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Starting problems with 2002 Chrysler Town and Country

We have a puzzling problem with our 2002 Chrysler T&C. The It is hard to describe in words, but here goes. When you turn the key, it sounds as if the car whirs as if it is going to start but it does not seem to “catch” and actually start. I can eventually get it started after a minute or 2, but I have to pump and sometimes hold down the accelerator to get it to do so. Even when it does start, I have to keep holding it down to get it to crank up. Once it starts it is fine. I do smell a very heavy gas smell when I start it, and there is a backfire almost every time. I have taken it to the mechanic 4 times (2 different mechanics) and they have either not been able to duplicate the problem, or they say that it has not tripped any codes. I am dumbfounded. Anyone know what could do this?

You starter pinion appears not to be engaging the flywheel ring gear. That usually signals a worn out starter. A good shop will pinpoint the problem, but based on the car’s age, be preapred for a $300 or so new starter.

The fact that you keep trying to crank it without turning the engine over but with the fuel pump working, may be the cause of the “gas smell”.

I would get this fixed ASAP.

Leaking injector(s)?
Is it always hard to start?
Only difficult to start if it has sat for less than several hours?
Only difficult to start if it has sat for more than several hours?