A few weeks ago, I was about to leave town over the weekend, and as I always do when I am not going to be home for a few days, I drove to the gas station and filled up my tank. But when I tried to start my car, it just wouldn’t turn over.
I instantly got a sinking feeling in my stomach as I realized that it probably wasn’t a good sign that my car won’t start after getting gas, and it couldn’t come at a more inopportune time.
I know this is a pretty common issue, so after towing my car back to the garage, I started troubleshooting the cause. In my case, it turned out to be a stuck EVAP purge control valve.
But there are several possible causes why a car won’t start after getting gas. So in this article, we’ll take a look at some of the most likely reasons and what you can do if you find yourself in this situation.
Let’s get started.
6 Reasons Your Car Won’t Start After Getting Gas
1. Bad EVAP Purge Valve
The most common reason a car won’t start after getting gas is due to a stuck-open EVAP purge valve. When filling up your tank at the gas station, the overpressure of air needs somewhere to go.
And if your purge valve is stuck open, it will force fuel vapor directly into the intake manifold, causing to much fuel to enter the combustion chambers, making it difficult for the engine to turn over.
Under normal circumstances and as long as the purge valve isn’t bad, it shouldn’t stick open. But if you’ve been driving around with a bad EVAP purge valve, you may have noticed some of these listed signs:
- Check engine light
- Rough idle
- Trouble starting
- Bad engine performance
- Low gas mileage
- Emission test failure
- Blackened spark plugs
The good news is that you don’t have to spend all your savings to get the car back running. Expect to pay between $120 and $230 for labor and parts to replace a bad purge valve on most makes and models. The part itself is around $50 to $100.
2. Dead Battery
Any time your car won’t start, one of the first things you’ll want to take a look at is the battery. That’s because your car battery provides the necessary electrical power to the starter motor to start your vehicle.
A battery usually lasts between three and five years, but as the battery gets older and worn, the battery will lose its ability to charge properly. And with a dead battery or loose cables, your car won’t get the power it requires to start.
Related: Symptoms of Loose Battery Cables
It could also be that you don’t drive enough. When a car is standing still for long periods or is only driven for short distances, you may be able to start and drive to the gas station.
But the car won’t start after getting gas because the battery never got the chance to recharge sufficiently. If this is the case, a jump start should do the work.
However, a drained battery could also mean something is wrong with the charging system – often due to a failing alternator. But in most cases, it would mean the battery warning light comes on.
Depending on size, power, and quality, the cost of a new battery ranges from about $50 to $250. But it’s a good idea to test the battery before replacing it.
These are signs that indicates a dead or weak battery:
- Car struggles starting
- Slow Cranking
- No action when turning key (May hear clicking sound)
- Dim dashboard lights
- Battery warning light on
3. Clogged Fuel Filter
The fuel filter is responsible for keeping any dirt or debris out of the fuel system before it reaches the engine. If the filter becomes clogged, it can’t do its job properly, and the engine may not start at all.
A dirty fuel filter can make itself known in a number of ways, and before the car wouldn’t start after getting gas, you may have noticed some of these signs:
- Difficult starting
- Acceleration Issues
- Rough idles
- Poor fuel economy
- Check engine light
- Engine misfires
But, it’s important to note that most of these symptoms could also be rooted in other issues, such as a stuck purge valve. So before blindly spending money on replacing parts, make sure to check for trouble codes with an OBDII scanner to hopefully pinpoint the cause.
Changing the filter should be a part of your car’s routine maintenance. And while some mechanics insist on changing the filter every 20,000 to 30,000 miles, others say it only has to be replaced every 60,000 miles due to fuel improvements and today’s modern vehicles.
The good news is that changing a fuel filter is not a very expensive or difficult job in most cases. If you don’t mind doing the job yourself, you can expect to pay as low as $15, while if you leave it to a professional, you may have to pay around $50 to $170 for parts and labor.
In my opinion, it’s better to be safe than sorry, so a good rule of thumb is to change the fuel filter every two years or 30,000 miles. However, most manufacturers have recommendations, so always make sure to consult your car owner’s manual.
4. Defective Fuel Pump
The fuel pump is located in the gas tank and is responsible for pumping the fuel from the tank to the engine. While it’s not very common for a fuel pump to fail, it does happen as fuel pumps (like other parts) also wear over time.
But they can also fail because of damage, and many times it’s because of overheating, and your driving habits can affect how fast a fuel pump wears. For example, the chances that the pump overheats get bigger if you often drive with a very low fuel level or sometimes even let the car stall because of it.
As with most of the listed reasons, it’s highly unusual for your car to not start after getting gas without any other warning signs. And a failing fuel pump is no different and will usually provide you with several signs before giving up. So you may have noticed some of these signs.
