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Old 01-22-2014, 01:02 PM
 
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Repair question basics: 70,000 miles on car, I got a new battery installed in November.

I just got back from a trip that lasted about 50 days, my car was parked outside in the heart of the polar vortex.

When I first got in the car, it started up completely fine. Then after 5 minutes the engine started stuttering and turned off. Fortunately I didn't move the car anywhere, I started it while I was removing snow and ice from the car.

I jump started the battery to no avail. The car will start, but will shut off after a few minutes. When it shuts off, further attempts at starting the car fail, unless I leave and come back an hour or so later but then the same thing happens.

I'm automotive-illiterate and in a city where I don't know anybody. I'm concerned about being scammed for unnecessary replacements or repairs if I call up a towing company or an auto repair shop.

Could the alternator have gone bad? How much do you project that this problem will end up costing me?
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Old 01-22-2014, 01:06 PM
 
Location: WI
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how much gas was in the tank? If below 3/4-1/2 or so, it's possible some moisture may have built up in the fuel/lines?
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Old 01-22-2014, 01:21 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ranger17 View Post
how much gas was in the tank? If below 3/4-1/2 or so, it's possible some moisture may have built up in the fuel/lines?
Not just built up, but actually frozen. If you were driving the car around and then just parked it outside and you had less than half a tank of fuel then you most likely have frozen water in your tank. What happens is that when the car is running, the fuel tank is warm. When you park it and you have a low fuel level, the air in the tank starts to cool and condensate forms. This condensate can easily freeze blocking up the the whole fuel system. Parking the car for as long as you did can simulate this as well do to normal ambient temperature changes, especially with under a 1/2 tank of fuel. Basically, you have a giant block of ice in your fuel tank and the car won't start until you melt that. To do that there are a few options:

1. Get the car moved indoors to a heated garage and let it sit for a few hours.

2. Put a tarp over the car and use a space heater to pump heat under the tarp for a few hours.

3. Get yourself a bottle of HEET and add it to the tank. If ambient temperatures get back above arctic this will help melt things a bit and pull the water out of the fuel. This will also help with either method above:

HEET 28201 Gas-Line Antifreeze and Water Remover - 12 Fl oz. : Amazon.com : Automotive

Once you have the fuel tank warmed up, you need to clear the fuel pump several times before you start the car. DO NOT try to just crank the engine over as it won't start and you will just kill your battery. What you do is turn the key to the 'accessory' position and you should hear the fuel pump whir. When it stops, turn the key to off. Repeat several times and then try to start the car. If it doesn't work right away repear the steps. It may take up to 10 minutes of cycling to get everything clear.

In the future when leaving the car sitting for a long period of time in the winter, add a bottle of HEET and fill the tank before parking it.
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Old 01-22-2014, 01:22 PM
 
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The cheapest and easiest place is where I'd start.

If it starts then dies, it apparently has spark, and is apparently getting gas - at least for awhile.

Dump a couple bottles of Heet in the gas tank. It's possible that you've got moisture in your fuel line, and in extreme cold it freezes. If you can get it started, and it will run for 5 minutes, that will get the Heet circulating through the fuel system.

Hopefully, you get lucky and that solves things.

Next step would be to replace the fuel filter.


Let us know what happens.
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Old 01-22-2014, 01:24 PM
 
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By the way, if you're using gasoline that contains 10% ethanol/alcohol, you basically have HEET in the fuel system. It should never freeze up.
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Old 01-22-2014, 01:33 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GarageLogic View Post
By the way, if you're using gasoline that contains 10% ethanol/alcohol, you basically have HEET in the fuel system. It should never freeze up.
Yes and no. Even if the pump says "10%" you have no idea what the actual concentration is. The ability of ethanol to absorb water also scales with concentration and temperature. The lower the concentration of ethanol in the gas, the lower the total amount of gas and the colder the temperature...the less water the ethanol will absorb. So, assuming the OP had a half tank or less, it probably wouldn't have mattered if he had ethanol blend fuel or not.

You are correct though, that you could probably skip the HEET if you filled the tank, which would greatly minimize the potential volume of water we are talking about. Even then though, a bottle of HEET wouldn't hurt if you are leaving the car outdoors for 50 days in the winter, like the OP did.
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Old 01-22-2014, 01:39 PM
 
1,211 posts, read 1,287,054 times
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Very interesting responses, thanks. I have half a tank of fuel.

I didn't include this in the original post but shortly before the engine stops running, the fuel gauge goes from half to zero. Every time.

Does this fact support or contradict the fuel line moisture theory? I'm Googling to see where I can find Heet, its really cold outside and I don't have a ride; but I would be willing to jog to a place that has it nearby if this fact confirms the theory.

I just tried to start the car again, and as usual it starts, goes for a few minutes, and shuts off. This time I pressed the gas pedal to maintain 2000 RPM to see if anything different would happen.
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Old 01-22-2014, 02:02 PM
 
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Did you ever mention what kind of car it is?

Any other electrical problems? Sounds like a dying ignition switch.
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Old 01-22-2014, 02:21 PM
 
Location: WI
3,805 posts, read 8,506,316 times
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depending on the car and i could be way off, but could the elec fuel pump have both a "start" and a "run" mode and separate fuses?
So it fires with the gas in the lines but dies when it runs out? Or maybe that puts us back to the frozen lines...
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Old 01-22-2014, 02:39 PM
 
14,777 posts, read 34,490,118 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mighty_Pelican View Post
Very interesting responses, thanks. I have half a tank of fuel.

I didn't include this in the original post but shortly before the engine stops running, the fuel gauge goes from half to zero. Every time.

Does this fact support or contradict the fuel line moisture theory? I'm Googling to see where I can find Heet, its really cold outside and I don't have a ride; but I would be willing to jog to a place that has it nearby if this fact confirms the theory.

I just tried to start the car again, and as usual it starts, goes for a few minutes, and shuts off. This time I pressed the gas pedal to maintain 2000 RPM to see if anything different would happen.
It would help if we knew the year, make and model of the vehicle. It can all be related and caused by the condensation freezing. It could also be an electronic issue related to the relays in the fuel pump assembly. The fact that it keeps starting and runs for a bit leads me to think it may not be the frozen issue, but that is certainly still on the list. It could just be that the fuel pump or ignition switch is going bad.
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