Why Is My Car’s RPM Gauge Bouncing?(Solved)

Why Is My Car's RPM Gauge Bouncing?

Note: As an amazon associate I may earn a small commission from qualifying purchases if you click to amazon from my site and choose to make a purchase.You can read my complete affiliate disclosure for more details

Why Is My Car’s RPM Gauge Bouncing?

An RPM gauge measures how many rotations the engine makes and converts this into a speed reading. This is most useful for measuring an engine’s RPM when idling.

The average RPM gauge can measure in hundredths of a mile per hour (MPH) or kilometers per hour, but some gauges can be as accurate as tenths of one MPH or kilometers.

There are two main reasons why your car’s RPM gauge keeps bouncing.

1. Vacuum Leak in The Engine

A vacuum leak will cause your engine to suck in air and blow out exhaust fumes. This makes your RPM gauge bounce up and down because when the vacuum leak is sucking in air, it pulls the car’s RPM gauge down, and when it blows out the exhaust, that means the engine is revving high, which makes the car’s RPM gauge bounce up and down.

  • Check your car’s vacuum hoses and ensure they are all intact; if a vacuum hose is broken or coming off, it leaks a big vacuum.
  • Check your engine for other cracks or holes sucking in the air, then repair that.

2. A Bad Cylinder Head or Valve

This is the common problem that can cause your RPM gauge to bounce. A combination of two things causes it.

One is the natural wear and tear of the engine, and the other is that when the valves are bad or stuck – they can cause your RPM gauge to bounce.

The main symptom of a bad cylinder head or valve causing your RPM gauge to bounce is that it will feel like you are losing power when you step on the gas.

This will cause your RPM gauge to take longer than normal to get back up after you step on the gas because it has less horsepower than before.

Inspect your valve or cylinder head; if there are cracks or other problems, repairing it will fix the problem.

What Does It Mean When My RPM Gauge Is Bouncing?

FactorExplanationHow To Fix
Engine Running too hotDriving for an extended period.
Temperature gauge is in the red zone.
-Increase airflow
-Decrease engine load
-Turn off headlights.
Loose or Worn-Out beltBelt can’t tighten properly.
Driveshaft rotates improperly.
Replace the belt as soon as possible.
Loose or Worn-out PulleyPulley can’t tighten properly.
Noisy operation.
-Replace the pulley and belt at the same. -Time if either one is worn out.
Loose or Worn-out TensionerTensioner can’t tighten properly.-Replace the Tensioner and pulley at the same time if either one is worn out.
Vacuum leak in the engine-Erratic idle
-Air leaks into the engine
Replace the vacuum hose.
Engine Splashing Oil-Oil leaks from an oil seal or gasket.
-Engine idles rough or makes a groaning noise during acceleration.
-Check the oil level, oil cap, and oil filter element for proper operation.

What Causes RPMs To Bounce At Idle?

1. Faulty Idle Control Valve

The idle control valve boasts a location near the throttle body. It regulates the air that mixes with your engine’s exhaust gases. When it malfunctions, it can cause RPMs at idle to bounce up and down.

2. Idle air bleeds

Small passages inside the intake manifold allow air to bypass the throttle plate when idling to smooth out the idle. If the bleeds are blocked, RPMs at idle will bounce up and down.

3. Vacuum leaks

Several vacuum lines in your engine bay connect to the air intake and other devices. If these lines get damaged or disconnected, you’ll see a drop in RPMs at idle and modest performance gains.

4. A/C leaks

A/C hoses sometimes leak at the connections. If there’s a large enough drop in cabin air pressure, you’ll see even more idle RPMs jump around.

Why Is My Car's RPM Gauge Bouncing?

5. Idle air control valve

A small throttle plate in your fuel rail controls the airflow to your motor’s idle setup. You might see RPMs jump around with this component damaged or disconnected.

6. Idle speed control system

This system controls the air and fuel mixture when your engine is off. Like the other idle controls, it can cause problems if it’s disconnected or damaged.

7. Worn Flywheel

If you see a significant change in RPMs at idle but don’t have any other problems listed here, this is often a sign that your flywheel needs replacement.

How Do You Fix A Jumping Tachometer?

