Sputters and Dies

I have a 1999 Plymouth Neon Expresso with 163,000 miles on it. Just recently I lent it to a friend. Just before I picked it up again, he had filled it with gas. It started fine and ran fine for about 3 miles. Then it started to cough and buck, then died. When I tried to start it, it just cranked, no fire. After about 10 minutes I tried it again, and it started and ran about another 2 to 3 miles and did the same thing, coughed, bucked, and died. Again after about 10 minutes, I tried it, and it started. This time it ran fine all the way to work, about 8 miles. After work, the same pattern was followed. Twice it coughed, bucked, and died, then ran fine all the way home.

Thinking the gas may have had some water in it, I bought some gas dryer and put it in. I drove it to work and back two more days, then lent it back to my friend. A couple days went by and it did the same to him.

What is wrong with this beast???

Is the check engine light on? If so Auto Zone or Advanced Auto Will check codes for free. My crystal ball is leaning towards a possible failing fuel pump.

If it was running fine before getting gas, it sure sounds like you got a tank of bad gas. It may have been full of water or full of debris from the bottom of the tank and now has clogged the fuel filter (also one in the tank).

I had about 20K on my Olds diesel and picked up a bad tank of diesel in DesMoines which was 200 miles from home. About 30 miles out I was down to about 40 top speed, then down to about 20 all the way home. Changed the filter and it was ok but plugged quickly again. I finally pulled the tank and emptied it and the whole last couple of gallons were just full of water and slime and gunk. That was just from one bad tankfull.

This may be a fuel supply (to the engine) problem. It’s why diagnostic tests exist. The fuel filter and fuel pressure regulator are in a little can, together, attached to the fuel pump assembly, inside the fuel tank.
Check the fuel pressure with the transmission in drive, rpm held at 1,500 to 2,000 rpm for 3 minuets. The fuel pressure should hold at specs.
If you choose, you could empty and drop the fuel tank, remove the fuel pump/filter/regulator, and change the fuel filter/pressure regulator assembly. Reinstall everything, and test and drive. If this way solves the problem, you have saved $240 for a fuel pump, if you’re doing the work, yourself.

Find out where your friend bought the gas, then go there and tell the story. Sometimes a station gets a load of bad gas, or something gets into it (delivery on a very rainy day can get water in) and they know it. If they do acknowledge it, then they are on the hook to pay for repairs. If they refuse to pay, have it checked by a mechanic. Damage to your car from an outside cause is something that’s often covered by your insurance (comprehensive coverage).

If there was ssignificant water in the fuel it may take a couple of tanks and cans of gas dryer to clear it out. I would also suggest getting it checked for any stored error codes. You may have some even if the CEL is not on. Some auto parts stores will check for free.