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Sounds as if there is one or more cylinders misfiring. Possible defective ignition coil/spark plug/s/ or ignition wires. IS the vehicle blowing black smoke out the tail pipe? If so, another possibility could be an over fuel situation caused by a defective sensor or leaking fuel pressure regulator. My guess would be a mis fire causing the engine to not fire on all cylinders
It's really pretty simple - it can be open when it isn't supposed to be, or it can be closed when it is supposed to be open. If it is open when it is not supposed to be open, at idle for instance, It will act like one monster vacuum leak and the engine will not idle or will idle really roughly. If it doesn't open when it is supposed to open you will probably experience a symptom of "pinging" or "knocking" since the combustion chamber temperature will be higher than normal (one of the main causes of pinging in an engine).
If the check engine light is on, take the vehicle to an autoparts store and have them use a scan tool to retrieve any fault code(s) stored in the computer. Most parts stores offer this service at no charge. The fault code(s) will help narrow down the problem/potential problem. Sure hope this helps and best wishes.