Car Jerks When Accelerating

It never occurred to you that this could happen, but it is quite unfortunate because it has happened to you.

Your trusted car has started jerking when you attempt to accelerate. It might seem like a simple issue, but believe me, it is an issue worth checking out.

Well, it is not an indication of your car’s self-decommission. But, when your car jerks while accelerating, it is normally an emblem of an imminent problem.

The earlier you know the underlying causes of the jerking, the better. This way, you will be able to minimize the damage as well as the cost of repairs.

There’re a number of things that may make your car lurch when accelerating, but most of the time, the issue may just disappear on its own, and you may be tempted to ignore it altogether.

That’s a very bad move, and we will explain why.

My Car Jerks When I Accelerate From a Stop

Car Jerks When I Accelerate

Your car can jerk, lurch, skip, and jump when there is an issue with the transmission, the ignition/electrical system, the fuel system, or the air induction system.

Car jerking can be an indication of the following:

  • Worn out ignition parts
  • Faulty air or fuel mixture
  • Damaged engine cylinders
  • Accumulated moisture in the distribution cap
  • Improper or bad use of the clutch
  • Dirty fuel injectors
  • Defective acceleration cable
  • Low transmission fluid
  • Slipping clutch/ defective transmission solenoid
  • Clogged catalytic converter

These are the highlights of the many possible issues that may be causing your car to jump, skip, lurch, and jerk.

Where Can This Problem Originate From?

There’re four main points of origin, which include the transmission, the ignition system, the fuel system, or the air induction system.

The Transmission

The transmission delivers output from the power source, which is the internal combustion engine, to the driving wheels of your car.

This system is made up of the following parts: gearbox, clutch, universal joints, propeller shaft, rear axle, wheel, and tires.

There are two main types of transmission systems that come with our vehicles: hydraulic and mechanical.

The transmission is responsible for:

  • Smoothly connecting and disconnecting the engine with the power train
  • Providing a way of transferring power in reverse direction
  • Enabling power transmission at different lengths and angles
  • Providing ways of driving the wheels at varying speeds when necessary
  • Bearing the effect of driving thrust, torque reaction, and braking effort

If the transmission is incapable of fulfilling its responsibilities, then you are most likely to experience car jerking when driving.

The Ignition System

The goal of the ignition system is to generate a spark that will promote the combustion of the air/fuel mixture in a given cylinder.

The generated spark must have a high enough voltage to jump the spark plug gap. It must arrive in the cylinder at a near-perfect prompt in the combustion stroke of the piston.

The ignition timing must change with engine speed because the amount of time it takes for the fuel to burn in the cylinder is relatively constant.

The primary parts of the ignition system include battery, charging system, ignition switch, resistor by-pass circuit, ignition coil primary windings, breaker points, crank/cam sensor, and ground return path.

The ignition, as you can see, is an integral part of your car’s performance. A weak spark will lead to poor combustion and a lack of power.

Timing issues can rob power or even cause pre-ignition or detonation. A burned spark plug wire may hinder fire from getting to the cylinder.

All these are potential causes of car jumping while driving.

The Fuel System

The fuel system is fairly straightforward; it consists of the fuel pump, the fuel injectors, the fuel filter, and of course, the fuel tank.

Fundamentally, the primary function of the fuel system in your car is to store as well as supply gasoline to your car’s engine.

When you turn your car’s engine on, fuel is delivered from the tank through the lines and filter to the injectors.

When the smooth flow of the fuel is disrupted probably due to wear and/or deterioration, the major aftermaths are car jerking, stalling, evident fuel odors, and even excessive engine smoke.

The Air Induction System

The air induction system is one of the most visible systems of your car’s engine. It has a substantial effect on your engine’s performance.

Air Induction System
Air Induction System

Your car’s engine breathes through its induction system, which also mixes fuel with the incoming air.

There’re two basic types of induction systems: fuel-injected and carbureted, with some variations with each type.

Generally, the air induction system is credited or blamed for fuel efficiency, reliability, as well as drivability.

Your air induction system delivers two important essentials to your engine: fuel and air. The amount of fuel delivered is supposed to be proportional to the amount of air the engine can gulp.

