April 21, 2014

Car Won’t Start? Is It Parked On A Hill?

This is a mildly amusing tale about the time my car wouldn’t start when parked on a steep hill.

So I live in a hilly area, and my front yard is the neighborhood sledding destination in the winter. Naturally my driveway is also quite steep, which makes for some fun (not) shoveling. But this story isn’t about that winter annoyance we call snow, it’s about my car, or more specifically, the time my car wouldn’t start because it was parked on my steep driveway.

I pulled my car (a 2011 Honda Fit) out of the garage to give me more room for carrying tools in and out while doing yard work. My car was parked just slightly above the most steep part of the driveway. I’ve parked it there many times before because it leaves just enough room to get stuff in and out of the garage without needing to back the car all the way down the driveway. When I was done for the day, I put all my yard tools away, hopped in my car, turned the key, and it wouldn’t start. It wasn’t the battery or starter motor, that was working fine. It seemed the engine wasn’t getting enough fuel. I cranked it again, but still no go. At this point I suspected the fuel pump might be clogged (or bad), and that thought was reinforced when I remembered that I let the car run dangerously low on fuel before my last fill up (like really dangerously low).

At this point I assumed I would be calling AAA in the morning to have my car towed, but I decided to head back in the house and fire up the Google machine and do a few quick searches. After searching for “car won’t start parked on hill” and other similar searches, I find out I’m not alone. Many people have had the exact same problem. I never did find anyone who had this problem with a Honda Fit, and also, the problem seemed to be independent of brand (Chevy, Honda, Mercedes, Ford, etc.). The only distinction was that some people had this same problem with their car parked uphill, while others reported the problem when the car was parked downhill. My car was parked uphill. In many cases, the fix was easy, let the car roll down the hill to a flat area, then try starting it up.

I headed back outside, I then carefully and slowly backed the car down the driveway while in neutral. Then came the moment of truth. After a longer than normal crank, and some hesitation, it started up! Since then the car has started up fine every time. And no, it wasn’t because the car was low on fuel again. It had just a hair under half a tank remaining, so even with my steep driveway, I can’t imagine how the fuel level in the tank could have caused this problem.

So if you ever have a problem starting your car and the battery and starter aren’t the problem, and you happen to be parked on a steep hill, try to roll the car down the hill (if you can do so safely) and then try starting it again. It’s worth a try before calling for a tow!

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