What is Limp Mode? (Symptoms, Causes, and How to Fix)

Last Updated on April 20, 2021

Limp mode is a self-preservation feature programmed into most vehicles. Your car will activate this feature when it detects abnormal readings from sensors, or improper mechanical part operations. 

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Limp mode is also known as “limp home mode”, and is designed to protect your engine and transmission from catastrophic failure.

Performance of your vehicle will be greatly reduced by the computer to prevent major damage but allow you “limp” your car home, a nearby auto repair shop, or simply off to the shoulder where a tow truck can be called.

When activated, your car is telling you there is a serious problem and this issue should be addressed immediately. It is imperative you get to a safe location as soon as possible and attempt to identify why limp mode has occurred. 

Related: What is Eco Mode (and When Should You Use It?)

3 Symptoms of Limp Mode

#1 – Limited Speed and RPM

limp home mode symptoms

When active, your car may exhibit a variety of symptoms. Limp mode limits the amount of power to your engine and transmission.

RPMs may be limited (usually to less than 3,000), and your driving speed will often be limited to about 35 to 45 MPH, making it impossible to drive at highway speeds and you may find yourself unable to shift above 3rd gear.

Related: Common Causes of a Faulty Speedometer

#2 – Poor Performance

tire noise

Acceleration will be sluggish and you may feel your engine shuddering or misfiring.

You may find that your transmission automatically downshifts and you’re unable to shift above 3rd gear or maybe even not be able to shift gears at all.

#3 – Check Engine Light

The check engine light will illuminate or flash, and depending on the failure, you may notice your vehicle overheating.

If overheating occurs, you must immediately pull over off the road and give your car time to cool down to prevent further damage to the engine and transmission before attempting to drive any further. 

4 Common Causes of Limp Mode

While limp mode can be caused by many different problems, there are a few common causes that can be easily identified. 

#1 – Low Fluid Level

causes of limp mode

Low fluids, especially transmission fluid and oil, can cause a vehicle to enter limp mode.

This is especially true of the transmission fluid, since low fluid can cause low pressure, which will not allow the transmission to operate properly.

#2 – Sensor Malfunction

bad map sensor symptoms

There are quite a few sensors which control the engine and transmission. If one of the sensors, such as the MAF, MAP, TPS or speed sensors are sending improper signals to the computer, limp mode can activate.

Failed fuel injectors, coil packs and worn out spark plugs can also cause it.

#3 – Damaged Wiring

damaged wiring

Damaged or broken wiring can also be a potential cause. Wires can be damaged by heat, debris hitting them, or even battery acid leaking onto them.

A damaged wire cannot send a proper electrical signal, making the computer believe a part has failed.

#4 – Failing Clutch or Transmission

blown transmission symptoms

A failing or failed clutch can also cause a vehicle to enter limp mode.

Improperly adjusted linkage, and bad solenoids in the transmission will activate limp home mode in order to prevent further damage to the transmission. 

How to Bypass Limp Mode (3 Methods)

If limp mode occurs, the first thing to do is find a safe spot to pull over at. Once pulled over, there are a few things you can do to try and reset your vehicle’s computer. 

#1 – Check and Top Off Fluids

check engine oil

The first thing is to check your fluids. To do this you will need to be on level ground. With the vehicle in park, and the engine running, first check your transmission fluid.

If it is low, this is most likely your culprit. Adjust the fluid to with proper specifications, and take note of the color and smell. Dirty or burnt transmission fluid can cause issues as well.

Once fluid is topped off, shut off the engine and reset the car’s ECU as shown in #2 below.

#2 – Shut Off Engine and Restart

The next fix you can try is to shut off the engine and let it rest for at least 5 minutes. During this time you can check the engine oil level, as well as the level of all the other fluids under the hood. Sometimes, this brief rest will allow the computer to reset itself and bring it out of limp mode. 

#3 – Clear Check Engine Light

bypass limp mode

A third option is to disconnect the battery cables. It is best to pull both cables off the battery, and hold them together for 15 to 30 seconds. This will drain any residual power from the computer and cause it to forget any codes that may be stored. Clearing the codes with an OBD2 scanner will achieve the same results and is faster and safer.

