What is limp mode? Symptoms, causes, and how to fix it

June 08, 2022 by

If you experience a loss of power and see some warning lights on your dashboard, then your car may well have entered into limp mode.

It’s called this because the car will limit power to protect it from possible damage, while still allowing it to hobble on to your garage or destination.

There are a number of reasons why a car may go into limp mode, and in this article we look into the symptoms, causes and potential remedies for this issue.

Limp mode symptoms

Aside from the sudden loss of power and warning lights, your car may also exhibit a number of other symptoms when going into Limp mode:

  • Auxiliary functions may stop working -heating, air conditioning
  • The maximum revs will be limited to as low as 2,000-3,000rpm
  • In an automatic you may be locked into a low gear
  • Maximum speed will be limited to 30-50mph
The engine management light (EML) may illuminate when a car goes into limp mode

Limp mode causes

Limp mode is activated when the ECU (electronic control unit) notices that something is not operating within predefined parameters, this can be caused by a variety of factors such as:

  • Extremely low levels of oil or coolant
  • Transmission errors – such as when the gearbox can’t change gears properly
  • Brake malfunctions – seized brakes or a hydraulic leak in the system
  • Wiring issues – a problem with the wiring loom may cause erratic behaviour
  • Engine issues – issues such as misfiring or turbo problems

What to do if your car goes into limp mode

The reasons for your car entering Limp mode are varied but can be serious, so it’s best to have it examined by a mechanic as soon as possible.

You should never ignore the warning signs, but how soon you can attend to the issue depends on how far you are from a safe stopping point and how the car is driving.

If possible, check the oil and coolant levels as well as any obvious signs of wiring damage or leaking fluids under the car.

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How to get your car out of limp mode

You may be able to reset the car by switching it off and on again after about 30 seconds. If the warning lights disappear and the car behaves normally, then it may have just been a temporary glitch. Pre-system checks may see limp mode activate as soon as the car is turned back on though, or the issue could present itself again after you have been driving for a while.

Your car should still drive in limp mode, but you may want to be recovered regardless of this

If it goes straight back into Limp mode, then it is best to book the car in for a thorough check. You can either drive it to your garage if the issue is not severe, or have the car rescued. The cost to have the error repaired will vary from a simple labour charge for an ECU reset, to many thousands of pounds if the problem is serious and lies with the engine or gearbox.

Limp mode FAQs

Can I drive my car in limp mode?

The whole point of limp mode is that the car is driveable, albeit with reduced performance. If it or feels like something is seriously wrong, then it’s best to have it recovered to a mechanic. Driving in Limp mode for an extended period can worsen whatever may be wrong with the car. It’s also worth highlighting that if your destination is some way off, or requires joining fast roads (which could be dangerous with reduced performance), you may want to have it rescued.

How fast can I drive in limp mode?

This depends on what parameters the manufacturer has set, in most cases you will be limited to no more than 30mph to 50mph and will not be able to rev the car above 3,000rpm or change into higher gears if it is an automatic.

Can I bypass limp mode?

You can attempt to bypass Limp mode by restarting the vehicle after a short wait or by removing one of the battery terminals to reset the electronic systems. You can also check the fluid levels to see if that is the cause of the problem or have the error reset electronically to see whether it was merely a temporary glitch.

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