Rough starting 1998 Saturn SW2

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#1
Hi,

I have a 1998 Saturn SW2 with 160,000 miles. It's a four cylinder engine. The car is definitely worth less than $1,000, but it’s pretty good on gas and it’s paid for, so I want to keep using it and I am seeking your help. Any and all comments and opinions are much appreciated.

For the last 2+ years, when I start the car and it has not been running in the last 10 minutes or so, I first need to pump the gas twice and keep the gas pedal pressed in and then start it – it will usually start this way, but not if I don’t prime it like this. It has been getting worse over the last 2 years in that on warm days (say about 75 degrees and above) it would start more easily, and often without me priming it so much. But now I need to prime it all the time. When it starts, there is also sometimes a puff of smelly white smoke that comes out and it runs rough for the first 30 seconds, and if I take my foot off the gas, it will stall and I will need to prime it again for it to start and the puff of white is usually much bigger after such a stall. It has been doing this rough start thing for about 20,000 miles.

I know that the fuel filter has not been replaced in over 60,000 miles. Also, in order to save the brakes, which are near the end of their life, I have been downshifting when getting to a red light, and I’m wondering if this is not a good thing to do given that it has an automatic transmission. About 1. 5 years ago, based on the suggestion of a mechanic, I began adding Lucas Heavy Duty Oil Stabilizer and that seemed to improve things a little and I have continued using this product.

So, I am trying to figure a few things out.

1. Roughly how much life expectancy should I expect out of the engine because of this rough start issue.

2. Could replacing the fuel filter fix the rough start problem.

3. Is downshifting to slow down maybe making things worse.

4. Is adding the Lucas Heavy Duty Oil Stabilizer a good thing and should I go to a ratio of 60% Lucas and 40% oil as is recommended for badly worn engines. I’ve been going with a ratio of about 20% Lucas and 80% oil.

Thanks a bunch!
 

billr

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#2
Well, I have two of those older Saturns and I think they are great little cars. Like you say, 30+ mpg and near-zero maintenance! Here are some answers:

1) Fix the rough start, but I have 197K miles on one and 230K on the other. I did have to replace an exhaust valve on the 230K, though. I think they are pretty rugged little cars. I don't know about the 230K one, but the other has its original clutch and all three of my kids learned to drive a stick-shift with it!

2) Is the CEL (check engine light) on, does it come on as normal at key-on? Take it to a parts-supply store for a free check and see if there are any hidden or pending codes. Want a guess? It could be the ECT (engine coolant temperature) sensor; that is key to proper "choke" action when the engine is started. I have replace it in both my 1.9L DOHC engines to cure starting/idling problems. Use only an OEM (GM) part, they are all-brass and more durable, still less than $20 each. It wouldn't hurt any to change the fuel filter, of course, but not likely that would restrict fuel-flow enough to affect starting without being even more noticeable in other driving.

3) I am against down-shifting "to save the brakes"; brake pads/shoes are much easier (and cheaper) to change than clutches or your auto trans. I never have changed or turned a rotor, or opened the hydraulics on either of my Saturns; just pads and shoes.

4) What makes you think the engine is "badly worn"? I use name-brand petroleum-based 10-30 or 10-40, whichever is on sale. If you really want to pamper it, use a full-synthetic, but by now your valve-stem seals are probably worn and you go through a quart every 1000 miles or so... I don't trust anything with the name Lucas on it, but that is because of the infamy of Lucas electrical components. Maybe the oil additive is OK, but shouldn't be needed.
 
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#4
The Check Engine Light comes on as normal at key on and turns off at startup. AutoZone said there are no hidden or pending codes and the Autozone guy concluded that it was therefore not the engine coolant temperature sensor.

As for burning oil, I would say it burns about 1 quart every 2,000 to 3,000 miles - but that's about 80% highway driving with cruise control on.
 
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#6
2- suggestions-
1)follow the advice given
The sensor may be sending a signal- ECT- it could be incorrect and therefore NO CODE.
Also the free code ck is limited by the code reader used, my experiance has been that the freebies only read
GENERIC CODES. ie P0001-p0999

2) ck fuel pressure, ck for leak down, you will need a gauge.

Taking a SWAG- ck fuel pressure regulator
 

billr

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#7
I know, for a fact, that the ECT can fail within the normal operating zone, so no code is set. Trouble is, if it fails indicating the engine is at 200F, then it is hard to start and keep idling cold. Likewise, if it fails indicating the engine is at -20F, then it is way too rich for most everything. You need to hook it up to a scan-tool and see if the ECT readings make sense.
 
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#8
Billr is expanding on the notion that the sender could send the incorrect information, describing the results.

I will add there is what I call a logic DTC it is in the Manufacturers specific codes, p1119? the PCM see a difference in ECT vs TCT - cannot verify the temp. This highlights the need to SCAN getting the actual information. they do not make it as easy as the sultan of codes at autozone suggests. Wrongly held belief is - a code means change a part.
 
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#9
You were spot on! The ECT sensor wasn't working right. Replaced it and all is good. Many thanks!