Is your car struggling to pick up speed? Imagine pressing the gas pedal, expecting to zoom off, but your car crawls forward instead. Frustrating, isn’t it?

When your car struggles to pick up speed, it could be due to issues like clogged fuel injectors, dirty air filters, or a faulty mass airflow sensor. Regular maintenance checks can help identify and fix these problems early, ensuring your vehicle performs optimally and accelerates smoothly. 

Whether hurrying to work or trying to merge onto a busy highway, a car that won’t speed up can put you in a tough spot. In this article, we’ll dive into the details into why this happens and how to fix it.

Key Takeaway

  • Identify Symptoms: Notice slow acceleration, weak hill climbing, or unusual engine noises to understand your car’s speed issues.
  • Conduct Diagnostics: Perform test drives, check engine performance, inspect the fuel system, and evaluate transmission for underlying problems.
  • Proper Tire Pressure: Ensure tires are correctly inflated to improve fuel efficiency and enhance your car’s ability to accelerate.

Common Causes Of A Car Struggling For Speed

When your car struggles to pick up speed, it can feel slow and unresponsive. Here are some common causes:

Dirty Air Filter

Dirty Air Filter

A car’s engine needs a precise air-fuel mixture for optimal performance. The air filter traps dust, debris, and other contaminants before they enter the engine.

Symptoms: A clogged air filter restricts airflow, leading to a lean fuel mixture (more air, less fuel). This can cause hesitation, sluggish acceleration, and decreased fuel efficiency.

Solution: Replacing the air filter is a relatively inexpensive and easy fix. Consult your car’s owner’s manual for recommended replacement intervals. They are usually between 12,000 and 30,000 miles.

Failing Fuel Pump

The fuel pump delivers fuel from the gas tank to the engine at the correct pressure.

Symptoms: A failing fuel pump can cause many problems. These include hesitation, jerking, and a lack of power when accelerating. In severe cases, the engine may sputter or stall altogether.

Solution: Fixing a failing fuel pump is more complex. A trained mechanic should do it.

Clogged Catalytic Converter

The converter is part of the exhaust system and helps reduce harmful emissions. Over time, debris can clog the converter, blocking exhaust flow and reducing engine power.

Symptoms: A clogged catalytic converter can cause significant power loss, especially at higher speeds. The exhaust may also smell like rotten eggs.

Solution: A clogged converter may need cleaning or replacing, depending on how bad the clog is. This is a job for a mechanic.

Worn Spark Plugs

Worn Spark Plugs

Spark plugs ignite the air-fuel mixture in the engine’s combustion chambers. Over time, spark plugs can wear out and become less efficient at creating a spark.

Symptoms: Worn spark plugs cause many problems. These include misfiring, hesitation, and lack of power during acceleration. You may also experience rough idling and increased fuel consumption.

Solution: Spark plugs are inexpensive and can be easily replaced. Consult your owner’s manual for the recommended spark plug type and replacement interval.

Faulty Sensors

Modern cars rely on a network of sensors to monitor various engine functions. These sensors relay information to the car’s computer, which then adjusts engine operation accordingly.

Symptoms: A faulty sensor can send the computer wrong information, which can cause many problems. These include trouble accelerating, stalling, and a lit check engine light.

Solution: Diagnosing a faulty sensor can be tricky and requires specialized equipment. A mechanic can pinpoint the problem sensor and replace it.

Diagnostic Steps For A Car Struggling For Speed

It can be frustrating and unsafe when your car doesn’t speed up. To find out what’s wrong, follow these steps. When you feel uncomfortable checking these things, asking a professional for help is okay.

Identifying Symptoms

The first step is to gather information about the problem. Here are some key details to consider:

  • Severity: Does the car hesitate slightly, or is there a complete lack of acceleration power?
  • Consistency: Does the issue always happen? Or does it only happen under specific conditions (e.g., uphill driving, cold engine)?
  • Warning lights: Are any check engine lights or warning symbols illuminated on the dashboard?
  • Additional symptoms: Notice any unusual sounds, smells, or vibrations from the engine.

