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Intermittent Starting and Occasional Stalling

So my 2002 Chevy Malibu has been having some trouble over the past few weeks. Out of nowhere the car starting having difficulty starting, I’d turn the key and the engine would crank but it would not start. I found out that if I left the key turned to the ON position for a few second and then turned it to start the car would normally start without issue. Between the time when this started (about a month to a month and half) to now my car has also stalled out 3 times while driving, it restarted immediately after stalling though without issue. Over the weekend the cat failed to start entirely and I had it towed to my family’s mechanic, he however started the car without issue 3 different times and was unable to find anything wrong with the car. Now the car will start only if I press down on the accelerator while trying to start. Obviously something is wrong with my car and I want to fix it but have no idea what it is and don’t want to get misled by mechanic looking to profit off of my automotive ignorance. The check engine light is NOT on and never has been. Any help in diagnosis would be greatly appreciated. Thank you in advance

Sounds to me that your engine is starving of fuel. Could be as simple as replacing the fuel filter, to fuel pump or even, but unlikely, the fuel injection system.

The next time the car does not want to start on the first try do the following. Turn the key to the “on” position and listen to the fuel pump. You should be able to hear some sort of whirring noise from the back of your car. Wait about 3-5 seconds and turn the key to the off position. Repeat the cycle two or three times and then attempt to start the engine. If it starts there is a good indication that the pump is ready to go out.

Not sure where your fuel filter is, but if you can replace it, I would do that first. It’s inexpensive, surely can’t hurt and you can rule out a bad fuel filter.

Btw, I would not automatically assume that mechanics want to take advantage of you. Don’t forget, they want you to come back when your engine breaks down.

When the engine stalled, was your foot off the accelerator?

If so, the problem might with the Idle Air Control valve.

The IAC valve controls the engine’s idle speed under all conditions by allowing air past the closed throttle plate.

One indication of a bad IAC valve is, the engine won’t start unless the accelerator is depressed.

This is because you slightly open the throttle plate which allows air into the engine and the engine starts.


Turning the key to on and listening for the fuel to go in was the method I used to start the car for the past month or so, and the fuel pump was my first suspicion from studying on the Internet, also I don’t automatically assume mechanics will rip me off but I’m not a fan blind trust either so I want to know as much as possible

On all three occasions the stalling happened during braking (twice as I approached stop lights and once as I turned into a driveway), my research on the idle air valve leads me to expect that the car should have weird idling rpms but those have consistently stayed around 1000 rpm throughout my time with the car.

Thank you both for the speedy response

It could be both the fuel pump and the IAC. You have symptoms of both problems.

Ask your shop do a look-see at the IAC device, and if that looks to be working, a fuel pressure test is probably next.

If you have any deferred maintenance on the engine, might be a good investment to bring all that up to date first.

Considering the age, there could be multiple issues.

This car is also under a Recall for the ignition switch; something that can certainly cause no-starts, stalling, and so on. If not done already you can have this job performed free of charge at the GM dealer.

I looked back at this year and model at, a partner of CarTalk’s. Other owners reported this issue. There is also a TSB on the issue, number 160,102 issued in January of 2002, but it may be unrelated given that the car is now 15 years old.

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Just wanted to give an update in case anyone else is having similar issues. I took it back to my mechanic after another day where it refused to start. After a more thorough investigation, including checking the fuel pressure ruling out fuel pump issues,he determined there to be an issue with the fuel relay. He switched the fuel relay with the horn relay (I guess it’s the same component but the horn relay was in far better condition) and after $25 my car is starting with no problem. I’ll see if the infrequent stalling issues persist as I continue to drive.