Why Does My Car Jerk While Driving?

by Philip PoweUpdated July 25, 2023
itstillruns article image
Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images

A car jerking can be due to various issues, but the average automotive owner can often diagnose these problems, although they may require professional auto repair for resolution. Here are some of the most common reasons your car jerks when accelerating.

Tire Damage

One culprit could be a damaged tire, causing the vehicle to jerk or pull to one side while driving at medium speeds. This issue might be caused by metal or glass that leads to misalignment. Inspecting the tire visually and physically can help identify damage, especially if the car's engine is stuttering at high speeds. If you don't find any visible damage, feel the tire's entire surface on the front and back for any abnormalities.

Brake Shoe Locking

Brake shoe locking is another common reason why a car jerks. It can be due to a worn-out brake shoe or a lack of brake fluid. The worn shoe and brake pads can grip the rotor, causing the vehicle to jerk to the right or left. A close examination of the brake pads for wear and the rotor can help diagnose this issue.

Transmission Issues

Transmission issues can cause a jerking car, especially when shifting gears. The first problem could be low transmission fluid. After warming the fluid by driving the car for a few minutes, place it in neutral on a flat surface and check the fluid level using the dipstick found towards the rear of the engine. If the fluid level is low, add the recommended type to the appropriate level.

If the fluid isn't low and the car still jerks, there might be a malfunction with the transmission control module, warranting a professional diagnostic test. This malfunction could also cause a jerking motion while accelerating.

Other Potential Issues

Fuel injectors, spark plugs, the catalytic converter, and the air filter can also contribute to a jerking car. Dirty fuel injectors or a clogged fuel line could restrict the amount of fuel getting to the engine, causing it to jerk when accelerating. Similarly, a malfunctioning mass airflow sensor (MAF) or damaged acceleration cables could produce the same effect.

A car's engine misfire, bad fuel filter, or issues with the throttle plate might also lead to the vehicle jerking. Always be mindful of your check engine light or any other warning light on your dashboard.

If your vehicle jerks at high speeds or low speeds, it could be a blockage in your fuel system, a clogged catalytic converter, or a fuel pump not delivering enough fuel to the engine.

A malfunctioning ignition system, faulty spark plugs, a bad distributor cap, or a worn accelerator cable can also cause a jerky or lurching motion. Misfire or worn-out spark plugs might also result in jerking when accelerating.

Having a dirty air filter, a clog that is causing stalling because of a buildup of emissions, or a bad fuel mixtures could be other reasons for a break down.

Preventing These Issues

Proper maintenance of your gas tank and fuel tank can prevent jerking issues. If troubleshooting doesn't resolve the issue, a visit to a professional repair shop might be necessary. Regular maintenance and prompt attention to potential issues can prevent significant problems down the line.

Supplemental List of Possible Reasons for Car Hesitating

Here are some common reasons a car might jerk or hesitate while driving:

  • Dirty fuel injectors‌ - Clogged injectors can't properly spray fuel, causing intermittent misfires. Try using fuel injector cleaner.
  • Ignition system issues‌ - Faulty spark plugs, wires, coil packs or timing issues can lead to misfires and jerking.
  • Vacuum leak‌ - A vacuum leak reduces intake air, potentially causing the engine to misfire and stumble. Check hoses for cracks.
  • Mass air flow sensor‌ - A bad MAF sensor can provide incorrect airflow readings to the computer, leading to jerks and stalls.
  • Oxygen sensor‌ - A faulty O2 sensor will send inaccurate readings to the computer, affecting fuel delivery and performance.
  • Transmission issues‌ - Gear slippage, incorrect shifting or torque converter issues in an automatic transmission can cause jerking motions.
  • Worn motor mounts‌ - Damaged engine mounts allow excess movement, potentially causing jerks when shifting or accelerating.
  • Bad gasoline‌ - Poor quality or stale gasoline with contaminants can cause erratic engine behavior.
  • Electronic throttle control‌ - Jerky acceleration can point to a problem with the electronic throttle body or throttle position sensor.
  • Computer problems‌ - Engine or transmission computer malfunctions may be to blame, requiring a diagnostic scan.

More Articles

article divider