  1. First, turn the engine off, then get a tool kit and an open-end wrench.
  2. Drain the fuel tank, remove both screws on the carburetor with your wrench, and set them aside for later use if you need to add a new one.
  3. Pull the wires off the four spark plugs with your hand and pull them out of their holes with pliers.
  4. Pull the two wires off the throttle with a pair of pliers and take a screwdriver and carefully pry off both screws on top of the cover under the gas tank that holds in your ’77-’79 model tachometer.
  5. Pull out that cover and try to pry off the tachometer. It will stick on there, so don’t pull too hard. Just get a screwdriver in there and go around the perimeter until it comes off.
  6. Now, you’ll have a wire coming from the back of the tachometer that you tape onto a piece of plastic with two metal clips (it looks like an old-model alternator). That is what controls your “jumping” tachometer problem.
  7. Take a screwdriver and try to pry off that piece of plastic with the two metal clips on it. Be careful because if you’re not careful, you can break the clips and make your tachometer go “haywire.”
  8. When it comes apart more easily, pull up on the wire that goes from that wire to your engine’s electrical, and it will come off like a little piece of plastic with a wire sticking out of it.
  9. Now, you can use your screwdriver to pry that little electrical piece off the tachometer so it’s free. Then remove the jumper wires on both sides and put them back into the hole you pulled up from.
  10. Reinstall and reattach your tachometer wire strap with both screws if you don’t remove it when you pull that cover back.

Is It Normal For RPMs To Bounce?

No! When your RPMs bounce, it means that there is a problem, such as:

 1. Faulty spark plugs

Faulty spark plugs can make RPMs bounce because it does not provide the spark for complete combustion, so the engine is not getting all the power it needs.

2. Defective Fuel pump

A defective fuel pump can make RPMs bounce because a faulty fuel pump can’t push enough gas into your engine, which will also make your RPMs bounce.

3. Defective Ignition Coils

Defective ignition coils can also cause RPMs to bounce because it does not provide a spark for complete combustion.

4. Defective Intake Manifold Gaskets

A defective intake manifold gasket can cause RPMs to bounce because if the seal between the manifold and cylinder head is not intact, then it will cause the engine to lose compression and thus make your RPMs bounce.

5. Faulty Detonation Prevention System

A malfunctioning detonation prevention system (DP) can also make RPMs bounce because it is designed to prevent knocking in an engine with too much knock.

6. Faulty Fuel Injectors

A faulty fuel injector can make RPMs bounce because it’s not supplying enough fuel to your engine.

7. Faulty Oxygen Sensors

A faulty oxygen sensor can make RPMs bounce because if the sensor isn’t working properly, it’s not sensing air leaks in your engine, thus making your RPMs bounce.

Can Bad Spark Plugs Cause High RPM?

Yes! Bad spark plugs or plugs with a bad gap can cause high RPM. It causes the spark between the plug and the engine to wander around the combustion chamber. This creates an inconsistent spark pattern and lowers the efficiency of the combustion process.

The engine runs hotter and, thus, needs higher revving to run normally. You must hold it at a flat angle to make it burn.

You can hold it at an angle for long periods, but naturally, you’ll want something better to do while waiting. In this case, you can force the engine to rev higher, and your car will produce more heat than normal.

This happens because the engine is running at a different RPM than normal.

The engine feels like it is running at a higher RPM than it is, and with no spark plug available for the piston to compress, it will feel like it’s running at high RPM when it’s just sitting there.

Also, if you don’t have spark plugs in your car, you can’t see where your car is misfiring. Because of this, you wouldn’t know that your car is running at a lower RPM. This can lead to serious engine damage.

Can A Bad Alternator Cause RPMs To Fluctuate?

Yes! A bad alternator causes the RPM to fluctuate when you accelerate because the engine is trying to keep up with the power needs.

When the alternator fails, it stops supplying a constant voltage to your car’s electrical system, and your battery drains.

The engine will go through periods when it’s overloaded and not pumping enough fuel. This will cause one of two things: it will either slow down or die altogether if no power goes into the injectors.

This is why when the engine is slowing down, it feels like you are accelerating because your car’s RPMs are not keeping up with the slow speed of your engine; this is when you feel a car slowing down in what seems like fast motion.

If you don’t have enough power to the alternator, your battery slowly drains and stalls your car. This causes your RPM to fluctuate when you accelerate with an alternator problem.

To fix this, remove the positive cable from the battery and ground the negative cable to the engine block. This will allow the alternator to recharge your battery and keep your car running.

Why Does My RPM Go Up But Not My Speed?

