English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Can a car engine stall out?

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

share|improve this question
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
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.

share|improve this answer
+1 I had never heard "stalled out" before, neither for planes nor cars. – slim Dec 22 '11 at 13:06
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
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
@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.

share|improve this answer
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

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.