Chevy Cavalier

I have a 95 Cabalier that will run for 30-40 mins, then sputters and stalls like its out of gas. The computer isn’t putting out any error codes, and the local shops cant figure out why it won’t stay running. Please help!!!

Say something about mileage and maintenance (e.g. plugs/wires/air & fuel filters), and give more info. E.g. what happens after it sputters and stalls? Does it start right back up? If not, how long? Does it run well up until it dies? Start easily? Idle smoothly? etc.

You need to find out if you’re losing fuel or spark. Next time it stalls, hook up a spark tester & check for spark. If you have it, squirt some starter fluid into the intake - if it fires even if for a bit, then its fuel.

My own WAG to start with is failing ignition components - as they heat up, the resistances increase and it is harder for the car to produce spark.

What have the local shops done?

I had an 85 Cavalier that would stall because a wire that connects the alternator to the battery would overheat, but those symptoms indicated a bad alternator. Does your idiot light indicating a charging failure come on before the engine dies? Does your idiot light indicating a charging failure illuminate during the testing phase when you first start the car? If the answer to both questions is “no,” you might have an electrical problem and a failing idiot light (don’t take this term personally).

When was the fuel filter last changed?

The car is pretty well maintained. New plugs and wires, one yr old fuel filter. 175000 mi. after it stalls, it won’t start for about an hour, then it fires right up and runs for another half hour. The only other symptom that it has is if you accelerate too hard, it looses power, and speeds up the stall time. Driven ruff, it will only accelerate once, then die for the hour. smooth idle, for 10 mins, then stalls as if it has been driven. Lasts longer when driven than idleing.

If you cannot diagnose fuel or spark failure try stopping at a shop when you know failure is imminent and have an analysis done. Let them know your problem so they can have somebody ready to jump on it when you arrive. We had a similar problem and after getting towed to the dealer twice and the car started right up I had my wife stop by the dealer every time she passed and stop and see if it would start. We got lucky one day it did not start at the dealer, they checked everything while in failure mode and it turned out a fuel pump replacement solved the problem. I am not saying it is your fuel pump but you cannot diagnose a failure with no codes while everthing is working.

Based on that I would be looking first at three things:

  • fuel pump/pressure. Hook up and gauge with and extension if you can & drive around w/ it taped to the outside of the windshield

  • Exhaust blockage - pretty easy to figure out if you have a vacuum gauge. If you don’t they’re cheap ($40 or so), easy to use, and very handy.

  • Next step past plugs/wires in ignition system - ignition coil/distributor & coil - whatever it has.

The loss of power on acceleration is most consistent with the first two.

I think you might have a clogged catalytic converter.

It may be running out of gas. When fuel pressure is checked, most shops just put on a pressure test gauge on the fuel line, idle the engine, and, then if the fuel pressure is within specs declare the fuel pressure is ok. This is not good enough. The fuel pressure needs to be tested in in-use conditions – that is, the car accelerating and cruising. The only way to do that is to drive the car on a dynamometer, or on the road, with a fuel pressure test gauge installed, with a long fuel hose, taped to the outside rear view mirror, and observed while the car is being driven. If the test is done this way, and the fuel pressure falls off, change the (yes, even one only 1 year old) fuel filter, and test again.