Engine sputtering out

So, a couple weeks ago, while driving down the highway, my '99 Grand Am had the oil lamp come on, and the engine was running rough. I pulled over and stopped the car, and then went to try to start it, to no avail. The engine wouldn’t crank. After getting it home via tow truck, I charged the battery as first aid.
Now, with the charged battery, the engine will start, and run very roughly, as in shaking the entire engine bay. Further, the oil lamp is on now. After a minute of running like this, the engine dies off. Stepping on the gas expedites the stalling out. I’ve checked and filled the oil, and the coolant (which was low). My next guesses are fuel filter and timing belt. Anyone have any ideas what might causing this behavior?

By oil lamp I assume you mean the red zero/almost nil/in trouble now oil pressure light.
How much oil did you have to add?

Depending upon the above you may need to hold off spending money on anything as the engine could be damaged goods now.

Sounds to me like the low oil pressure light may be a result of the engine running so rough. You don’t say how much oil you had to add. If it was only a quart or so, the engine shouldn’t be damaged.

The fact that the battery was dead suggests to me an electrical problem, possibly a bad alternator. If the alternator failed while you were driving, the engine would continue running until the battery lost so much current that the engine would start running roughly and then die, similar to what you describe.

So the first question is, why did the battery die? Have the alternator output checked.

Next question is why, after the battery is recharged, the engine still runs rough. Sounds to me like maybe a bad coil or two.

Another possibility is a bad head gasket or intake gasket, causing the engine to ingest coolant and run rough. Check the spark plug tips to see if they look steam cleaned, which would indicate coolant in the cylinder.

The important question is, how low was the oil? Usually if the oil light is on and you continue to run the engine, the engine self-destructs in seconds.


Is the check engine light on? Alternator needs to be checked. If you have a meter it should be putting out 14.5v with the engine running. Are the battery terminals clean? If voltages are good fuel pressure will need checking.

Most importantly, how far did you drive the car after the oil light came on? Also, referring to your original post, you don’t have a timing belt. GM cars use timing chains and the fuel filter is unlikely.

Might be running rough due to severe misfires

Was the check engine light blinking when it was running rough

Unless I hear otherwise, I’ll assume the check engine light was on

And if it was, there might be some fault codes. Once we know what they are, we could help

Has the car been well maintained?

I tend to agree with the others, that there may be several problems


It was full after two quarts, compared to its listed capacity of four quarts. The check engine light is not on at all while running.

First, have a look-see at the spark plugs.

If the car were mine I’d run a compression test and oil pressure test with an external gauge.

Running the engine on half capacity with the engine oil may not mean full blown engine seizure but can mean engine damage, The no-crank part of this could have been a temporary seizure either in the lower end or with the piston rings on the cylinder walls. Once cooled it will run again but this usually means some damage is present.

It’s best to know what you’re dealing with mechanically before handing a debit card to the parts store counter people.