My engine keeps quitting but works after I crank it.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | May 01, 2001

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have a 1990 Dodge Spirit with a 2.5-liter engine. It has more than 100,000 miles. Recently, I accidentally ran the tank dry. After filling it up and cranking it, it started right up. However, five blocks down the road, it quit. I cranked it for about half a minute and put the gas pedal to the floor, and it finally started. Several days later, it did the same thing. I had the fuel filter replaced, but it did it again the next day. I added dry gas yesterday, and so far, so good. Do you have any ideas for me? -- Joseph

RAY: Well, it depends. If the dry gas has, indeed, fixed the problem, then we have no idea what was wrong.

TOM: But if you're broken down by the side of the road by the time you read this (which is much more likely), then I'd suspect the fuel pump. Your car is the right age to need a new fuel pump, Joe.

RAY: Fuel pumps often fail this way. They don't fail like light bulbs -- working one second and dead the next. Fuel pumps can fail intermittently when they're on the way out.

TOM: And the fuel pump would be most likely to show signs of failure when the tank is empty. That's when you put the greatest strain on the pump.

RAY: When the tank is near empty, you're depriving the pump of its coolant, which is the fuel that it bathes in. You're also eliminating the helpful pressure that comes from the weight of the fuel, which helps "push" the gasoline through the fuel line.

TOM: So my guess is that your fuel pump is on its way out, Joe. Have your mechanic test it and replace it if necessary. Good luck.

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