Test Driving Procedures

A test drive can help recreate the problem and provide further clues. Here’s what to focus on:

  • Pay attention to engine response: Does the engine rev freely without hesitation?
  • Test acceleration in different scenarios: Try accelerating from a stop, uphill, and on a highway.
  • Engage different gears (if applicable): Notice any variations in performance between gears.

Monitoring Engine Performance

Monitoring Engine Performance

The engine is the heart of your car’s power. Here are some checks to perform:

  • Air filter: A clogged air filter restricts airflow, hindering performance. Check for dirt and debris.
  • Spark plugs: Faulty spark plugs can cause weak ignition and poor acceleration. Consider their condition and recommended replacement intervals.
  • Visual inspection: Look for loose hoses, disconnected wires, or damage near the engine.

Checking Fuel System

Fuel delivery issues can starve the engine of power. Here’s what to consider:

  • Fuel level: Ensure you have enough fuel in the tank.
  • Fuel filter: A dirty fuel filter can restrict fuel flow. Check your owner’s manual for replacement intervals.
  • Listen for the fuel pump: A weak or failing pump can not deliver fuel at the required pressure.

Inspecting Transmission Components

Transmission problems can also affect acceleration. Here are some initial checks:

  • Automatic transmission: Check the fluid level and condition of an automatic transmission, following the owner’s manual.
  • Manual transmission: Ensure the clutch is engaging and disengaging properly without any slipping.

Solutions & Repairs: Car Struggling For Speed

Diagnosing why your car struggles to pick up speed can be tricky. Here are some potential solutions, ranging from simple checks to more involved repairs.

Easy Fixes

Sometimes, simple solutions can fix your car’s speed issues. Here are 4 easy fixing solutions:-

  • Fuel Level: This seems obvious but is a common culprit. Ensure your fuel tank isn’t running low. A low fuel gauge reading is a strong indicator. It’s coupled with hesitation during acceleration.
  • Check Engine Light: Pay attention to the illuminated engine light! It point to a sensor issue, emission problems, or other factors that affect performance. Check your car’s manual for codes, or visit a mechanic for a proper diagnosis using an OBD-II scanner.
  • Air Filter: A clogged air filter restricts airflow to the engine, hindering its ability to breathe properly. This leads to a lean fuel mixture (too much air, not enough fuel) and reduced power output. Replacing a dirty air filter is a simple and inexpensive fix.
  • Tire Pressure: Low tire pressure increases rolling resistance, making the engine use more power to maintain speed. Check your tire pressure against the recommended PSI (pounds per square inch) rating. You can find it on a sticker inside the driver’s door jamb or in the owner’s manual.

Part Replacements

Part's Replacements

Some car parts can wear out and need replacing. Here are 3 part replacements you can follow:-

  • Fuel Filter: A clogged fuel filter restricts fuel flow to the engine. This causes hesitation and slow acceleration. Replacing the fuel filter is routine. You can find the intervals in your car’s manual.
  • Spark Plugs: Worn-out or fouled spark plugs can cause weak ignition. This leads to incomplete combustion and power loss. Replacing spark plugs according to the manufacturer’s recommended schedule can restore performance.
  • Mass Air Flow (MAF) Sensor: A faulty MAF sensor sends bad data about the incoming air. It sends this data to the engine computer. This disrupts the air-fuel mixture and can cause hesitation and reduced power. Cleaning or replacing the MAF sensor is necessary.

System Overhauls

You may need a complete overhaul when the problem is big, like with the engine or transmission.

  • Fuel System Cleaning: Over time, deposits can build up in the fuel injectors and lines, hindering fuel flow. In severe cases, the whole fuel system needs professional cleaning to restore proper operation.
  • Ignition System Diagnosis: In addition to spark plugs, other parts in the ignition system can break. This can cause weak sparks and less engine power. A qualified mechanic can diagnose and repair any underlying issues.

Performance Tuning (For Experienced Users)

Sometimes, tuning your car can improve its speed.

  • Air Intake System Upgrades: Replacing stock air intake parts with high-flow filters or cold air intakes can boost airflow and increase power. However, make sure they work with your car and do not break emission rules.
  • Exhaust System Modifications: Performance exhaust systems, such as air intakes, improve engine breathing and may also boost power. Remember, these changes can alter the legality of sound and emissions, so choose parts accordingly after researching.

