2001 Saturn SL2 won't start

My car has less than 50,000 miles on it, and I’ve always taken great care of it. I just had it in the shop about a month ago for an oil change (and, as it turned out, about $1,700 worth of other work. Ah, dealerships.)

I came back from a weeklong vacation, and discovered my car wouldn’t start. It almost seemed to the first time; on all subsequent attempts, I hear the starter, and the car occasionally shudders as if trying to pump fuel into the engine, but no dice.

When I put the key in the ignition and turn it to ACC, three lights come on and stay on: “Service Engine Soon,” the oil pressure light, and the battery light. The oil pressure light will briefly turn off every time the car shudders when I’m trying to start it, but will come back on again a few seconds later.

A few facts that may help:

- It’s cold here - at or just below 32 degrees F.

- The car’s parked on an incline, with the driver’s side doors maybe 10 degrees lower than the passenger’s side, and has been for a week.

- The car has more than three-quarters of a tank of gas, and at least according to the gauge, no one’s siphoned the fuel.

- The battery seems fine. It’s died in cold weather before, but this time, the interior lights turn on, the display on the clock is sharp and clear, and the power locks work. None of those things happened on either of the times the battery died.

- I last started the car about a week ago, also in cold weather, in the same parking space, after digging it out from a snowstorm. It started fine, and I let it run for maybe 30 seconds before shutting it off. I knew I’d be gone for a while, and wanted to start the car and run it for a bit so it wouldn’t go too long between starts.

Should I wait until daylight and warmer temperatures, and try again? Would putting the car in neutral and pushing it to a flatter parking space make any difference? Any advice would be very much appreciated.

The warning lights you saw on while the engine isn’t running is a normal condition. They are in the test mode so you know they work. If they come on with the egine running then you need to be concerned.

I suggest you try sraying some starter fluid into the air intake to see if that will help get the engine going. Also holding the accelerator all the way to floor while cranking the engine may help also. The engine may be flooded with fuel. If you can’t get it started don’t wear down the battery completely trying to get it going. If it gets low on charge get a charger and charge it up. You don’t want to damage the battery also.

Holding the accelerator all the way down did the trick. I let it run for a minute or so, turned it off, and tried to start it normally, and it started right up. Thank you so much for your good advice!

Do you know whether this is likely something I should see a mechanic about, or just a sporadic fluke?

It sounds to me like the fuel in the line found its way back into the tank while the car sat. I wouldn’t worry about it.

If you go away again, simply put the key in the “on” position a few times for 4 seconds each before putting it in the “start” position. That should run the pump and fill the fuel line. Another thought is to fill the tank just before leaving for your trip. The pressure from the gas in the tank may help prevent the line from draining so completely. It will only drain back until the level in the line is equal to the level in the tank. Fluid seeks its own level.