- The engine sputters (usually at high speeds)
- Whining noise from the fuel tank
- The vehicle continues to stall
- Low gas mileage
- Loss of power when the car is under stress
To determine if the fuel pump is to be blamed, you will want to check the fuel pressure with a gauge. If the pressure is low, this could indicate that there is a problem with the pump. However, both testing and replacing the fuel pump can be a complicated task without knowledge, so it is best to take your car to a mechanic if you are unsure how to do it yourself.
The cost for a fuel pressure test is usually around $50. Replacing a fuel pump often takes between 1 and 6 hours, and the fuel pump itself costs between $85 and $270. So if you decide to go with a professional, you can expect to spend around $300 to $600, sometimes even more.
5. Bad Starter Motor
One of the most important but often overlooked parts of your car is the starter. And as the name suggests, the starter is the small motor that gets your car’s engine running when you turn the key or push the start button. And if it isn’t working properly, it sure is a potential reason your car won’t start after getting gas.
This is likely the problem if you hear nothing but a clicking sound the moment you turn the key or push the start button. Here are a few signs you may have noticed to help clarify if it’s a bad starter motor your dealing with.
- Clicking noises when turning the key
- Whirring and grinding noises from starter
- Lights on but engine doesn’t crank
- Slow cranking
- Smoke and smell from starter
But before doing that, there’s a possibility that your starter is in a “dead spot.” Simply tap or bump the starter a few times to see if it comes back to life.
If your vehicle has a manual transmission and the tapping didn’t do the trick, you should be able to push start, also known as bump starting your car, to get back on the road temporarily. If your car still doesn’t start, the problem is likely somewhere else, and you’ll need to troubleshoot or get the car towed to a qualified technician.
A brand new starter can range from around $100 to more than $350. However, the cost of replacing a starter motor does vary quite a lot depending on your vehicle’s make and model.
Many vehicle starters are easily accessible and take under an hour to replace, while others are harder to reach and can take up to a few hours, even for an experienced mechanic. The cost usually ends up around $350 to $600 for most cars. But it’s important to note that the total cost of labor and parts can vary from around $150 to $1,200 or more.
6. Failing Alternator
Since the car battery supplies power to the starter motor, it’s often the first thing most people think about when a car won’t start. What many people forget is that the battery relies on the vehicle’s charging system to restore the battery power, which comes down to the alternator.
So even if the battery is perfectly fine, a faulty alternator won’t properly recharge the battery. So when you fill up your tank, ready to get go back home, the battery might already be drained enough to start your car. Here are a few signs of a failing alternator:
- Battery warning light comes on
- Dimmed lights
- Dead battery
- Malfunctioning accessories
- Trouble starting
- Growling or whining noises
- Smell of rubber or wires
If there’s a problem with the alternator, you should be able to start the car after charging the battery, but it won’t fix the issue. So we highly recommend getting a volt meter and testing the alternator for yourself.
Connect the positive lead of the multimeter or voltmeter to the output wire on the backside of the alternator and the negative lead to a good ground.
With the engine running, you should get readings between 13.9 and 14.8 volts. Any other reading signifies a problem with the alternator, and it’s time to replace it.
What to Do If your Car Won’t Start
It can be stressful and overwhelming if your car won’t start after getting gas, especially if others are waiting for you. But don’t give up yet! Here’s what to do if your car won’t turn over.
First of all, try to move your vehicle away from the fuel pumps so you can try get your car running again without stressing.
Does the engine crank but won’t start?
Yes: Then it’s likely the purge valve, fuel filter, or fuel pump that is struggling. Wait about 10-15 minutes and try to start again without hitting the gas pedal. If it doesn’t work, repeat the waiting process once before calling a tow truck.
No: Then you probably have issues with the battery, charging system or starter. First, check the battery terminals and try to move or at least jar the terminals enough to make better contact. Also, try tapping or bumping the starter a few times while you have the hood open, and then try to start the engine.
Does the engine start?
Yes: Great! Hopefully, the problem was only temporary. However, it’s best to determine why your car wouldn’t start. Use an OBDII scanner and check for any trouble codes that may have occurred.
No: If your car won’t start because of the starter and your vehicle is a manual transmission, you should be able to bump-start (also known as push-start) the car. But if it’s a dead battery, you may not be able to bump-start it. Then you might have to jump-start with a jump starter or with the help of another vehicle.
Also read: Can You Push Start an Automatic Car?
If the car still doesn’t start and you can’t figure out what’s wrong, you must have the car towed. If you don’t know how to resolve the problem, you should let a qualified technician take a look for you.
Cars are complicated, and as soon as a car struggles to start, it can be both stressful and overwhelming. But by staying calm, you make the best decisions. And after reading this article, you should have enough information to hopefully figure out why your car won’t start after getting gas.
If you can’t figure out why, then an OBDII scanner can be a helpful tool when troubleshooting the cause. Thanks for reading.