If the induction restricts how much air the engine can draw in, it reduces how much fuel can be mixed with the air, and thus power is decreased.

Also, if the induction system cannot supply an abundant volume of fuel to mix with the air, the engine will run thin, restricting power.

All these problems can potentially cause car jerking when pressing the gas.

How Do I Detect the Problem?

There are two ways you can pinpoint the exact origin of the problem when your car jerks when accelerating at low speeds: system inspections and OBD II scan tools.

System Inspections

A quick visual inspection of all your car’s systems with issues is one simple way of diagnosing your car.

This is a good way to go if you are certain that something is wrong with your car even with the check engine light off.

OBD II Scan Tools

The OBD II scan tool not only will enable you to find answers to the simpler issues but will inform you of the areas the seemingly complicated issues can be found.

With an OBD II scan tool, you can read a specific amount of engine operating data from a variety of sensors, such as throttle position and mass airflow.

With advanced scan tool capability, you can discover issues that don’t trigger the check engine light. For example, you can easily know when the transmission fluid is running very hot.

Now that you have an idea of where the problem might be originating from let’s go ahead and check out the possible causes of car jerking.

Causes of Car Jerking, Lurching, Jumping, or Skipping When Accelerating

As much as most causes of car jerking can lead to serious damages and repair costs, the causes are normally preventable with proper maintenance.

1. Clogged Air Filter

Clogged Air Filter
Clogged Air Filter

Although it rarely happens, the air filter in the engine may be so clogged with dirt that it cut off air, causing your engine to flood.

Your car lurching is one of the various issues a clogged air filter can cause. Others include but are not limited to:

  • Misfiring engine
  • Reduced fuel economy
  • Check engine light
  • Unusual engine sounds
  • Reduced horsepower
  • Exhaust releasing sooty smoke

Recommended Solution

The easiest and probably the cheapest solution is to replace the air filter. This can be a simple DIY, with no need for incurring maintenance costs.

Most car manufacturers recommend a replacement of the air filter after every ten thousand to fifteen thousand miles.

However, if you normally drive on very dusty roads, you may have to change the air filter every six thousand miles or so.

If you fail to change the filter after the recommended mileage, your car is most likely to skip when accelerating.

2. Clogged Fuel Injectors

Clogged Fuel Injectors
Bad Fuel Injectors

Fuel injectors spray a specific volume of fuel into your car’s intake system. If the injectors are dirty or clogged, not enough fuel will be sprayed.

When the sensitive injectors are partially clogged, the flow of fuel is usually restricted. This alters spray patterns, causing poor performance as well as reduced fuel economy.

If your car skips when accelerating, dirty/clogged fuel injectors could be the culprits. There’s also a list of other issues that emerge when the injectors are clogged:

  • Poor idle
  • Starting issues
  • Failed emissions
  • Smoke coming from the tailpipe
  • Bucking and surging
  • Increased fuel consumption
  • Engine knock

Recommended Solution

It is normally more desirable to clean and/or plug fuel injectors instead of replacing them straight away.

There’re many fuel injector cleaners available in today’s market. You can opt to incur cleaning costs by taking your car to a mechanic shop, or you can DIY by following the guidelines that come with the cleaning kit.

What you should never do is try to take the engine apart in order to separate the injectors. This can be a very bad idea, especially if you are new to this kind of stuff.

3. Clogged Catalytic Converter

Clogged Catalytic Converter
Clogged Catalytic Converter

A faulty catalytic converter is another less common cause for a misfire and/or car jerking. If the exhaust system is restricted, excessive backpressure can develop.

During the exhaust cycle, burned air and fuel must evacuate the cylinder to make room for fresh air or fuel charge.

Failure to evacuate it completely prevents the cylinder from generating all the power that it should. This will most likely weaken the cylinder and slow the rotational timing down.

Recommended Solution

As we mentioned above, a clogged catalytic converter is a rare cause of misfire and/or car lurching. As such, it is usually hard to diagnose.

However, if your car has this issue, the check engine light comes typically on. This is great because you can consider the catalytic converter to be faulty. Also, an OBD II scan can alarm you of a problem.

