7 Symptoms of a Bad Fuel Pump (And Replacement Cost)

The fuel pump is a valuable component of the internal combustion engine. Since there needs to be a mixture of fuel and air inside the combustion chamber, the fuel pump is responsible for pumping fuel from the gas tank, through the fuel lines, and into the combustion chamber.

What is a Fuel Pump?

A fuel pump is a simple electromechanical device that transfers fuel from one location to another.

In most cars, fuel from the gas station is pumped into a gas tank that sits at the rear of the car, even though that fuel is needed in the engine at the front of the car. When you turn on the car, the fuel pump pressurizes the fuel system, which brings fuel toward the front of the vehicle.

The pump is usually located in the fuel tank and submerged in fuel. The surrounding fuel cools the fuel pump during operation. 

Some vehicles have another pump located along the fuel line or even in the engine bay to further pressurize the fuel. For instance, direct injected vehicles require a secondary high pressure fuel pump to bring fuel pressure from 60-80 psi up to around 2,000 psi or even more. 

The fuel lines won’t be over pressurized as long as the fuel pressure regulator is working. Before the fuel is pushed into the fuel injectors and shot into the cylinders at precise amounts, it goes through a fuel filter to remove any contaminants. 

Older vehicles may use a mechanical pump, which uses a plunger or diaphragm to create suction that moves the fuel to the carburetor and then to the injectors.

Newer vehicles with electronic fuel injection have higher pressure needs which can only be supplied by electric pumps. 

Symptoms of a Bad or Weak Fuel Pump

Many of these symptoms are shared with other failing components in the fuel system. You may have to do some testing or diagnostics to determine which fuel system component needs to be replaced.

1) Difficulty Starting Vehicle

trouble starting car

If you crank the ignition but the car won’t start, or it starts and immediately dies, make sure you can hear the fuel pump turn on when you first turn the key to the “ON” position. Most fuel pumps make an audible buzz as the pump primes the fuel lines when you go to start the car.

Some vehicles will prime the fuel pump when you unlock the car or open the driver’s door. This process varies by manufacturer but is more common on European cars.

2) Stalling (Especially Under Load)

engine stalls

If the engine suddenly shuts off while you’re driving, the fuel pump may be dying. It’s inconvenient to stall at a stoplight while other drivers honk at you, but it can be downright dangerous to completely lose power in the car while driving on the freeway. The vehicle should be examined by a mechanic as soon as you are able to do so. 

If the car drives fine under normal conditions but stalls while it’s under load (such as when you step on the gas or haul something heavy), a failing fuel pump may be causing the issue by not being able to keep up with the stress.

3) Sputtering, Rough Running

rough idle

A coughing engine or general rough running while at idle or driving at low speed can indicate problems with the fuel pump. These can be caused by engine misfires, since cylinder function isn’t balanced.

4) Low Power

slow acceleration

Slower acceleration than normal is often noted when merging onto the freeway in cars with bad fuel pumps. The pump simply can’t provide enough output to the engine so the car struggles. Driving uphill will only exacerbate this problem.

5) Engine Surges

If you are driving the vehicle at a constant speed then suddenly the engine revs up, which makes you speed up (despite not pressing harder on the accelerator pedal) the fuel pump may be having issues. If this happens to you, be very careful to keep a large following distance to avoid accidentally driving into the vehicle in front of you on your way to the mechanic.

6) Check Engine Light

oil pressure check engine light

Newer cars have a complex system of sensors that should catch the problems with the fuel pump before other more dangerous symptoms take place. Insufficient fuel pressure or flow through the injectors will be noted by the computer and should throw a check engine light. Engine misfires should also cause an alert. 

If you see a check engine light, it’s best to get the car scanned and fix the issue. Take the car to a mechanic or auto parts store to have the code read by an OBD-II scan tool, which will tell you the issue that caused the alert so that you or your mechanic can further troubleshoot. 

7) High-Pitched Whining 

serpentine belt squealing noise

If you hear a loud whirring or whining from the back of the car where the fuel tank is located, check the fuel pump. It should normally emit a soft hum which isn’t audible to the driver while the vehicle is in motion. 