1. Faulty Transmission

Some issues with the transmission, such as a clogged oil filter or a transmission solenoid sticking, may cause your RPM to go up and not down. You can fix this problem with the drivetrain by replacing the solenoid.

2. Fuel Injection Computer Malfunction

An issue with the fuel injection system may cause an increase in RPM but not speed.

The fuel injection system and engine computer communicate to maintain the proper emissions and functions of your vehicle – and those computers can malfunction, resulting in this incompatibility.

This is a problem with your vehicle’s emission control systems that requires servicing by your dealer or mechanic to fix.

3. Transmission Control System Failure

If your RPM goes up but not down, this may be a case of a failure in your transmission’s computer. If you are having trouble with the Automatic Transmission, you should take it to your mechanic immediately.

If the engine light is on and you notice abnormalities in how the car behaves when driving, then this is an issue that you need to investigate by a mechanic right away.

4. Engine RPM sensor failure

The engine RPM sensor is connected to the transmission, and its job is to provide information about speed and gear changes to the computer.

If this part malfunctions, then it can result in a problem where the RPM goes up but not down. This is a vehicle diagnostic issue that a mechanic can easily diagnose.

What Causes RPM To Drop While Driving?

1. Failed Throttle Position Sensor (TPS)

The TPS is an electronic sensor that monitors the amount of throttle position in your car, and sends a signal to engine management software telling it how much torque to deliver from the engine.

If you have a faulty or failed TPS, it can result in erratic throttle response, clogged air filters due to excessive power use, worn valves due to too much fuel use.

2. Distributor Failure

The distributor is a rotating unit in the car’s engine bay that distributes power to spark plugs.

Using an ignition coil, the distributor sends an electric current to the spark plug to ignite petrol vapors inside the cylinder. The distributor has a rotor that you connect to your car’s crankshaft.

As it spins, it creates electromagnetic signals (coils) that send an electric current to each spark plug at the right time. 

Why Is My Car's RPM Gauge Bouncing?

3. Failed Spark Plugs

Spark plugs are the bridge between the car’s engine and the power distributor.

They control fuel combustion in your engine, which means that if their performance isn’t up to snuff, it can cause burned-out coil packs, poor ignition timing, and even engine stalling.

Spark plugs typically last for 20,000 to 50,000 miles (32,000 to 80,000 km), so whether you drive a lot or not, inspect them as often as possible.

4. Ignition Coil Failure

Ignition coils are electrical devices that take an electrical charge from the distributor and regulate its power as it gets sent to the spark plugs.

If they fail, they can lead to engine misfires, which can cause your car to run poorly, have a lack of power, or even stall.

5. Failing Ignition Coil Connectors

Ignition coil connectors often deteriorate over time and lose connectivity with the plugs. This causes a loss of power, which leads to poor performance, engine misfires, and even stalling. 

Why Does My RPM Lag When I Accelerate?

1. Faulty Idle air Control Valve

A stuck, broken, or clogged idle air control valve might prevent the engine from accelerating properly. To fix this issue, change the oil and flush the mass airflow sensor (MAF).

If your car depends on automatic transmission, a malfunctioning MAF may cause a feeling of hesitation when shifting gears. You can adjust your transmission fluid levels or replace them if necessary.

2. Faulty Spark Plugs

Faulty, worn-out, or dirty spark plugs may cause your car to have lower acceleration. Replacing the spark plugs will solve the problem. However, the following problem might appear during the repair:

In addition to the spark plugs, you need to change the spark plug wires and the distributor cap.

The latter can cause a misfire issue which a bad connection or loose wire could cause; replacing the distributor cap when changing spark plugs is recommended.

If everything works fine with your car, it may be caused by a lack of lubrication; replacing spark plug wires, especially the distributor cap, could solve this problem.

3. Faulty Vacuum hoses

Faulty vacuum hoses can result in insufficient air entering the mass airflow sensor, which could cause problems with your acceleration.

The main source of air leakage is most likely the air intake hose: it typically cracks due to poor quality.

To fix this problem, replace all cracked or broken vacuum hoses and ensure no other leaking spots.

4. Faulty Computer

If you use a vacuum distributor, check your vacuum line for damage. If there is no issue with the vacuum line, you must perform a computer scan and fix the problem.


You now know about RPM gauge bouncing or RPM dropping while accelerating.

Sometimes it’s hard to estimate which issue is causing your engine RPM to bounce up and down or go up and not down; this article might help you figure out the main cause of these problems.

Recent Posts