Ensuring Proper Tire Pressure

Don’t forget about your tires. Proper tire pressure is crucial for optimal performance and fuel efficiency. Check your tire pressure often, including the spare. Adjust it as the manufacturer recommends. Remember to account for pressure changes due to weather conditions.

Prevention Strategies For Car Smooth Speed

By following these steps, you can reduce the chances of your car struggling to pick up speed and ensure smoother operation.

Regular Maintenance

Sticking to a regular maintenance schedule is key. It is crucial for car health and performance. This includes:

  • Oil Changes and Filter Replacements: Fresh oil keeps the engine running smoothly and lubricated. Replacing oil filters prevents contaminants from circulating in the engine. Follow the manufacturer’s recommended intervals found in your car’s manual.
  • Air Filter Replacement: A clean air filter allows good airflow to the engine, which allows efficient combustion and power delivery. Replace the air filter as recommended every 12,000 to 15,000 miles.
  • Spark Plug Replacements: Worn-out spark plugs can cause misfiring and power loss. Spark plugs should be replaced every 30,000 to 100,000 miles. The exact time depends on the type per the manufacturer’s schedule.
  • Other Scheduled Maintenance: Your car’s manual outlines many maintenance tasks. These include checking and changing transmission fluid, coolant flushes, and brake inspections. These services ensure all systems function optimally, contributing to smooth performance.

Quality Fuel Use

Using high-quality fuel

Using high-quality fuel can impact your car’s performance and longevity. Here’s what to consider:

  • Octane Rating: Choose the octane rating recommended by your car’s manufacturer. High-octane fuels resist knocking (premature detonation) in high-performance engines. But, they offer no benefit for standard engines.
  • Top-Tier Detergent Additives: Look for gasoline brands with Top-Tier Detergent standards. They contain additives that prevent deposits in the engine and fuel system, keeping performance optimal.

Timely Repairs

Ignoring minor problems can lead to bigger issues down the road. Address any warning lights or noticeable changes in performance. Here’s how:

  • Check Engine Light: Don’t ignore it! It indicates a sensor issue affecting engine performance. Consult your car’s manual for specific codes or visit a mechanic for a proper diagnosis.
  • Unusual Noises or Vibrations: These can be signs of failing components, such as worn-out engine mounts or a faulty wheel bearing. Early detection and repair prevent further damage and maintain smooth operation.


1. Why Does My Car Struggle To Get Up To Speed?

When your car struggles to get up to speed, it could be due to a dirty air filter, bad spark plugs, fuel system problems, or exhaust blockages. These can affect engine performance and acceleration. Regular checks and maintenance can prevent and solve these problems, ensuring smoother, faster rides.

2. What Does It Mean When Your Car Takes Awhile To Pick Up Speed?

When your car takes a while to pick up speed, it indicates problems such as clogged fuel lines, dirty air filters, malfunctioning sensors, or transmission issues. These conditions can prevent your engine from receiving the proper mix of air and fuel, reducing efficiency and delaying acceleration.

3. Does A Faulty Fuel Pump Affect Car Speed?

Yes, a faulty fuel pump can affect car speed. It reduces fuel flow to the engine, resulting in poor acceleration and performance. Ensuring your fuel pump is in good condition is crucial for maintaining optimal vehicle speed and efficiency. Regular checks can help prevent these issues.


When your car has trouble speeding up, it’s important to figure out why. Start by noticing any odd sounds or behaviors. Then, test drive your car and check the engine and fuel system. Look at the transmission, too.

When something’s wrong, you might need to clean parts, replace them, or fix big systems like the engine. Tuning your car can also help it run better. In some cases, if the problem is related to the ignition system, you might need to bypass the ignition switch to start your car temporarily, but remember to address the underlying issue promptly.

Remember to keep your tires filled with air. By taking these steps, you can help your car speed up properly and keep it running smoothly. Additionally, if your car jerks when you accelerate, it may indicate underlying issues that require immediate attention to ensure optimal performance and safety.

Avatar of Tylan Inman