How to Clean the Idle Air Control Motor or Valve

by Cayden Conor

Sometimes when you take a turn or stop at a light your car stalls, but it starts right back up and will not stay running unless your foot is on the gas holding the idle up just a bit. Stalling at an idle or almost-idle is caused by a few different things, but the biggest culprit is the idle air motor or the little vacuum hose next to it. This is a sign that your idle air control motor or valve might need a good cleaning.

Check the vacuum hose for dry-rot or cracks and make sure that it is clamped down tightly. If all looks good with that, you can move on to the idle air motor or valve.

Find the idle air, which is generally near the throttle body. Unplug the wiring harness connector. You may have to use the flat-head screwdriver to pry open the snaps. The idle air will have either screws or bolts holding it in. There are usually only two. Using the proper tool, unscrew the idle air from the block.

Examine the idle air needle (it is about as thick as your pinky finger). If the needle is black, it is dirty. That is carbon buildup. Using the carburetor cleaner, spray only the needle and wipe it clean. You will have to do this quite a few times to get all the carbon buildup off. Do not get carb cleaner on any of the electrical parts of the motor. You may not be able to get the idle air motor perfectly clean, but that is all right. Allow the idle air motor to completely dry before reinstalling it into your car.

Insert the idle air motor back into the block. Tighten the two screws down, going back and forth until they are snug. Do not overtighten them, as they could break off in the block. They just need to be snug. Plug the connector back in. Look to make sure you did not dislodge any other wires or the vacuum hose near the idle air motor.

Start the car. You may have to drive it a bit to see whether cleaning the idle air motor or valve worked. If your engine light is on, check your user manual for instructions on clearing codes. If you are working on a pre-1995 vehicle, clear the codes on most makes and models by disconnecting the battery for five minutes. If the stalling problem persists, you will need to have your car properly diagnosed or the cleaning did not work. Cleaning the idle air does not work on all cars or all types of idle air control motors and valves, but it's worth a try, as it is not a time-consuming job.


  • close In prying off the plastic snap to the wiring harness connector, be careful that you do not break them. They hold the connector firmly in place. If it should come off when you are driving, you will have the same problem you are trying to repair!
  • close Always check your user's manual before disconnecting your battery to clear the codes. Disconnecting the battery can play havoc with computer systems and alarm systems.

Items you will need

About the Author

Cayden Conor has been writing since 1996. She has been published on several websites and in the winter 1996 issue of "QECE." Conor specializes in home and garden, dogs, legal, automotive and business subjects, with years of hands-on experience in these areas. She has an Associate of Science (paralegal) from Manchester Community College and studied computer science, criminology and education at University of Tampa.

Photo Credits

  • photo_camera Motor - Hot Rod image by Jeffrey Zalesny from