How to Fix Limp Mode 

Due to the complexity of limp mode, the best way to fix it, is by using a scanner to read the codes stored in the car’s computer. If all fluids check out clean and are at the proper level, this is the best way to identify failed parts. 

An OBD/OBD2 scanner will read the codes, which can then point you towards which sensors or parts need replacing.

However, it is important to keep in mind, that just because a part is reading bad on the computer, it doesn’t necessarily mean that part is bad. A broken or damaged wire can cause the part to not send the proper signal. 

If a sensor or part is reading bad, be sure to visually inspect the wires coming out of that part, and verify conductivity with a multimeter. If electricity is reaching a certain spot in the wire, but not all the way to the sensor, that wire should be replaced. 

Conclusion 

Tracking down the cause of limp mode can be vexing and time consuming, and ignoring it or constantly resetting the computer to avoid it can lead to even more costly repairs, or severe safety malfunctions. If none of the above fixes have helped, it is ideal to seek out repairs at a reputable automotive repair shop. 

Any time a vehicle enters limp mode, it should be treated as a serious problem and be immediately addressed. If you find yourself unable to fix the problem on the road, have your car towed to a garage or your house where issues can be safely and accurately identified and repaired.

 

41 thoughts on “What is Limp Mode? (Symptoms, Causes, and How to Fix)”

  1. Hi, I have a 2006 Audi A4 Tdi 2l automatic. It recently activated the limp mode, NO warning lights on dash. Checked all fluids, tip top. It hasn’t activated again, but still worried why it did, I did not add any fluids, they were OK. Worried

    Reply
    • Limp mode in Audis is often activated due to an overboost of the turbo. The MAF sensor is often the problem but you may also have a vacuum leak somewhere. Plug in an OBD2 scanner to see if there are any stored codes to help diagnose.

      Reply
  2. i have a 2008 honda Accord and it wont accelerate at all. it might be on limp mode, dont know yet? it has 50 % oil? is that the problem, is that the standard of the oil in my car?

    Reply
    • I’m not sure by what you mean when it has 50% oil. You mean the oil level is only half full? If so, don’t drive it until you top it off. If the oil is very dark or thick, get the oil changed asap.

      Reply
  3. I pulled these codes on 06 nissan titan P1168/P0420/P0463/P2135/P0051..Should I replace 02 sensors 1st then move to throttle position sensor ?

    Reply
  4. We have a 2001 Lincoln Cont. It is in Limp mode. We have it at the shop being tested . We tried the battery thing, checked oil, restarting. Nothing.I pray it is not to bad a fix.

    Reply
  5. My Renault Scenic went into Limp Mode whilst driving on the motorway, unfortunately I drained the battery leaving lights on waiting for rescue. Next day charged battery and car running as normal. Took to Mechanic and nothings shows on scanner, so can’t detect faults. Called Auto Electrician and he said possibly the flat battery wiped out code? Any ideas or do I just have to wait until limp mode kicks in again.

    Thanks in advance

    Reply
    • Many vehicles will clear codes when the battery is disconnected. Unfortunately, without that information I’d be taking a wild guess. You’ll either have to wait for limp mode to occur again or take it to a mechanic for a thorough diagnostic.

      Reply
  6. My citroen c4 picasso keeps going into Limp mode around 3000 revs so I checked all the fluid levels and there fine the wires looked fine aswell no codes came up on the scanner so just wondering if it was asda fuel not taking well to the car was wondering if any when else has had this problem

    Reply
    • I would start by checking the spark plugs, as their condition may tell a story that helps you diagnose the problem. Make sure the plugs look healthy, and replace them if necessary. We have another article on bad spark plug symptoms in case it helps: https://cartreatments.com/bad-spark-plug-symptoms/

      Next, I’d check for vacuum leaks. If there is a vacuum leak, the air fuel ratio will be off which will make the car not run right. You could try cleaning the MAF as this also affects air fuel ratio.

      Reply
  7. I have a 2012 Toyota Camry le with 182 miles on it and am thinking its on a limp mode. The car will not accelerate to more than 35 to 40 miles per hour. I changed the transmission fluid and also did the sparks plugs and engine air filter but still no change. How do I get it out of the limp mode? There is no check engine light at all. The only light I have is service engine soon.

