Wifes car has a problem! Any ideas? I'm all out!

Here is the thing. My wife has a 2001 Saturn SL2 with about 130,000 miles. The car starts and runs just fine, but during her commute sometimes the car just dies for no reason. She will be truckin along and she says it acts like it is running out of gas (sputters), then as she pulls off to the side it will completly die. If she tries to start it up again and go, it will start up but sputers and dies when she gives it gas. Here is the kicker though…if she waits about 5 or 10 minutes she can start it up and drive on as if nothing has happened. May happen every day, maybe every few, but starting now to be every day like it is getting worse.

I told her to just leave a few minutes early for work! :slight_smile: She didn’t like that idea…

Could it be the catalytic convertor? Fuel Pump? I have no idea! Any help?

Don’t think the catalytic converter will do it but it could be the fuel pump. I don’t know much about the Saturn, but try to find out if the fuel pump has a relay and replace that first, much cheaper!

Have it checked for codes, even if the check engine light isn’t on. The computer will store pending codes that when occur enough times, will set the light. You may have a problem that hasn’t occurred enough times or frequently enough.

If it shows a P0507, it’s the intake manifold gasket, no matter what the books and computers say.

Had the codes checked. Can’t remember the exact one, but was told that the only that showed up was a small vacuum leak. I was told that, that couldn’t be the problem, but I don’t know anything about it myself.
I’ll check the pump relay.
Any other ideas?

Without knowing any maintenance history (if any), if the problem is fuel or spark related, etc. it will be near impossible to narrow this down.

The most obvious in my opinion would be a failing fuel pump. A pump can act like this, but so could other things; ignition module, coil, crank sensor, ignition switch, and on and on.

When, if ever, was the fuel filter last changed? If it’s been a while or never then the pump probably goes to the top of the list.
Whatever it is, it’s likely going to sputter and die permanently pretty soon.

I have seen the intake manifold gasket problem keith mentioned. The gasket material breaks down and creates a small vacuum leak, setting the kind of code you mentioned. However, it CAN cause an intermittent stalling problem. You could carefully use some carb cleaner to find out where the vacuum leak is, but I bet it’s the intake gasket as the SL2 motor is notorious for them. The fuel pump is still a good possibility, but I would tackle that vacuum leak first. It’s cheaper and very well may be the cause of this problem.

I would not think a manifold gasket leak is going to be erratic in nature and allow the car to run fine for days at a time though; and according to the OP, the wife trucks right along with it until the problem occurs.

A small manifold vacuum leak should really not even cause much of a performance problem at speed but could cause a ragged idle or even a stall at idle speeds.

On any car, the fuel pump relay can become intermittent, and cut the fuel pump on and off, which cuts the engine on and off. Change, or swap the fuel pump relay with another.
Look for the fuel pump relay behind a plastic panel on the center console. Scroll down about 5 pages in these instructions for changing the fuel pump relay. http://www.autozone.com/autozone/repairinfo/repairguide/repairGuideContent.jsp?fromSearchPage=true&pageId=0900c1528024b283&partName=Fuel+Pump&partId=0900c1528024b283

[EDITED]: Look here for the fuel filter / fuel pressure regulator: http://www.autozone.com/autozone/repairinfo/repairguide/repairGuideContent.jsp?fromSearchPage=true&pageId=0900c1528024b244&partName=Removal%26Installation&partId=0900c1528024b244

I also agree with the fuel pump relay or possibly fuel pump suggestions. You could carry some starter fluid with you to have on hand when the trouble happens again. Then spray some into the intake and see if things change. If the engine fires you can be pretty sure it is a fuel delivery problem. Replacing the relay would be a good first attempt to fix the trouble without doing some more troubleshooting.

So as not to overlook a possible and simple solution … when was the fuel filter last changed?

Had a friend that had a older neon that did a sim thing - it would run for about 30 min and then just die. Let it cool down for about 15min and it was fine again. It ended up being the computer was cutting out when it got hot. New computer and all was good.

You can’t do diagnosis like that. If a mechanic decided what was wrong with a car based upon something as disconnected as you describe he would not be doing his job. Actual computer failures are way down the list of possibilities. Computers are expensive and several levels of testing are performed before you call one bad. The OP car’s a Saturn and your talking about a Neon? Not even the DIY should practice auto repair like you describe.

I’d replace the fuel filter first.If not that probably the pump, I’m never lucky enough to be just the relay

I have a feeling that something has been misinterpreted between the shop and the OP.
Maybe the vacuum problem is not a vac. problem at all but an evaporative emissions problem instead. If that’s the case, then it’s unlikely to have anything to do with engine performance.

The problem with a faulty relay is that the relay may actually be damaged indirectly by the fuel filter.
Continued operation of the fuel pump with a partially clogged filter means the pump draws more electrical current. More amps being drawn means more current passing through that tiny set of contact points inside the relay. Eventually the points burn and the relay can be a hit and miss affair.

The fuel pump electrical draw could be checked with an inductive ammeter. If it appears to be high then it’s likely a combination of dying pump, clogged filter, etc.

To use the Starting Fluid spray (available at auto parts stores), using regular pliers, disconnect a small rubber hose from the large rubber air intake hose, and spray a blast of the Starting Fluid into the opening in the large black tube. Put the small tube back on. Attempt to start the engine. If it starts, the problem is fuel supply/pressure.

There are fuel pump tests (notice the plural of the word “tests”). A certain number of mechanics/shops don’t know/do more than the static fuel pressure test. Here are the instructions on them: http://www.aa1car.com/library/fuel_pump_diagnose.htm

A mechanic considers, and tests, possibilities, such as you suggested. A good mechanic doesn’t dismiss them out of hand; but, he doesn’t simply change parts to see if that makes a difference (unless, the part is inexpensive, and testing would be much more expensive and time consuming).

Another possibility ocurs to me, and that is that the code was indicatiing an EVAP system problem of excessive vacuum. In short, I’m wondering of the charcoal canister is clogged or the vent line kinked and vacuum is building inside the tank. It may have perhaps even weakened the pump.

To the OP: can you stop by the local Autozone and get the codes checked again?

I’ll stop back by Autozone and get the code.
I did pick up a relay. Going to try it. Anybody tell me where to stick it? The link that was provided to show it doesn’t work for me.

Pick up a Haynes manual while you’re at the parts store. That should locate it for you as well as providing a guide to changing it.

What was wrong with the link to the autozone site: http://www.autozone.com/autozone/repairinfo/repairguide/repairGuideContent.jsp?fromSearchPage=true&pageId=0900c1528024b283&partName=Fuel+Pump&partId=0900c1528024b283 which shows the removal/replacement of the fuel pump, AND (five pages down)how to access the fuel pump relay in the center console? Is your Saturn different? Were you asked to register? What?

It does in this case.