fuel, air, or spark during the combustion process. However, there are other things that can be the cause. You want to find and fix the problem as soon as possible before it gets worse and costlier to fix.

#1 – Dirty Fuel Injectors

fuel injector replacement cost

This is a common and annoying problem that can be responsible for a variety of issues. Dirty injectors can cause your car to lose power and make your car jerk while driving at constant speed or from a stop due to frequent engine misfires. You can also hear as the engine stutters from inconsistent fuel intake.

Cleaning the injectors should be done regularly to avoid this problem. Thankfully, this process is quite easy using a fuel injector or fuel system cleaner. However, the injectors can be so fouled up with carbon deposits that even the best fuel injector cleaner may not do the trick. In those cases, you’ll have to either have to take the injectors out to attempt to manually clean or simply replace them.

#2 – Blocked Catalytic Converter

A catalytic converter is responsible for reducing the amount of pollutants that exit out of a car’s exhaust. When the air/fuel mixture in your engine is too rich, a blockage can develop in the catalytic converter over time which disrupts the airflow of the exhaust system.

This can result in stuttering, jerking, and an overall delay in responsiveness whenever you step on the gas. Besides the jerking, other symptoms may include a rotten egg smell (hydrogen sulphide), a drop in the car’s fuel efficiency, and the check engine light may come on.

You may be able to unclog minor blockages by first using a good catalytic converter cleaner. If that doesn’t work, you’ll need to take it to an auto repair shop to fix the problem which will likely include replacement of the catalytic converter.

#3 – Faulty Mass Airflow Sensor

bad mass airflow sensor

If you notice your car surging forward or jerking at high speeds, it may be due to a mass airflow sensor (MAF) that is failing. Its job is to measure the amount of air entering the engine so it can relay this info to the car’s computer. The computer then instructs the fuel injectors to provide the right amount of fuel at the right time for proper air/fuel mixture.

With a faulty MAF sensor, you may experience your car unexpectedly jerking or surging forward while driving at higher speeds such as on the highway where it would be most noticeable. A check engine light should be present when the mass airflow sensor is bad but you can easily confirm via an OBD2 scanner.

#4 – Bad Fuel Pump or Filter

bad fuel pump

The cause of your car jerking while accelerating is often a fuel supply issue. When the correct amount of fuel is not being delivered to the engine, it’s often best to start at the beginning. In this case it would be the car’s fuel pump. A failing fuel pump would struggle to keep up with fuel demands and cause your car to jerk or surge forward while driving.

Alternatively, you may have a clogged fuel filter that’s restricting the flow of fuel which also can cause issues as fuel delivery is inconsistent. Replacing the fuel filter is a fairly simple and inexpensive process.

#5 – Dirty Air Filter

dirty air filter

As you read this article, you’ll notice an improper air/fuel mixture is often the culprit if your car jerks or sputters when accelerating. Opposite the fuel side of things, is proper air intake. When not enough air makes it into the combustion chamber, you’ll often get the same issues when not enough fuel.

Your car’s air filter is the first line of defense against dirt and other foreign particles. A dirty air filter will allow some particles to get into the engine, which in turn will affect performance and cause jerking.

Check the condition of your air filter. If it’s dirty, replace it. It should only cost $10-$20 and take a few minutes to replace. Alternatively, you can purchase a reusable air filter such as a K&N which allows for future cleanings instead of replacement. A clean filter can drastically improve the lifespan of your car’s engine, including reducing or eliminating the acceleration jerks.

#6 – Faulty Spark Plugs

fouled up spark plug

One of the most common causes is also one of the easiest to identify and fix. During the combustion process, a good spark is needed to properly ignite the fuel in each cylinder. A bad or dirty spark plug can prevent this proper ignition and will cause the engine to misfire. While driving, it feels like your vehicle jerks or shutter when accelerating. 

Fixing this problem is as easy as replacing the bad plug. If you don’t remember the last time you replaced your spark plugs, it may be a good idea to get them all changed out. This is a quick and inexpensive repair. 

#7 – Moisture Buildup

distributor cap

On colder days, condensation can form under the distributor cap. This mainly occurs when you have the car parked outside overnight. This moisture will cause the engine to misfire, thus your car will jerk when accelerating at low speeds. Luckily, the problem will go away once the water is gone, but repeated moisture buildup can tax your engine over time.

You can avoid this issue altogether by ensuring your car’s parked in a garage or other protected location. A thermal cover can also help reduce the risk of condensation when shelter isn’t an option and you’re expecting colder weather.

#8 – Worn Accelerator Cable

throttle cable

While most cars on the road use drive-by-wire electronic throttle control to accelerate, a physical accelerator cable (or throttle cable) are still found in many vehicles. It acts as a mechanical link between the gas pedal and throttle plate.

Over time, this accelerator cable can wear out. This will cause the car to respond more slowly when you press on the gas and it lurches instead of providing smooth acceleration. You can usually see damage to the cable’s outer coating when examining it, making this problem easy to diagnose.

A damaged cable requires immediate attention, as the car can stop functioning when the cable breaks. Be sure to take it to a trusted mechanic to ensure the replacement is done right.

#9 – Bad Transmission Control Module

transmission control module replacement cost

If you drive an automatic transmission car and notice your car jerking or bucking right around the time your transmission changes gears, you may have a faulty transmission control module (or solenoid). This part is responsible for gear changes when you accelerate. Gear shifts may be delayed or unpredictable and are often harsh and may feel like the car jerks.