The ultimate solution to this problem is a replacement of the converter, which is quite costly and should only be conducted by a professional mechanic.

4. Damaged Accelerator Cable

Damaged Accelerator Cable
Damaged Accelerator Cable

Also known as a throttle cable, an accelerator cable is a braided metal cable that functions as a mechanical connection between the throttle plate of the engine and the gas pedal.

Usually, pulling of the cable by pressing on the gas pedal opens up the throttle. In this case, the throttle controls your car’s power.

Therefore, any issues with the throttle cable can easily and swiftly result in drivability issues, including car jerking.

Recommended Solution

Your car can’t keep functioning properly with a faulty accelerator cable. Lurching when accelerating may be a common occurrence.

As such, you should open the hood and look at the accelerator linkage. Carefully, check the link that connects the accelerator and the throttle.

The solution can be as easy as reconnecting the cable in case it was loose. However, you may need to replace the cable if it is damaged in any way.

5. Faulty Spark Plugs

Faulty Spark Plugs
Faulty Spark Plugs

Spark plugs are fundamentally crucial for igniting fuel in the combustion chamber. They’re engineered to relay an electric signal.

If the spark plug is faulty, it will not transmit the required electrical signal to cause the fuel in the combustion chamber to ignite.

Faulty spark plugs will inevitably cause car jerking when accelerating, slow acceleration, poor fuel economy, engine misfire, engine hesitating/surging, and rough idle.

Recommended Solution

The regular and the most suggested thing to do is replace the spark plugs routinely. This is an easy DIY, with no need of incurring mechanic costs.

This; however, doesn’t mean that you have to change them every so often, but just a few numbers of times during your car’s lifespan.

6. Low Transmission Fluid

Low Transmission Fluid
Low Transmission Fluid

The transmission fluid plays an important role in the existence of your car’s transmission. It transfers power from your car’s engine, and cools and lubricates the entire transmission.

When the fluid level is low, your car jerks when accelerating at low speeds. Other indicators that the fluid is low are:

  • Slipping transmission
  • Overheated transmission
  • Unable to shift or irregular shift
  • Delayed gear engagement
  • Transmission failure
  • Surging transmission

Recommended Solution

The very first thing to do is conduct a fluid check. Before you do a fluid level check, make sure your car is on a level surface.

If the transmission has a dipstick, wipe all dirt off the protective disc and the dipstick handle. Reinsert the dipstick, remove it again, and note the reading.

If the fluid level is low, the problem could be external fluid leaks. Check the cooler lines, oil pan, and transmission case for signs of leaks.

Once you have confirmed that there’re no leaks, you can fill up the fluid in small increments until you reach the correct level regarding the dipstick.

7. Failing Alternator

Failing Alternator
Failing Alternator

Modern cars feature a highly lightweight, efficient, compact alternator to provide the electrical current needed to operate your vehicle.

The alternator is driven by a belt on the front of the engine and needs little to no maintenance until it fails.

Apart from car lurching while driving, other signs of a failing alternator include:

  • Dashboard warning light
  • Headlight flickering or dimming
  • Battery runs down
  • Rough running

Recommended Solution

The first thing you should do is check the condition as well as tension of the drive belt at each oil change, and keep the battery and alternator connections clean and corrosion-free.

Consider replacement in case of serious issues. If you have experience working with other car systems in the past, then the easiest solution would be to change the alternator.

Final Words

Those dealing with manual transmission are more likely to experience car jerking when pressing the gas.

For manual transmission, you need to match your engine and transmission in speed to deal with the problem.

Most of the issues concerning car lurching; however, are simple, easy as well as inexpensive to fix. For example, you can easily deal with dirty injectors by using an injector cleaner.

The worst thing you can do is make assumptions when your car skips when accelerating. If you don’t know what is going on and you can’t find out on your own, always consult a professional.

Alex Schandert

Cars are judged on their honesty, practicality, quality and value for money, not on their nought to sixty times, or whether they induce over-steer at the limit, whatever that is. I've loved cars since I got my first car, an old Toyota Tacoma when I was Eighteen. I'm always happy to share my experiments by publishing product guides, reviews, and useful tips.

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