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8 Reasons Your Car Is Jerking and Engine Lights On

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So your car’s been jerking, and the engine light’s been on?

You’re not alone. This can be a common issue, especially as the weather changes.

This post will outline some possible reasons your car is jerking and engine lights on. We’ll also provide some tips on troubleshooting the issue and getting your vehicle back on track.

8 Reasons Your Car Is Jerking and Engine Lights On

1.    Loose gas cap

A loose-fitting gas cap is a known cause of car jerking. When the lid isn’t screwed on tightly, it can allow gas to escape and create a vacuum in the tank. This may trigger misfires in the engine and cause jerking.

A man's hand holding a gas cap

To fix this hitch, tighten the gas cap every time you fill up your car. If it’s already tight but you’re still experiencing jerking, try wiggling the lid back and forth a few times to create a better seal.

2.    Ignition coil problems

An ignition coil is a necessary part of your car’s ignition system. It transforms the 12 volts from the battery into the thousands of volts needed to jump-start the engine. A malfunctioning ignition coil can cause your car to jerk and the engine light to come on.

A closer look at a car's ignition coil

Some common symptoms of an ignition coil problem are:

  • The engine light comes on
  • The car jerks or feels like it’s stalling when you’re driving
  • The engine doesn’t start or runs rough

If your car shows any of these symptoms, go to a mechanic and have them investigate the problem.

A man's hand inserting an ignition coil into a car's engine

Ignition coil problems are dangerous and can cause extensive damage to your car if left unattended.

3.    Dirty fuel injectors

Your car may be jerking, and the engine light is on because of dirty fuel injectors.

Three used fuel injectors

Fuel injectors are responsible for delivering the fuel to the engine. When they’re dirty, they can’t do their job properly, which can cause all sorts of problems, including jerking and a lit engine light.

If you think this might be the issue with your car, you can have them cleaned by a mechanic. However, if you don’t have the time or money, you can also try to clean them yourself.

4.    Faulty oxygen sensor

A faulty oxygen sensor is another possible reason your car is jerking, and the engine light is on. The oxygen sensor helps to measure the amount of oxygen in the exhaust gas and sends this information to the engine control unit.

A closer look at an oxygen sensor

If the sensor is broken or not working correctly, it can cause the engine to run rich or lean, which will cause your car to jerk and the engine light to come on.

5.    Catalytic converter going bad

Your car is possibly jerking because your catalytic converter is going bad. The catalytic converter helps to reduce harmful emissions from your vehicle. So when it malfunctions, it can cause your engine to misfire and jerk. Afterwards, you’ll likely see the check engine light come on.

A closer look at a catalytic converter

If you doubt the functionality of your catalytic converter, take it to a mechanic and have them take a look. They are likely to tell you need a new one and help you find the best replacement for your car.

6.    Issues with mass airflow sensor

A problem with the mass airflow sensor is another common issue that can cause your car to jerk and the engine light to come on. This sensor is responsible for measuring the amount of air entering the engine; if it’s dirty or faulty, it can trigger all sorts of problems.

A closer look at a car's mass airflow sensor

Symptoms of a problem with the mass airflow sensor include:

  • a jerky engine
  • poor gas mileage
  • the engine light coming on.

If you’re experiencing any of those, it’s a good idea to take your car in for a diagnostic test to find out what’s wrong.

7.    Malfunctioning fuel pump

A closer look at a car's fuel pump

Another possible reason is that the fuel pump is no longer working as it should. If the fuel pump is not providing enough fuel to the engine, it can cause the engine to jerk or run rough. If you suspect that the fuel pump might be causing your car’s problems, we recommend having it checked out by a mechanic.

8.    Low levels of transmission fluid

A man pouring transmission fluid using a funnel.

The transmission fluid channels power from the engine to the wheels, so your car might lurch when it’s low. If your car’s transmission fluid drops, top it up as soon as possible.

What Should I Do if My Car Is Jerking and Engine Lights On?

If your car is jerking and the engine light is on, you’re probably wondering what’s wrong and how you can fix it. Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Every car is unique and will require a different solution. However, you can try fixing it in many different ways.

A guy on his cellphone and looking at a car's engine

The most important thing is to identify the root cause of the jerking. Is it happening when you’re accelerating? Braking? Turning?

Once you know what’s causing the problem, you can start troubleshooting. There are many likely causes for these issues, and the only way to know what’s wrong is to have an expert inspect it.

However, if you feel handy and want to try the fix yourself, here are a few tips:

1. Start by checking the oil level. Low oil can cause the engine to jerk, so ensure you have enough in your car.

A man checking a car's oil level

2. Next, check the air filter. A dirty air filter hinders airflow causing engine problems.

A hand holding a car's air filter

3. Finally, check the spark plugs. If they’re worn out or faulty, they can cause the engine to misfire and jerk.

A man's hand holding a new spark plug

Wrapping Up

If your car is jerking and the engine light is on, don’t panic! There are many ways to troubleshoot the problem and, hopefully, get your vehicle up and running again.

First, check the engine oil level and ensure it’s at the correct level. You may also want to try changing the engine oil to see if that helps. If the problem persists, take your car to a mechanic for further inspection.

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