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The cavalier 2.4L engine had a problem with the crank sensor intermittently going bad. Sometimes it will run sluggish for a few minutes or even stall but eventually crank back up and run fine. The sensor is about $30 and can be changed in 10mins. It is located directly above the starter.
Your symptoms sound like a fuel pump, not the filter. The gas gauge is controlled by a sending unit that is mounted on the pump in the tank. If the gauge is sometimes not working, chances are, neither is the pump, which would cause the car not to start. The pump not only provides fuel, but also pressurizes the fuel system for the injectors and throttle body. The fuel filter would cause poor mileage and hesitation when accelerating. A completely blocked filter would cause the car not to run, but your gas gauge would still work since it's reading the level of fuel in the tank, not whether it's coming through the line to the engine.
Check to see if you emission system sensors are plugged in, such as the air intake sensor which is plugged into the air hose at the front of the engine. Another possibility is your gas cap. Replace it, its very cheap. If it only occurs at higher speeds it may be clogged injectors. Dump a bottle or two of injector cleaner into the gasoline tank after a fill-up. You might also try some octane booster which is methanol and will mix with and help remove any water in your fuel tank.
Hello and yes this can be bad gas. This also can be something that can be fixed with a simple fuel or air filter change as well. I would do a basic tune up of spark plugs and wires which may fouled out it sounds like, oil and filter, air filter, and fuel filter. I would also change the distributor cap and rotary button. These few tune up items may help your rough running automobile. If you have any other questions email me and I hope you resolve this issue.