    Reply
    • It does sound like it’s in limp mode. You could probably clear the code to exit limp mode, but that doesn’t address the root cause and it will likely end up back in limp mode in a very short amount of time. I would take it to a shop to figure out what’s causing the limp mode condition before you drive too much farther.

      Reply
    • I have an 011 camry le. Changing the spark plug is useless if the coil is also bad. Mine has oxidize to an rusty orange color so I know I need to replace the coil and the plug. Since our cars are older, it is best to change all 4 coils and all plugs however, each coil is $90 though. Ouch but when you buy a set, it is cheaper. If you catch this message in time, autozone is having a 20% off $100 on their online website + free next day delivery. Regarding your service engine soon light, that is set at 5000 miles so it means nothing. It will pop up every 5000 to remind you to do your oil change. To reset that light, turn off your ignition, hold down your odometer stick and don’t let go, turn on your ignition just one click but not to start the car, turn off the ignition, turn on again 1 click and you will see your odometer will blink and it will clear that sensor. Hope that helps.

      Reply
  8. I have a 2014 Citroen dispatch 1.6hdi. Since buying the van I keep getting risk of filter blocking. The first time It went into limp mode and I took it to a garage who done a forced Regen. They said it was the tank for the dpf fluid, it was half full but not letting the fluid into the dpf. I got the van back while they ordered the part and writhing the space of a week I had to do regen’s on the motorway resetting the code on 4 occasions. I expressed my concern that it wasn’t the tank that needed replacing but fell on deaf ears. I took the van back in to get the job done and driving 5 minutes away from the garage the fault risk of filter blocking come back up. I rang up the garage to speak to the owner, he said to give it a good run and see how it goes. I done a regen again resetting the fault. The day later the code come back again and sent the van back into limo mode. The company I bought the van off was paying the garage to do the work now am stuck as in I don’t think the parts they changed were correct to fix the problem. Any light you can shed on this fault? Thanks

    Reply
  9. I drive a 2015 Honda Fit with approximately 92,000 miles on it. About 2 weeks ago, the battery discharged, and I had AAA jump start the car. This resulted in the “Back-up Main” fuse being blown. While pulling and testing fuses, I dropped the fuse labeled “DBW” down inside the engine, and couldn’t retrieve. I started the engine, and apparently that sent it into limp mode, as the Check Engine, TPMS, Traction Control, and Steering System lights all came on. After discovering and replacing the blown fuse (and the DBW fuse), the lights remained on. Hooked up the OBD-II reader, which showed a P1659 error code for the ETCS relay. On the drive in to work this morning, the Check Engine light went off, but the other lights stayed on. Any thoughts?

    Reply
    • I should add that there is not (or at least doesn’t seem to be) a loss in engine power. Was able to maintain highway speeds (75+mph) on the drive in to work.

      Reply
    • It sounds like the codes are a result of the blown and/or missing fuse. I would try clearing the codes and see if they come back. If they come back, there’s still a problem to work out.

      Reply
  10. I have a Vauxhall Insignia, had the message SVS (Service Vehicle Soon) and it goes in to ‘limp mode’ …Had my garage plug it in and it didn’t show any codes/ problems!
    Any ideas?
    Thanks 🙂

    Reply
  11. Got car out of limp mode after cleaning throttle body an reset the computer it was running good as soon as I put it into reverse I jumped into limp mode

    Reply
    • I suspect it had nothing to do with cleaning the throttle body. When you reset the computer, it may not throw another code immediately. What was the check engine light code that triggered limp mode?

      Reply
  12. i have an issue on a kia optima with a 2.0l engine code p0340 and it says that the vvti system is in limp mode..test everything seems ok..starting is difficult..thanks

    Reply
    • Have you tried replacing the camshaft position sensor? The root cause is likely either the sensor itself or the wiring leading to the sensor. Before replacing the sensor, consider doing some electrical diagnostic work to see if the sensor actually needs to be replaced at all.

