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Can a car engine stall out?

It seems to me that a plane can stall out, but a car can only stall.

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Dictionary.com says: "(of an engine, car, airplane, etc.) to be stalled or go through the process of stalling (sometimes followed by out )." Given that definition, I don't think it's exclusive to airplanes. –  Lynn Dec 22 '11 at 1:29

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Of the first ten written instances of stalled out in Google Books, only two involve planes, but most of the rest involve trucks, cars, outboard motors, etc.

So the answer is - Yes, a car engine can stall out, as can lots of things besides planes. OP may be thinking that only planes fall out of the sky when they stall, but I don't think that makes any difference here.

EDIT: Having never heard "stalled out" before, I checked written instances of 'motor stalled {out}', confirming my suspicion that the "out" version is comparitively 'below the radar'. But it is used.

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+1 I had never heard "stalled out" before, neither for planes nor cars. –  slim Dec 22 '11 at 13:06
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also note that a plane stalling is a completely different phenomenon to a car stalling. It's not that the plane's engine stops. It's that the lift coefficient from the wing drops suddenly, either because the plane is moving too slowly, or it's at the wrong angle. –  slim Dec 22 '11 at 13:30
    
My car stalled out at the intersection would be the normal way to say this, for me (AmE) - that is, I would use stall out to refer to a motor stopping, where I would not say just stall. I would say the plane stalled before the crash because as @slim mentions, this stalling is different; I don't think of them as the same thing. –  aedia λ Dec 22 '11 at 16:53
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Most British people would say "my car stalled at the junction", or "my engine stalled at the junction". I've never heard "stalled out". –  slim Dec 22 '11 at 16:57
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@aedia: Weird. Your distinction seems to be the complete opposite of the one OP was expecting. I'm not sure I understand it - so far as I'm concerned, "out" is just something meaninglessly (and rarely) tacked on by analogy with clapped / crapped / knocked out, etc.) But if you perceive a difference you should post that as an answer to see if anyone else makes the same distinction. –  FumbleFingers Dec 22 '11 at 17:01

Yes an engine can stall out, so can the vehicle that contains it.

In English, out is often used as an adverbial intensifier to stress the action represented by the verb. This is certainly the case here. Out here serves no semantic purpose other than intensifying the scope of the stalling.

You can also say: my car stalled completely. Here completely is meaningless, because a car either stalls, or doesn't stall. It can't stall partially. It's not a point along a scale.

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There's no real purpose served by "out". I guess some people say it by association with crapped out, clapped out, knocked out, etc. - but hardly anyone says it anyway, so that may be all it is. –  FumbleFingers Dec 22 '11 at 2:52

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