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Did I break it?

My fiance has a 2002 Chevy Cavalier with a 2.2L inline-4 OHV that has 120,000 miles. About two months ago I replaced the head gasket, sparks, and wires. About a week ago my fiance told me that the engine was “sputtering” when she was low on gas. A few days ago the engie started sputtering and died and the low trac light came on while in the middle of an intersection. I was able to get it started again and safely into a parking lot where it died again. I couldn’t get it to move very fast when I did have it running and now it just won’t start. It turns over when I try to start it. The lights turn on and there is no sign of battery problems. The serpentine belt is intact and it has a full tank of gas. What might this be and did I do it?

If you replaced the head gasket on this car, diagnosing this problem should be easy for you. A head gasket is fairly major engine repair. Does the engine lack spark or fuel? Does the fuel pump run when it is supposed to? If you have a tachometer, does the needle jump when you are cranking the engine, or just sit at zero? Once you narrow it down to spark or fuel, things should get easier from there.

Replace the inline fuel filter before you do anything. If the car is often run low on gas, then the fuel system has no choice but to draw gasoline that has a higher percentage of impurities, likely including rust. The gas tank in any car should be considered “empty” when half full. This prevents the tank from drying out above the point where gas sloshes around while driving, and if there is moisture in the gas, rust may develop and later get washed off by adding gasoline. The overall effect is you will clog the inline filter, and the car will behave just as you have described it.

Check for fuel pressure at the fuel rail and spark at one of the plugs…It will be lacking one or the other…

Thanks for the advice and the boost in confidence. Once I got around to it, it only took me a few hours to change out the severly rusted fuel filter and the fuel pump.

I saw in the thread that you changed the fuel pump and filter and that t only took a few hours. The forum format does not identify the time of the original post, so I have to ask…is the car now fixed?

And are we to presume that these provided the solution to the problem?

She runs great. I had a little trouble getting the fuel filter off, but once I got that off and of course once I was able to drain the gasoline, it was a breeze. It would have been nice to know that in order to get the gas out, I had to bypass a one way valve in the actual tank. GM wanted to make sure that someone would have to work hard to steal gas out of this car.

If I had to stop every time my tank got to half full, I would spend more time filling than actually driving. Myth.