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Q: Why is my car stalling when I try and start it?

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A couple of days ago it got really cold where I live. I got up to go to work and my 2002 pontiac grand prix wouldn't start. I would turn my key in the ignition and my car would rev up then die. The RPM meter kept going up and down. I checked my coolant pump and it's full of this rusty brown gunk. Same with my radiator. I've always had a small coolant leak but I would just top off the fluids and be good. I keep up on oil changes and gas treatments and there is no smoke coming from my car. There is also no coolant in my oil. Any idea what's wrong with my car? I don't want to get screwed over at a shop bc I'm a girl n don't know a lot about it.

My car has 146000 miles.
My car has an automatic transmission.

While the condition of your cooling system is certainly not healthy, it may or may not be related to the stalling issue. It is possible that due to the condition of the coolant, or merely coincidence, the coolant temperature sensor may not be sending the proper signal to the engine control unit. Engines need more fuel - a richer fuel mixture - to start and run properly when cold. If the engine control unit does not receive a proper signal from the coolant sensor, it may not make the fuel mixture rich enough to start or run properly when cold. Other components such as the mass air flow sensor, or even ambient (outside) air temperature sensor can cause similar issues. Also, if there is a vacuum leak somewhere in the intake system - sucking in too much air - this can effect the fuel mixture as well, causing the vehicle to stall. A broken/cracked air intake hose or leaking intake manifold gasket can cause this.

The best way to approach this, is have a certified technician look into the stalling issue to isolate the exact cause. Also, separately but as soon as possible, have the coolant leak and condition of the coolant addressed as this can lead to more severe issues.

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