Trying to figure out how to start a car with a bad fuel pump? When the fuel pump goes out on your car the only option you have is to get it to the nearest mechanic. The fuel pump is an essential part of your car’s engine and when it fails you won’t be able to operate your vehicle as you would under normal conditions. In some cases, it may even be impossible to start the engine once the fuel pump goes out. If you need to save money on a tow, there are a couple of methods you can try to get the engine running for a short amount of time so that you can drive to the nearest service center.
What Is A Fuel Pump?
The fuel pump is located right inside the fuel tank. In most vehicles, it's powered by a small electric motor that sends pressurized gasoline directly to the engine. The fuel delivery to the engine is what helps power the vehicle. The fuel pump works along with other important mechanisms such as the fuel filter and the fuel rail. The fuel pump delivers gas through the filter to the rails. Next, fuel is distributed to the fuel injectors which spray the gasoline into each cylinder combustion chamber in the engine.
Over the years, automobiles have significantly evolved. You’ll find that the fuel pump system in each car can vary depending on the year it was manufactured and the automaker. Older model vehicles use a mechanical fuel pump that relies on a carburetor. Newer cars use an electric fuel pump to deliver fuel to the engine.
Two Primary Types of Fuel Pumps
Simply put, the main types of fuel pumps used in cars today are either electrical or mechanical. Here is a quick breakdown of how these fuel pumps work:
Mechanical Fuel Pump – A mechanical fuel pump is driven by a camshaft. The pump which has strong suction power siphons fuel from the pump pushes it through to the carburetor which delivers it to the engine while it's running. This process is repeated continuously while the car is running.
Electric Fuel Pump – The electric fuel pump on modern vehicles is activated as soon as the ignition key is turned in the “on” position. The electronic fuel injection system requires high pressure which is why an electric mechanism rather than a mechanical module is best. Depending on the vehicle the electric fuel pump may be located inside the fuel tank or between the gas tank and the engine.
Mechanical pumps are much quieter compared to electric fuel pumps and they require very minimal effort to install. For daily drivers a mechanical fuel pump is adequate. The only drawback to this type of fuel pump is that it’s limited to engines under 450 horsepower. Electric fuel pumps offer a variety of flow rates.
How Long Does The Fuel Pump Last?
The fuel pump isn’t one of those components on your vehicle that requires regularly scheduled maintenance. Most people don’t give attention to the fuel pump until it’s time to replace it. On most vehicles, the fuel pump can last beyond the first 100,000 miles you put on the vehicle. However, it’s worth noting that a mechanical fuel pump can last significantly longer than an electric pump. Fuel pumps have been known to last until the 200,000-mile mark.
The two main factors that affect the longevity of your car’s fuel pump are general use and the quality of the fuel used in the tank. Seemingly small habits such as letting the tank get empty can also determine the lifespan of the fuel pump.
What some people don’t know is that gasoline is like a coolant for the fuel pump. Gasoline cools the pump. Therefore, when the pump runs dry there is nothing to cool it down and this can lead to it overheating which shortens the life of the fuel pump. It’s best to keep the gas tank at least a quarter full.
Also, the weight of the fuel is what helps the fuel pump operate efficiently. When the fuel levels are low there won’t be enough pressure to push it through the pump. The fuel pump will have to work harder to deliver gasoline to the engine. Low-quality gasoline or gasoline with impurities can affect the pump. Sometimes dirt and debris make their way into the tank and settles at the bottom. The fuel filters can affect impurities from messing up the fuel injectors but the fuel pump won’t be protected.
Signs of A Failing Fuel Pump
Although today's fuel pumps are designed to last for several years, there are no guarantees and eventually, they will fail. At some point during the life of your vehicle, you should expect to have to replace the fuel pump. Like with most mechanical components on your vehicle there are always signs of trouble before it completely fails. Here are a few common symptoms of a failing fuel pump:
Poor fuel economy – Have you noticed that your car’s gas mileage has started to significantly decrease? Bad fuel economy is often a sign of a faulty valve that allows more fuel than necessary to leave the tank when this happens the excess fuel isn’t consumed or stored which leads to decreased fuel efficiency.
Decreased Power – The fuel pump also controls how much energy is delivered to the engine. A faulty fuel pump won’t be able to provide the surge of power needed for a vehicle to go up a hill or to accelerate quickly when necessary.
Sporadic Surging – Another sign that your fuel pump is going bad is when the vehicle starts to sporadically surge forward. This occurs when the fuel pump begins to experience resistance in the engine.
Noises from the fuel tank – In older vehicles that utilize a mechanical fuel pump you may be able to hear a low whining or howling noise coming from the gas tank.
Engine Stalling – When the engine starts to stall even in warm temperatures this is a surefire sign that the fuel pump motor is starting to fail.
