1997 Mercury Tracer Situation

Hello! :)
Last weekend, my wife and I were driving home from southern California (north on I-5 towards the Tejon Pass) when, while climbing up a 6% grade in
Drive for about 5 miles, our 1997 Mercury tracer 'tired-out' on us. I say this because the battery didn't fail and the engine didn't overheat. It was a situation where the motor just stopped. After this happened, we pulled over (coasted) to the side of the road and tried to restart our car. When we did, the engine would turnover but wouldn't hold. So, we called for a tow truck. When the tow truck showed up, we tried to start our car up one more time. The engine was once again able to hold its idle, but we didn't want to take any chances. So, we were towed over the Tejon Pass to Bakersfield and drove home from there the next day. There was no problem on the 200-mile drive home and any day since. Does anyone know what might have caused the problem? The only thing that was a little out of the ordinary was that we had to fluctuate in speeds between 35 mph and 60 mph while climbing upwards to 3000 feet.
Thanks for you time, Joseph
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It might be a fuel filter or fuel pump problem. My experience is that the car will run fine until the fuel demand is high (e.g. on the freeway) and will be unable to maintain speed. This has happened to me before (on much older cars); once it was a plugged filter that was on fuel pickup in the tank; the other time it was the little filter that was in the carburetor inlet (car had no inline filter).
Your car probably has a large inline filter so I would suspect the tank filter or pump. What I am wondering, though, is why you did not have a problem going south through the Tejon; which is a much steeper grade.
-jk

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The trip down was fine. Before we start the climb, we always switch from overdrive to drive and try to travel up the grade at a speed of 50 to 55 mph. About three years ago, we were silly enough to try the pass, heading south, in overdrive. Fortunately, we learned our lesson without any damage to our car.
Out of curiousity, how often should a tank filter be changed? Also, is there a 'shelf life' on most Tracer (or Escort) fuel pumps? We have never replaced either of these.
Thanks again, Joseph

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try poking around http://www.feoa.net for more knowledgable answers about Escorts...
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I have never seen in-tank filters or fuel pumps included in maintenance schedules. I only had the in-tank filter problem on a very old high-mileage car that apparently had rust in the tank and had a relatively small filter. And the problem was repeatable; it would only get to about 60 mph and then it would falter and would not go any faster due to insufficient fuel flow.
Maybe Crusty Curmudgeon has an idea on this one.
-jk

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What's missing is a description of what was going on just before it quit.
YOu say it "Tired out"...Did it gradually lose power over a minute or longer, or just die in a few seconds? Relatively smooth but no power or "jerky"?
How full was the tank when this happened?
Where did you refill last 2 times - prior to the stall-out? Was it a high-volume / name brand station or a corner 4 pump Mom&Pop, name brand or not?
When it restarted, was it cranking / running without a miss or was it idling rough then gradually improved?
It COULD have been water in the tank, as this happened adjacent to incline..
Removing the filter, carefully, and dumping contents into glass jar should show if there's contamination/ water present in the tank. Dump it from the tank-side nipple. Bits of junk/rust show you need tank cleanup or replacement. Water only, you can get by with drygas treatment.
Any competent mechanic should be able to do a fuel flow test. But check the filter contents first. Then AFTER the high-flow test.
jk opined in

--
- Yes, I'm a crusty old geezer curmudgeon.. deal with it! -

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It was smooth. The battery was still active, but our car would not accelerate.

It was right at one quarter of a tank.

They were both name brand Flying J and Chevron.

When the engine turned over and held, the idle was a little bit 'unsteady' at first. It did get better and would rev without any problem, but the tow truck was there and we didn't want to chance it.

As a precaution, we have a locked gas cap. So, if there was water in the tank, would it only have come from bad gasoline?
Thanks all the information, Joseph
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JPowers opined in

Well, you still cant rule out water or contamination... suggest you at least remove the filter and check as below.

It almost ALWAYS comes in with the gas at fillup.
In my opinion, and ruling out long storage with fluctuating temps
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