I recommend keeping a few things in the car for just this type of situation. A small socket set with metric or standard sockets (depending on the make of vehicle) a standard screwdriver, a Philips screw driver, a pair of pliers, a can of starting fluid or brake clean, a flashlight, jumper cables, and a tow rope. This small assortment of tools will get you far in life.
If your vehicle stops running while you were driving, we call that a “Died in flight” situation. The main causes of a died in flight are a bad alternator and dead battery, a loss fuel, a loss spark, a loss fuel and spark, or a loss of compression.
One common problem is a dead battery due to a bad alternator. To start, try to crank (turn over) the engine. Observe what happens. If the car turns over very slowly, you most likely have a dead battery. Run your wipers, roll your windows up and down (if electric) and note the speed at which these work. If the wipers and window motors move slowly, your battery is most likely dead. Attempt to jump start the vehicle.
Take note to make sure you are connecting positive to positive, and ground (negative) to ground. Look at the battery for the denotation, often times battery cables have been switched and you can not necessarily trust red for positive, black for negative. Also, you may need to let the donor car run for a length of time while attached to the dead vehicle before the car will start. If the car dies as soon as the donor vehicle is detached, you most likely need a new alternator.
A loss of fuel is a very common cause of a car’s engine stopping and not re-starting. The easiest way to check if the car has lost fuel is to spray a bit of starting fluid (brake clean also works) into the intake. Remove the air intake boot, open the throttle plate and spray a reasonable amount of fluid into the intake. Replace the intake boot and attempt to start the car. if the car fires and dies, or at least pops a bit, you most likely have lost fuel.
Try dumping a gallon or two of gas into the car. Your fuel gauge may have stuck in the middle and left your car out of gas. Similarly, your fuel pump may have stopped working. Much in the same way that tapping a starter may get it to work, tapping a fuel pump can often jog it into working. Bounce the back of the car, kick the gas tank, bang the top of the access panel for the fuel pump (if equipped), anything top jostle the fuel pump may get it to work. Lastly, you may have lost injector pulse. If you have a test light, unplug one injector and check to see if the test light lights up during cranking.
Another common cause of a died in flight condition is loss of spark. Remove one spark plug, connect it to the ignition cable or coil pack, depending on the type of ignition system you have, and try to start the car. As long as the spark plug is grounded and you have a good ignition system, you should be able to see a spark arc across the spark plug. Loss of spark varies widely from car to car, but may be a bad distributor, bad crankshaft or camshaft sensor, a bad plug wire, bad cap or rotor, bad ECU or even a bad spark plug. If you have lost spark, you probably need to take the car to a shop.
The last cause of a car to die in flight and not re-starting I will cover is loss of compression. This event occurs when the timing belt or timing chain brakes, slips or strips. If you have a trained ear, you will hear that the car has lost compression as soon as you crank it over. The engine may turn over extremely quickly due to no resistance in the motor, or it may turn over with a strange, off rhythm. Regardless of what has caused the loss of compression, you will most definitely need to take the car to a shop to repair a loss of compression.
One last thing to consider, if you use BG products to maintain your car, you receive a free road side assistance card. These cards are good for a gallon of gas, having someone unlock your car, or a free tow to the shop. This road side assistance card is one of the many reasons we recommend using BG products when maintaining your car.