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Car hard to start, feels like not getting gas upon cold start

I’ve been driving my wife’s 2001 Ford ZX2 for the last ~9 months.

Early on in taking over driving it I noticed that it was difficult to start, so I had the battery checked. One place said it need to be replaced, but I wanted confirmation so I had it checked at two other places–it was in the normal range. So then I thought it probably needed a tune up since, as far as I know, it had never had one (has ~50K and I know it should’ve been done earlier). But, that didn’t seem to fix it either. I then had the fuel filter replaced. Nothing. I generally turn the key over for a few seconds before I actually crank it to let fuel in. It is now taking 3 times each startup to do this. And, right after starting it feels like the car is struggling to get gas (as if the fuel filter is completely stopped up or a fuel link is kinked).

Once the car is warm it cranks over on the first time (as if nothing is wrong). The last time I was at the shop they told me I need to have my fuel injection system cleaned. I have doubts about this–they based it on mileage not any sort of actual diagnostic or inspection. I use quality gas and run a fuel injector cleaner at each oil change. Please offer any advice.


The problem might be with the fuel pump check valve.

This check valve prevents the gas in the fuel rail/line from draining back into the gas tank as the vehicle sits for extended periods of time. When this happens the fuel system gets air in it. Then when attempting to start the engine the air has to be purged out of the fuel system before the engine will start and run smoothly. Think of it as turning off a garden hose with a spray nozzle at the faucet and letting the hose sit in the yard overnight. In the morning when the water is turned back on and the handle on the spray nozzle is pulled the hose spits and sputters air out before you get a solid stream of water.

To confirm if this is the problem, the next time you go to start the engine after the vehicle has sat, turn the ignition switch to the run position so the dash lights come on for two seconds and then turn the ignition switch off. Repeat this a half dozen times to cycle the fuel pump that many times, and then try starting the engine. If this allows the engine to start right up and run smoothly the problem is most likely with the fuel pump check valve.


Thanks and sorry for the delay in getting back to this. My mechanic has never heard of a fuel pump check valve. Is there another name for it? When I talked to someone else they asked if I was talking about a fuel pump regulator.

Did you check for a bad or out of range engine temp sensor or bad air temp sensor? If the computer does not know the engine is cold this can happen.