Won’t Start – At the final stage of fuel pump failure the engine will turn over but you won’t be able to start the vehicle. This is a clear sign that it’s time to replace the fuel pump.
How To Start A Car With A Bad Fuel Pump
Fortunately, there are three surefire ways you can start a vehicle with a bad fuel pump. You don’t need to have any mechanical abilities to execute these simple methods. These methods include:
Fuel Pressure Gauge
When it comes to starting a car with a malfunctioning fuel pump a fuel pressure gauge can be highly effective. Mechanics use this same exact method when diagnosing a bad fuel pump so this is one of the most reliable ways you can get the engine running. All you have to do is attach a fuel pressure gauge directly to the engine.
A fuel pressure gauge is a handy diagnostic tool that monitors the pressure levels in the engine to prevent damage to the fuel injectors and the fuel pump itself. A fuel pressure gauge only costs about forty bucks at your local auto parts store.
Manually Apply Pressure
When the fuel pump stops working it doesn’t provide enough pressure to pump gasoline through the fuel lines to the engine. You can start your car up by manually providing that external pressure to get the gas flowing to the engine. When it comes to providing manual pressure to pump fuel into the motor you will need to get creative. For some using an air mattress pump has proven to be effective.
Regulate Engine Heat
Keeping the engine cool or preventing it from overheating is a good way to keep the engine running when you have a bad fuel pump. This method will only work if you can get the car started. To keep the engine from heating up you should avoid running the car for extended periods. When the engine cools the pump will reset this will ultimately stabilize your vehicle’s performance.
Spray the carburetor
This method only works for older vehicles that utilize a mechanical fuel pump. Spraying the carburetor with a carburetor cleaner or starter fluid may get your car started enough to take it to the nearest mechanic. This method can be a hit or miss.
Troubleshooting A Electric Fuel Pump
Electric fuel pumps can be a little tricky. When an electric fuel pump fails it's usually the result of a fuse or wiring problem. An electrical issue makes it nearly impossible for power to reach the fuel pump. When this happens the engine will burn whatever fuel is left in the fuel lines and the engine will stall.
In modern cars, the Engine Control Module controls the vehicle fuel delivery system. So if the fuel pump failure is related to a problem within the circuit or wiring try resetting the ECM. If that doesn’t help the next option is to replace the fuel pump relay fuse. This may be able to get your vehicle started.
Can You Drive A Car With A Bad Fuel Pump?
Once you managed to get your car started with one of the methods described above you should take your vehicle to get serviced immediately. Starting a vehicle with a faulty fuel pump is a temporary fix. Driving for long distances isn’t recommended when you use one of these hacks. You will eventually need to have the fuel pump replaced.
When you are driving with a bad fuel pump your car can lose power at any moment. This can happen while you are in traffic or far away from your home. Driving with a bad fuel pump can be dangerous. Your best bet is to have the fuel pump replaced as soon as you manage to get it started.
How To Properly Maintain Your Vehicle’s Fuel Pump
Whether you are driving a car that uses an electric or mechanical fuel pump there are a few steps you can take to maintain your vehicle’s fuel pump. In addition, to using quality fuel here are a few things you can do to ensure your car’s fuel delivery system is in good condition:
Change The Fuel Filters
The fuel filter prevents dirt, debris, and other particles from infiltrating the engine which can cause extensive wear on the components within the engine. Over time the fuel filter becomes clogged which prevents fuel from flowing through the fuel lines to the engine. Starving the engine of fuel will lead to it stalling. This will cause the same symptoms as a bad fuel pump.
The fuel filter on your vehicle should be replaced every 24,000 miles or once every two years. Some of the modern vehicles don't require a fuel filter replacement until about thirty to fifty thousand miles on the odometer.
Fuel Injection Cleaners
Fuel injection cleaners can thoroughly eliminate the carbon deposits in your car’s fuel delivery system. However, fuel injection cleaners only work if you are using them correctly. As a general rule of thumb, you should only add it to a nearly empty tank and then put gas into the tank. You shouldn’t fill the tank up until it’s nearly empty again.
Add An Anti-Ethanol Agent
Ethanol is a common additive in gasoline these days. Over time, ethanol attacks the fuel lines, makes them degrade, and causes extensive corrosive damage in the engine carburetors. On the other hand, ethanol reduces dependency on foreign oil and it's great for the environment. If the same fuel is sitting in your tank after a week or so you should add an anti-ethanol agent to it. Otherwise, you can start to develop problems within your vehicle’s fuel system.
These simple maintenance tips can increase the lifespan of your fuel pump and other components in your vehicle’s fuel delivery system.
The Bottom Line
Are you ready to start your car with one of the above described methods? It’s important to note that these hacks are temporary fixes and can be used to prevent you from having to waste money on a tow. Make sure you exercise caution.