You may have heard your mechanic say the words “limp mode” before, but do you actually know what he meant when he said it?
Going to an automotive repair shop can be intimidating when the professionals use words for your car that you’ve never heard, they say things like “limp mode” and expect you to understand, or charge you for parts that you didn’t know were missing. Not to worry though – they’re called “professionals” for a reason and are usually happy to help.
In this case though, you may still be wondering what limp mode even means.
Although the term itself sounds a bit funny, it’s a very common issue that people seek a mechanic’s help for on a regular basis. In fact, it’s one of the TOP problems that people need help with from an automotive repair shop. You’re not alone!
Limp mode is certainly not something to stress heavily over and can be easily fixed, but could become quickly dangerous if not treated quickly.
So, you think your car is in this “limp mode” you’ve been hearing about.
What is Limp Mode?
Also known as “limp home mode”, limp mode is a self-preservation feature in your car that will activate when it detects abnormal readings or dysfunctioning mechanical operations. Basically, when this occurs, your car is letting you know that it is having serious issues with the basic mechanisms of the vehicle and needs to be solved immediately for your safety.
It will turn off your car’s extra features (air conditioning, for example) in order to preserve it’s energy for the necessary features (like driving!) to get you to a safe place. That’s why it’s called limp – like you would if you twisted your ankle and reserved your energy to “limp” home!
When your car goes into limp mode, it’s best to pull over when it is safe to do so and call a mechanic or road-side assistance to help sort out the issue.
What Causes a Car to go Into Limp Mode?
Beyond asking a professional, here are 5 reasons why your car may be going into limp mode:
- The check engine light is on. If there’s a little orange “check engine” light on your dashboard that you’ve been ignoring for weeks, that could certainly be a reason why your car is going into limp mode. Car issues that go unchecked for long periods of time can lead to worse symptoms, so it can be a reasonable assumption to make. It’s nothing to be ashamed of – but if you know that light has been on for a while, there’s likely a big issue with your transmission that needs fixing in order to move beyond limp mode.
- A failing transmission/clutch. A failing or previously failed transmission can be a big factor for a car going into limp mode. Some reasons for this may be your car having bad solenoids (wire coils inside your car) or improperly adjusted linkage (in your steering system). Your car is doing this to prevent further damage to the transmission, protecting itself from harm and you from danger while driving it.
- Faulty wiring can be another reason why your car goes into limp mode. Wires can be damaged by water, battery acid, heat, direct damage (from accidents or debris), or being adjusted by an amateur mechanic. Wires fail to send proper signals to the inner computer of your vehicle when damaged, so this will cause your car to panic and go into limp mode. If you can think of any reason why your wires may have suffered damage, this could be a strong reason why.
- Low fluid levels. If you continually let your transmission fluid and oil (among other necessary fluids) stay low in your car, you are risking damage and allowing your car to enter limp mode. Letting fluid levels stay low causes low pressure in your vehicle, which will harm the transmission and stop it from performing correctly. When your transmission fails to perform, your car initiates limp mode. Road-side assistance can help with bringing you new fluids for your car.
- Inner sensor malfunction. The sensors in your car (such as the MPS, MAF, TPS, or speed sensors) control the engine and transmission and are an integral part of making sure your vehicle runs correctly. When one of them fails to send correct signals (or any signals at all), your car will enter limp mode to protect itself. It’s important to your safety while driving to have all sensors working correctly. Otherwise, you may accidentally cause a road accident.
If you’ve correctly identified the cause of your car going into limp mode (or feel like you have the right idea), it’s good to get started on fixing it right away so that you’re safely moving on the road again. There are several treatments that will help you take a vehicle in limp mode to a functioning car again, though it is always best to get help from a professional mechanic to ensure you don’t damage the car – or yourself, for that matter.
To fully fix the issue, you’ll need to get the help of an automotive repair shop due to the complex nature of the problem.
However, there are 3 treatments you can try for now to help your car get out of limp mode and get it driving you home again:
- Clear your check engine light. If you have an OBD2 scanner (which scans your car’s inner computer and reads through the issues within), using that will be a quick fix to pull your car from limp mode. However, since most people don’t have that, you can also disconnect your car’s battery cables, hold them together for 15-25 seconds, then return them to the battery. This may restart your car’s computer and “erase” the previous problems. This is NOT a permanent fix, however.
- Check and top up fluids. As previously mentioned, keeping your fluids low can be a big issue for your car. One way of solving is this refilling your car’s necessary fluids/oils while being aware of what they look like before pouring in new oil/fluids. If they look dirty, burnt, or diluted, that could be a whole other issue that needs sorting out to prevent further damage. Once the new fluids/oils have been topped up, turn the car on and off again to reset the fluids. This may work to remove limp mode.
- Shut off the engine. If you turn off your car and let it sit for about 5-10 minutes, this may help ease the issue your vehicle is having. If your car is overheating or having another easily-fixed problem, you can use this time to check into it and perhaps even solve it yourself. If anything, it will allow your car to rest – and when you turn it back on again, limp mode may have been resolved. Sometimes, cars will act funny due to hot weather, overuse, or the age of it, and it needs a short break.
After reading through the treatments, you may have found one that removed your car from limp mode and allowed it to be fully-functional on the road again. That’s great! But what about if it happens again, or what if you’re wondering about your safety, given that you aren’t 100% sure you actually solved the problem permanently?
The best way is to use a scanner (the OBD2 previously mentioned), either one that you purchase yourself or one that can be used from your local car repair shop. This scanner can read through to your car’s inner computer and identify the exact problem to help you drive safely on the road again. If you’re likely to run into this issue again, the scanner can be purchased for relatively inexpensive and you can take the guesswork out of it when your vehicle enters limp mode again next time.
In conclusion, limp mode is just your car’s way of trying to protect you and doesn’t have to be seen as an “annoying” feature that prevents you from driving to work. If a sensor wasn’t working correctly and your car didn’t alert you – you could accidentally lose your brakes! That would end up being an even bigger problem.
Most often, limp mode can be easily fixed by replacing a part, fluid, or re-connecting a wire, which can be done by you, but should at least be consulted by a professional first. It doesn’t mean your car is unfit for driving, it just means you need a small section of it checked and replaced before limp mode will get turned off again.
If your car is frequently going into limp mode, although it may not be a serious issue, it can lead to further damage and future severe consequences. In order to keep your car from being impounded due to being unsafe, be sure to treat the issue immediately and seek the help of a local repair shop if you are nervous to complete a fix on your own.
Not everyone is a mechanic!
- What Does It Mean When a Car Goes Into Limp Mode? – It Still Runs