While not a common point of failure, it’s worth considering while you troubleshoot.

 

Comments

  1. Good morning my Juke Techna is loosing power when I accelerate, and thereafter it will jerk and loose power even if its at a low speed and the engine light is on. I. I took it for service, but that was not diagnosed, only the following day when I took it back to complain that the car is now loosing power that I was told its a radiator and thermostat. the care is not overheating though. One of the spak plugs was washed and the rest were not washed or removed. The engine ligh is still on?

    Reply
    • I don’t see how a bad radiator or thermostat would cause the issues you’re describing. I would find a new mechanic and get the car scanned to see what exactly is causing the engine light to come on.

      Reply
      • Hi I just purchased a car friday was unaware of how the car jerks a little when I push on the accelerator!!!!! It’s been doing this lately !!!! What are the common problems for this to happen is it normal!!! Is my car gonna die oh no!!!! Just got it !!!! Helppp

        Reply
  2. Hi, I have a chevrolet lacetti that that jerks when driving, usually in 2nd or 3rd gear and only when the engine has warmed up. I have changed plugs, maf sensor, leads, coil pack and it’s no different, any ideas to point me in the next direction would be greatly appreciated.

    Reply
    • Have you gotten the car scanned for trouble codes yet? Could be something as simple as a vacuum leak or a clogged catalytic converter.

      Reply
      • I use mg3,After repairing my gearbox,my car jerks or vibrates when staring off with 1st,its does same when its changing to 2nd and sometimes 3rd. What is the cause and remedy?

        Reply
  3. I have a Sharon VR6 although a Passat engine with sensor. The car looses power the more you press the accelerator and it jerk. I consulted so many mechanics and they told me that its from the timing, electrical contact, airflow meter, brain box or pulley for timing. All have been tried and checked but non could solve the problem. Am tired of the car. Please what is the solution? Thanks in anticipation for a positive response!

    Reply
    • Hello Stephen,

      I also had a VR6 years ago and ran into the same issue. Took it into the shop and the mech told me that 2 of my spark plugs were misfiring. So I paid to have them replace. 2 days later when I picked up my car it drove good around town but when I got on the highway it started doing the same thing. I then took it to a different mech and he told me I was having a misfire from one of my plugs again. Luckily for me the new mech was cool enough to replace the misfiring plug for 10bucks. Long story short in my experience spark plugs can be a reason for misifing in a VR6 even if the first mech didn’t install the new ones right. Luckily for me it was only spark plugs…Hope this help…

      Reply
  4. Hi, I discovered my car make strange sound like gun shot and it brings not too deep black smoke via the exhaust pipe. I noticed a change if I remove the socket of the airflow meter but it will bring more smoke. Please what can I do after changing airflow meter and there’s no change.

    Reply
  5. Hi I’m wondering if you have any knowledge on my problem

    I have 1 fault code mass air flow circuit a

    And occasionally turbocharger
    Underboost

    I have changed the maf and air filter and map sensor
    I have replaced the egr valve, I have replaced the vacuum pump, I have cleaned the turbo and greased the actuator rod, and I’m still haveing the same issue

    Any thoughts?

    Reply
  6. Hi, my GM Acadia 2012 jerks while changing from second to third gear. The scan test showed code P0989. The mechanic reset the code and the scan shows normal all. Can you help what may be the possible

    Reply
    • Good evening! My audi a3 car is just starting to jerk while driving it I don’t know if it’s because around my house it was flooded with water, after the water has dried off, I started the car and a lot of water came from the muffler, the jerking problem has started 3 days after the floodwater came from the muffler. What you may have be thinking the problem is, please?

      Reply
      • Depends how submerged the car was. If it wasn’t running at that time and water just got in the exhaust system, you should be fine after a while.

        The fact that the car is jerking makes me thinking is was being driven through water. In that case, water may have been sucked in from the intake into the engine (check the air filter for dampness). The fact that it starts up is a good thing. First thing I would do is change the engine oil in case water got in there.

        One big thing to note is that water and electronics are a bad combo so there may be some electronics damage including sensors. This will be hard to diagnose and honestly, the hardest to fix.

        Reply
  7. I use Mazda Tribute, After repairing my broken frawueel ,my car jerks or vibrates when staring off with 1st,its does same when its changing to 2nd and sometimes 3rd. What is the cause and remedy? Because I done almost every thing from plugs, maf, filter, pump nozzles but still jerking.

    Reply
  8. My 2000 Toyota corolla jerks and sometimes switches off while driving.
    Any suggestion? I replaced the carburetor fuel pump plugs and radiator .

    Reply
  9. Helpful article, thank you. While I have not went through everything yet it sound plausable that it could be a couple of these issues. Injectors and plugs sound most reasonable right away.

    Reply
  10. I drive a Polo vivo 2012 model. It loses power once I step on accelerator pedal. I bought a new fuel filter, spark plugs, coil parks. I had the injectors and throttle cleaned. But it still does the same.

    Reply
  11. Hello…I have a 2008 Jeep Liberty. I ran out of gas the other day, and after adding a gallon it wouldn’t start I added more and got it to start but it now jerks, sputters and cuts off while driving.. any idea what this may be??

    Reply
    • You may have some air trapped in the fuel lines which should work itself out. Alternatively, there’s a chance sediment from the bottom of your fuel tank got sucked up and it may be clogging the fuel filter.

      Reply

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