      Reply
  13. We were at Orlando on a vacation when our RENTAL CAR went into limp home mode on the INTERSTATE we ended up almost missing our flight and cruise over this. The worst part was when we got back to the rental car return spot, they didn’t do anything. Feel so bad for the next person who got that car!

    Reply
  14. i have citroen xsara 1.4 petrol years2004 timing belt snap on motor way put the hazzad light on ring AA recovery they tow me home less a mile park the car window not go up indicater,head light, wiper most electric off/ starter motor,central lock work,i check all the fuse and conection earth wire AA came no luck any body has any idea please joe thank you

    Reply
  15. I have 2006 auto Lancer 2.4l with a manual 2007 2.4l motor in it that goes into limp mode sometimes I can drive it to and from the shop that is 1km away and it won’t go into limp mode then sometimes I get 100m and straight into limp mode it was getting up to 35kms changed the throttle position senor so it then went up to 70kms still in limp mode but now it’s back down to 35kms in limp mode with engine light on any ideas

    Reply
    • There should be a check engine light code associated with the limp mode condition. Do you know what that code is? There may even be more than one.

      Reply
  16. Diagnostics found a fault with the booster sensor on my Ford mondeo 1.6 2011 estate. (Car was in limp mode and orange warning light was intermittent ) I cleaned the sensor but problem persisted. I bought a new sensor and replaced it, still problem persisted ie limp mode and engine warning light. Had a good look under the bonnet and found one of the injectors was leaking and looked like it had the Black Death . Could I have found my problem and the computer was getting the wrong info? Thanks

    Reply
    • I’m not familiar with the booster sensor. Does it go by another name?

      A leaky injector could certainly cause issues. That means a measured amount of fuel is not entering the combustion chamber as expected.

      Reply
  17. my 2012 honda accord 2.4l keeps going into limp mode. Ive changed the crankshaft sensor. I put another throttle body in. New plugs. And still in limp mode. What else can i do

    Reply
    • Check the codes for more information on why it is going into limp mode. From there, use that code to narrow the scope of the problem. Is the issue with fuel delivery, spark, timing, or air?

      Reply
  18. We bought a used Renault Captur 1.0 petrol 2016 reg, manual around a month ago.

    Generally the car is fine, probably around 95% of the time. However now had three very similar experiences. It happens at a slow location, roundabouts, then quick acceleration, the first two times the car would not go over 30 miles per hour and the second time it was 19. The whole car shudders and does not matter if you change down gear, foot to the floor etc. No dashlight warnings came on. Next stage is to pull over, engine off, engine back on and it’s like nothing has happened.

    The garage we bought the car off have had the car last few days and cannot find any faults, the diagnostic check also showed no problems. They are planning to just give us the car back but I’m concerned that this could happen again and could cause an accident.

    Reply
    • That’s an interesting problem. Intermittent issues can be really hard to diagnose.

      Are you able to consistently replicate the problem? Try to figure out if there is a specific place you can go or way you can drive that causes the issue. Then explain in great detail to the mechanic what happened, or better yet, let them drive it and experience it for themselves.

      I am wondering if there is an intermittent electrical issue like a bad ground that is causing the ignition system to stop working momentarily. Has your mechanic pulled the spark plugs? How did they look?

      Reply
  19. I have a Toyota Matrix 2005/2006, it enters limp mode when the weather is dark. It can go above 20 at night or early in the morning when the weather is yet to get bright unless I’m going down hill then it gets to like 60.

    But when the day is bright, it functions well without any delay, a mechanic has checked but don’t seem to narrow down the issue as it only happens at night.
    What could be the cause?

    Reply
    • I wonder if it only happens at night because your headlights are on. Can you try turning your headlights on during the day to replicate the issue?

      Since you’re in limp mode, did you scan for any codes?

      Reply
      • It appears so, I turned on the headlight as you suggest and the car went into limp mode and couldn’t go beyond 20. It was scanned also and these codes showed P0031, P0606, P2103. They did reset but same issue occurred.

        Reply
        • Those codes appear unrelated and make me think you have a bad ground or some bad wiring. Check all grounds, make sure they are clean and tight. I would also test the battery and alternator while you’re in there before you do anything too invasive.

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