To perform a very brief check of the fuel pump, you can actually listen by the tank for the fuel pump to operate normally by turning the car ignition to “on” while the fuel door and fuel cap are open. If you hear nothing, your pump is probably toast. 

Can a Bad Fuel Pump Cause Rough Idle?

Yes, a bad fuel pump can absolutely cause a rough idle. If your engine is getting inconsistent fuel delivery, you might notice a problem maintaining a steady idle. An improper air fuel mixture will also cause a rough or unsteady idle.

Why a Fuel Pump Goes Bad

fuel pump failure

Like other components, fuel pumps can fail due to wear and tear, but other causes of fuel pump failure exist as well.

Using low-quality fuel, running diesel in a gasoline vehicle (or vice versa), or running too high a percentage of ethanol fuel in a vehicle that was not designed for it are all reasons for premature failure of a fuel pump.

Even driving around with too little fuel in the gas tank can cause problems. It’s important to drive with at least 25% fuel in the tank and avoid drawing sediment from the bottom of the tank.

What Happens When a Fuel Pump Goes Out While Driving?

If your fuel pump dies while driving, your vehicle will shut off and you’ll coast to a stop. If the fuel pump stops working entirely, you won’t be able to get the car started again. The vehicle will be disabled, requiring a tow.

How to Start a Car with a Bad Fuel Pump

If your fuel pump is completely dead, there is little you can do aside from replacing the fuel pump to get the vehicle running again. If the fuel pump cuts out intermittently, there might be a way to limp the vehicle home. 

Try to figure out what causes the fuel pump to cut out. Can you make the car die by jiggling part of the wiring harness? Does a relay have a bad contact? A bad connection in a wiring harness can be mitigated with some zip ties until you can make it to the shop for a more permanent fix.

Can a Fuel Pump Fail Suddenly?

While fuel pumps often give warning before they die, they can fail suddenly. To avoid this situation, make sure you’re always paying attention to the way your car feels and sounds. Any change to the way your car feels or sounds may indicate an issue, especially if it gets worse over time. 

When It’s Not the Fuel Pump to Blame

If you experience some of these symptoms but the fuel pump has been deemed healthy or replaced already, check for the following possible issues.  

1) Bad or Clogged Fuel Injectors

fuel injectors

These are the final stop for the fuel before it goes into the cylinders. Since that is where the magic happens, fuel injectors that impede the flow of the fuel will certainly cause some problems. 

2) Bad Fuse or Relay

fuse box

Fuses and relays are easy to check and cheap to replace. If you are trying to troubleshoot at home, this is often a great first step.

3) Poor Electrical Connection

bad ground strap symptoms

Modern systems rely on many sensors and connectors to relay information. A short or bad ground can cause any number of strange issues issues, especially intermittent ones.

4) Clogged Fuel Filter

bad fuel filter

Just like a clogged fuel injector means the cylinder can’t get the fuel it needs, a clogged filter can restrict the fuel. 

5) Out of Gas

Never overlook the simple things. If you have issues with your fuel gauge, you could be low on fuel and not realize it.

Fuel Pump Replacement Cost

We recommend Parts Geek for the best prices and selection.

As always, the cost of professionally replacing a fuel pump varies largely depending on the make, model, and year of your car, and which mechanic you go to. For an inexpensive vehicle, the pump itself can be as cheap as $80 and labor is usually between $300 and $500. Expect to pay around $400 to $500 in most cases. 

More complex and expensive vehicles will probably have a higher cost for both parts and labor. Some of these replacements can cost upwards of $2500. 


3 thoughts on “7 Symptoms of a Bad Fuel Pump (And Replacement Cost)”

  1. Great page. I don’t use my car much and never knew that driving with less than 25% of fuel overheats the pump. It killed two pumps. Now I won’t make the same mistake.

  2. The mechanic tells me I need both a fuel pump and an MAF sensor to solve my car’s intermittent stalling. How likely is it that both are out at the same time?

    • I don’t know. It’s not uncommon for two components to fail or work intermittently on older vehicles. Did he try cleaning the MAF sensor first, or tell you why those parts were bad?


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