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Summary
  • The no-start condition can occur after getting gas due to various car issues.
  • A faulty EVAP purge valve is a probable reason why your car won’t start after getting gas.
  • Other possible culprits include a faulty battery, a malfunctioning fuel pump, bad gasoline, a clogged fuel filter, and a failing alternator.

As a driver, one of the most nerve-racking things you can experience is having a vehicle that won’t start.

For some people, the no-start condition is immediately diagnosed, so they have no choice but to leave their car in the garage.

For others, however, they won’t face the issue right away. The no-start condition can occur after they’ve driven their vehicles around for a while, and the problem will only pop up right after refueling at the gas station.

Why Won’t My Car Start After Getting Gas?

The key here is “after getting gas,” which should be followed by thinking about whether it happens every time you gas up or just sometimes after getting gas. That’s an important part of the puzzle, you see.

Here are the most common reasons why your car won’t start after getting gas. 

Faulty EVAP Purge Control Valve

The evaporative (EVAP) purge control valve typically sits between the fuel tank and the intake manifold. The powertrain control module (PCM) controls the opening and closing of the valve, depending on the temperature and RPM.

various automotive canister purge valves
Canister purge valves take many forms. Here are a few. | Image Source: Richard McCuistian

As the valve opens, gasoline vapors flow from the charcoal canister to the intake manifold, reducing harmful hydrocarbon emissions from the evaporating fuel (think gasoline smell). In other words, the vapors from the evaporating gasoline are carried into the intake manifold during canister purge to be eliminated as the engine runs.

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A stuck-open EVAP purge control valve tends to draw enough fuel vapor to wet the spark plugs so that the spark runs on the wetness rather than jumping the spark plug gap, making the engine hard to start right after you gas up.

A stuck-open EVAP purge control valve tends to draw enough fuel vapor to wet the spark plugs so that the spark runs on the wetness rather than jumping the spark plug gap, making the engine hard to start right after you gas up.

Richard McCuistian, ASE Certified Master Automobile Technician

Other symptoms of a faulty EVAP purge valve include an illuminated check engine light, rough idling, poor engine performance, and increased exhaust emissions.

diagram of a car fuel vapor
Vapor leaves the fuel tank via the vapor line to be stored in the canister. When the purge valve is electrically opened to manifold vacuum (engine running), the stored fuel vapor is purged from the canister.

If the normally closed canister purge valve sticks open, the vapor above the fuel is forced through the canister and into the intake manifold rather than remaining in the canister. When the engine spins to start, the fuel vapor condenses and wets the spark plugs, causing a hard-start or a no-start. | Image Source: Richard McCuistian

Note: The concerns listed below won’t be tied to topping off your tank and could happen at any time.

Battery Problems

A lot of battery-related electrical faults can be attributed to loose or corroded terminals, including a no-start condition.

Rust build-up at the terminals can prevent the battery from generating charge, restricting the flow of electricity throughout the entire vehicle.

If your vehicle won’t start right away, don’t panic. Sometimes, the problem only requires a simple solution, like cleaning the battery terminals or tightening their bolts.

Cleaning corroded connections usually requires a mixture of baking soda and water, which helps neutralize the acid.

Also, check the battery hold-downs and make sure they’re secured. These hold-downs prevent the battery from vibrating excessively.

Faulty Fuel Pump

The fuel pump acts as a pusher unit that pressurizes the entire fuel supply line.

A modern fuel pump uses a direct current (DC) electric motor to draw fuel from the fuel tank. Fuel then travels through the fuel injectors where it’s sprayed into the cylinders as part of the combustion process.

See also  A Short Course on Fuel Systems

Contamination, overheating, and wear can eventually cause the fuel pump to fail.

A faulty fuel pump will make all kinds of sputtering noises because of inconsistent fuel flow. A vehicle with a damaged fuel pump might also fail to maintain its speed as a result of a choking engine.

Driving with a damaged fuel pump can make you think that you’re out of gas because of poor acceleration. The inconsistency in fuel flow can also cause the engine to hesitate upon startup.

Of course, it won’t be safe to assume that a damaged fuel pump is the only cause for a no-start condition.

The rubber mallet trick is one way to check if the fuel pump is working as it should. Try tapping the bottom of the fuel tank with a rubber mallet to jar the pump motor enough to work. If the fuel pump needed that extra push from your mallet, it might be time to get a replacement.

Bad Gasoline

If you get bad fuel from the pump, your engine will usually start initially but may stall or run very rough right after gassing up. If it runs really bad or stalls and won’t start shortly after leaving the gas pump or after you add gas at home, suspect fuel quality issues.

There’s nothing wrong with using the gasoline you have stored in your garage or trunk, as long as you ensure it’s still in good condition. Topping up on bad gasoline could keep your engine from starting.

Failing Alternator or Battery

The alternator acts as a power source that charges the battery while you drive. It converts mechanical energy into electrical energy and charges the battery while the engine is running.

If the alternator is weak, you’ll have a no crank rather than a no start. But on many fuel injected vehicles, low battery voltage can cause the injectors not to operate even if the engine sounds like it’s spinning normally.

Will a Clogged Fuel Filter Cause a No-Start?

A clogged fuel filter will cause a loss of power but not a no-start condition unless it suddenly gets hit with so much rust or dirt that it is totally plugged. Usually you’ll notice other symptoms long before the fuel filter clogs enough to prevent the engine from starting.

Final Thoughts

A car that won’t start after getting gas can be attributed to several factors, and paying a trip to a professional mechanic is the only way to get an accurate diagnosis.

A no-start condition can be due to a simple problem like loose battery connectors, but also keep in mind that there might be a bigger issue to deal with.

Unless you’re a master DIYer who knows how to get around this kind of issue, it’s best to have a trained professional check on your vehicle to accurately pinpoint the cause of the problem.

About The Authors
Written By Automotive and Tech Writers

The CarParts.com Research Team is composed of experienced automotive and tech writers working with (ASE)-certified automobile technicians and automotive journalists to bring up-to-date, helpful information to car owners in the US. Guided by CarParts.com's thorough editorial process, our team strives to produce guides and resources DIYers and casual car owners can trust.

Reviewed By Technical Reviewer at CarParts.com

Richard McCuistian has worked for nearly 50 years in the automotive field as a professional technician, an instructor, and a freelance automotive writer for Motor Age, ACtion magazine, Power Stroke Registry, and others. Richard is ASE certified for more than 30 years in 10 categories, including L1 Advanced Engine Performance and Light Vehicle Diesel.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

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