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1982 Chevette Dies Intermittently

Hi all,

I’ve recently acquired a 1982 Chevette. 4-door manual transmission, gas (not diesel). It’s being used for a film, and it’s perfect except for one little issue.

The car starts fine (sometimes needs a little starter fluid), and generally drives fine around town. But if you sit and idle for a couple minutes after driving (usually longer than a normal red light), once you start going (usually in 2nd gear), the engine sputters and the car dies. When this happens, the car won’t start for 10-15 minutes. The engine turns over but doesn’t fire. Starter fluid will get it going, but as soon as it burns that, it dies.

The problem appears to be that gas is not getting into the carburetor. It has a new fuel pump, and we’ve replace the fuel line and cleaned out the fuel filter. The carb is not stock. It’s a Holley that it had when we purchased it. There are a lot of outlets capped off, and I don’t know enough to know what might not be hooked up properly.

After the car dies, the fuel pump buzzes as if it’s trying to pump fuel, but it doesn’t appear to actually be pumping. Normally we just wait it out, but sometimes we kill the battery trying to restart it. We’ve successfully push-started it a couple of times, but that only works after enough time has passed that it would have probably started up fine anyway (if we hadn’t killed the battery trying).

To sum up, if we follow this sequence of events, the problem will always present itself: start up normally (after not having driven for a couple hours), drive a few miles, idle for 2 or more minutes and then continue driving. Once we continue driving, it dies before we get up to speed.

Any ideas on what to do? I only know enough about this to barely describe the problem, but I am not a car guy. I’ve been learning little by little with this one. We have recently replaced the spark plugs, wires, distributor cap and rotor, ignition control module, ignition coil, thermostat, o2 sensor and alternator belt. None of this has had a noticeable affect on the problem.

Any advice is much appreciated.

if starting fluid gets it going and then dies…sounds like a fuel starvation problem.

This is the era of GM’s where they used a very tiny gas filter that’s housed inside the carb. Follow the gas line to where it connects to the carburetor. Remove the line and filter…Clean or replace filter and see if that does it.

Next time it stalls wrap a wet rag around the fuel line at its highest point and attempt to re-start. It sounds like vapor lock from a poorly routed fuel line.

Depending upon the amount of sediment trapped by the fuel filter, if it is rusty and heavily sediment-ed then the problem could be H2o and or rust in the tank, which would cause the fuel pick up strainer to become clogged. The fuel pump is electric and may also have a small brass screen in the inlet side which may also be partially clogged. Also, I am puzzled as to why this car has an electric as opposed to a mechanical fuel pump. I seem to recall that my old Chevette was mechanical.

Thanks for the feedback, everyone. We worked on it some more tonight. It’s clear that fuel is simply not getting to the carburetor. It appears to be getting to the pump alright, although the pump doesn’t always send it out to the carb. We’re now suspecting the pump might be to blame. I’m not sure if it’s the pump or an electric problem.

What we did tonight was re-route the gas line from the pump to the carb and moved the fuel pump away from the engine a bit. Suspected it was getting too hot, but that didn’t make any difference. The pump isn’t original, and I don’t know if the original did used to be mechanical. This one’s electric though.

We disconnected the line coming from the tank and dipped the fuel line into a can of gas, and at first it started up just fine (after driving it a bit and making it stall first). We thought then that it was debris in the tank. We repeated this, after stalling again, and this time it didn’t start. Then we disconnected the line coming out of the pump and pointed it to a fuel can, and when the ignition switch was on, the pump hums but doesn’t pump gas out of the line. After putting my finger on the tip of the line to create some suction, it started pumping again. Then the car ran.

So anyway, maybe it’s the pump. Haven’t ruled out debris in the tank completely, as it’s a little bit of an inconsistent problem. But I’ll post updates when we have time to work on it again.

I’m happy to report that resorting to a new mechanical fuel pump cleared up the issue. The car is now running reliably again. Thanks for all of the tips!