96 Ford Explorer sputters to death

Hello, first time poster so please forgive any rules I may have missed.

My 96 Ford Explorer, 4.0L 6 cylinder engine with 238,000 miles on it. Been at least 75,000 miles since last tune up.

The issue: Sometimes (not all the time, but with increasing frequency) when I go to start my car, then engine will turn over then immediately begin to sputter to death. I was countering this by pushing on the accelerator just after it turns over, and this seems to be the only trick to make it start revving. However sometimes this doesn’t work and it just prolongs the pathetic sputtering. I’ve been told that pumping the pedal a couple times before turning the ignition can help, and it did for a few days, but then it stopped working.

My theories: I was hoping it would be a cheap fix, so I replaced the fuel filter. The issue continued. My thoughts are that it’s either a fuel pump issue, which is a bit out of my experience level, but I have friends to help me with. Or it might be a bunch of toasted spark plugs, as they haven’t been changed in a long time.

Please keep in mind that it will still start most times. Especially when it’s cold. For example I left to go shopping after not driving all day last night and it started just fine. Drove a mile to the store, did my half hour of shopping, then I went to leave and it wouldn’t start. It would turn over almost every time, but then just sputter to death right away. Pumping the gas wouldn’t help, just prolonged the sputtering. I let it sit for about 40 minutes while I tried to clean out the intake filter and look for any loose wires or plugs, then I tried one last time and it grabbed and revved and I got it home.

Any other thoughts would be greatly appreciated. I don’t have a ton of funds so I really don’t want to replace anything that won’t solve the issue. If you have any questions, I’ll do my best to answer them quickly. Thank you!

Have you tried the Coolant Temp Sensor? Perhaps the sensor is bad and is signaling that the engine is cold. If that were the case, it would run way too rich and could cause a problem like that. Are you getting smoke from the tailpipe when it won’t start? I don’t think they are that expensive to replace. Should be less than $200. Hope this helps. 230K on your Explorer! That certainly is encouraging since I have a 2007 Eddie Bauer V8 with 72K on it. It still runs perfectly, so I hope to have the longevity you have experienced!

I’m guessing either leaky fuel injectors or an ignition system problem, likely a faulty crank position sensor or ignition module. The injectors aren’t supposed to leak any gasoline when the engine is off. If they do it will run way to rich at first, and the problem will be most evident when the engine is already warmed up. Crank position sensors and ignition modules tend to be heat sensitive.

My first thought is a fuel pump, for whatever reason similar symptoms on our 03 and many similar posts with similar problems, Had the wife stop by the dealer every trip so they could diagnose it in a no start condition, after 3 tows to the dealership under warranty, and it started right up. She stopped there no start, the dealer was cooperative in looking at it immediately, and fuel pump was the issue. Do you have a Check engine light on? We did not.
Diagnosing it in failure mode is the key.

And try to put some funds back to get that tune-up!

I know funds can be tough to come by, but unless you live in a place with a decent public transportation system, your vehicle is an essential tool and you need to take care of it.

Sorry to preach - I just had to get it out!