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2001 Prizm - Intermittent hesitation under acceleration from stop

I own a 2001 Chevrolet Prizm with ~150,000 miles. It has the three speed automatic transmission. It generally runs very well, but occasionally when pulling away from a stop it will hesitate for 2-5 seconds. I’ll push the gas, but it will basically just creep forward slowly, as if I’d only taken my foot off the brake. If I keep my foot on the gas for a few seconds it will start to accelerate, although it seems to surge a little bit (although this could be because I probably end up pushing the gas harder than I normally would, hoping that it will go).

This problem was happening very intermittently, although its been happening more lately. Its been going on over the past year or so, but it would only happen maybe a few times a month. Over the past month, though its been happening more and more. Probably every other day for the past month. However, it doesn’t happen at every stop. For example, if I leave for work (about a 15 min drive on city streets) it will usually make it through a few traffic lights before it happens. Then after 5-10 minutes driving I might pull up to a stoplight and it will hesitate pulling away. It might make it the rest of the way to work without incident, or it might do this at 1-2 more stoplights. On longer trips the car seems fine; it runs well on the highway and behaves normally otherwise.

Some maintenance history:
-bought the car 5 years ago with 110k miles; it had just had a rebuilt engine installed
-about 3 years ago I had the catalytic converter and O2 sensors replaced (got a check engine code)
-about 2 years ago I had the in-tank fuel pump replaced
-about 10 months ago I replaced the mass airflow sensor (the car was stalling on start-up and the check engine light was on - this fixed the stalling problem, but not the intermittent hesitation problem)
-I have not had any transmission service done, but the car shifts smoothly. I checked the fluid and the levels seem fine and it doesn’t smell burnt

I have a couple questions:

  1. are there any simple checks that come to mind that I could do at home? I have some basic tools and am fairly good mechanically, but don’t have any diagnostic tools
  2. is this worth bringing to a mechanic? I’m worried that he won’t be able to replicate the problem. Are there tests he can/should run to figure this out even if he can’t observe the problem?

Any advice is much appreciated!

Did you ever solve this problem?

I ask because my 2000 Prism does the same thing. It happens daily now. Sometimes it’s dangerous.

After a time when it refused to start, for about 30 minutes, I replaced the fuel filter and found the problem went away. I was quite satisifed with myself until the problem resurfaced after only a few weeks. I can’t make sense of it. If the fuel filter is the problem, why doesn’t it get worse until I can’t start. I mean, it’s been about a year now since I replaced the filter.


The overwhelming majority of these problems are caused by overdue maintenance. The others are generally solved by using diagnostic equipment to (1) read the fault codes and work from there, (2) examine the ignition system on an analyzer, and (3) checking fuel pressure.

Start by gettting the ECU scanned for stored codes. Post the results here.

Sounds to me like you’re way overdue for a transmission fluid and filter service.

I believe ATF services are due every 30K miles for cars of your vintage.

If you let yourself get talked into a flush, have them also drop the pan, clean it and replace the filter, as well.

It might be a good idea to replace the fuel filter. That should be done every 60K miles, I believe.

Those are things I would do now.

View it as maintenance, not necessarily as the solution to your problem.

And if things improve, good.