1999 Ford Ranger suddenly lost speed and stopped moving last night

Hi we’re Ian and Hannah (mostly Hannah right now.)
Ian doesn’t think we have enough information yet to ask your community about this incident, but I figure we can add more info if/when it’s available. Figures I would finally have a legitimate reason to call Car Talk 7 months after they retire :confused: We’re looking for any thoughts/ideas/people to whom this sounds familiar to give us advice that will potentially help us fix this without having to tow the truck to a mechanic.

Last night when Ian was driving to my house on a small highway, going about 50MPH, his car suddenly started losing speed and quickly dropped down to around 30. When he tried to accelerate, it would make a lot of noise and effort but the speed would only increase by maybe a mile per hour or so and then drop down even more, until within a minute or so he was convinced that the car was going to just stop moving if he didn’t pull over and shut off the engine. At this point he had close to a quarter tank of gas according to his gas gauge.

On the side of the road, he checked the engine’s levels and the only thing he found that was unusual was that the oil was pretty low even though he had checked it just a week or two ago. I buzzed down and brought him some motor oil, but when he tried to start the car again it just clicked over on the driver’s side of the engine. Not sure if this is a symptom or a function of having left the flashers on for 20 minutes while he was waiting for me. After we got it towed to my apartment complex, the tow truck driver jumped the battery to try to drive it about 10ft into a parking spot. In order to keep the car running he had to pump the gas and brake back and forth. One other thing I noticed there was that in reverse, the car seemed to move fine, but once he put it into drive it took a lot of finesse and some very scary sputtery noises to coax it into moving forward. It was like the parking brake was on but 2x as hard. Also the gas gauge now read empty, which could have been an electrical thing. The tape deck also spontaneously turned on.

This reminds me a bit of when I had my last junker and the alternator needed replacing, but he just replaced the alternator 2-3 years ago so it seems unlikely and annoying that it would have gone south again so fast.

Anybody have any ideas for us?
Ian and Hannah

Sounds like the battery or battery cables could be bad. All corrosion needs to be cleaned and the battery needs to be tested. Grounds need to be cleaned and tight. The alternator could be good, but the connections are bad.

This may sound drastic, but I suggest a compression test and a fuel pressure test.

Oil level is suddenly low with no explanation? I concur w/db4690 above, a compression test is probably the first thing to do.

There’s a lot of extraneous information here. First is that the starting problem is not very likely the same as the driving problem. It’s possible, but not likely.

Second, there isn’t enough info to determine what may be the driving problem. A better description would be helpful. Things like:

Did it come on suddenly? According to the narrative, yes, but were there some indications that things weren’t going well BEFORE the thing lost speed.

How many miles on the Ranger? At 14 years old, there should be a ton of miles and that may point to something thus far overlooked.

What was the noise that was noted? A better description please.

And one thing that isn’t clear, could it be the transmission? Is the engine running fine in reverse, but the forward gears aren’t engaging?

Sonds electrical. Bad battery? Check voltage with battery off. Than start rig and checking voltage at idle

Possible head gasket-oil leaking into cylinders.

@IanHannah what engine?

Check the fuel line. This happened to me a few times, then the line came off completely. It was an easy fix.