KevinC New Reader
8/12/09 9:08 a.m.

Hi all,

I don't post a lot but enjoy reading every day. I need help with an intermittant problem with my 1987 Honda Accord LX. It is carbed and an auto trans.160,000 miles.

I commute 1 hour and 45 minutes (one way) every day. Last year I began to have this problem where the car would begin to sputter and the engine would gradually cut out until it dies. Up until it starts to die, it runs great and gets great fuel mileage. Starts easy. Idles nicely. This always happens close to the 1 hour mark of the drive. I replaced the distributor with a known good used one. It did not solve the problem. Then I replaced the battery. The problem went away for one year. Now, same symptoms. My gut reaction is to blame the battery again but it is fairly new. I dabbed a kleenex soaked with ww fluid and cooled down the ignitor module on the side of the distributor. Then the engine starts right back up and runs nicely for another hour.I have read about troubleshooting the ignitor and it says that the tach needle will jump around with a bad ignitor. My tach needle is steady. When the car fist stalls and I immediately try to restart it, the engine turns over quickly but it bucks and shakes. I also smell lean exhaust,

Sorry for the long post, I want to include enough info to help figure this out. Thanks for any help that you can give. I really like this car, but I need to trust it will make it to work.

Jake HalfDork
8/12/09 9:46 a.m.

If you suspect your battery, that's a little odd. If it's really only a year old, it should be fine. If it's circling the drain after only a year, look at your alternator. A marginal alternator could maybe just charge enough to keep you going for a little bit, but not enough to keep you going for over an hour on the road. Something to think about, easy and cheap to check at your local Autozone, etc.

If that's not it, look at the rest of the electrical system and make sure you don't have a drain somewhere (big stereo? interior clock doesn't turn off with ignition like it's supposed to?), and also check your grounds. My old '93 Accord was picky as hell about having a scrupulously clean negative battery terminal, for example. If I let that white/green fuzz build up too much, it'd let me know, usually by not starting somewhere when I was in a hurry.

warpedredneck New Reader
8/12/09 9:58 a.m.

my old accord was very picky about the grounds, there was a green corrosion that caused me alot of grief hth

KevinC New Reader
8/12/09 10:09 a.m.

Thanks so far guys. The battery terminals are perfectly clean. No fuzz. I will check the alternator output, but the starter does turn over quickly when the car has died.

When I suspect the battery, I'm wondering if it internally loses some connection after an hour of driving and starves the ignition. Then when I turn off the key for a minute or two, the internal battery connection (plates?) is somehow reset and the car starts and runs again for an hour.

carzan Reader
8/12/09 11:16 a.m.

Maybe a long shot, but... You're in Ontario? What's the weather like there at the time you are driving? Is it cool and damp? I had a friend who had a carbed Accord and it would die just a mile or so from arriving at work (after about 1/2 hour of driving). It drove him nuts. Wouldn't do it every day, but when it did do it, it was consistent. Let it sit a few minutes, it would start right up and continue as if nothing had happened. Carbs utilize a venturi effect that will drop air temperature as it passes through. If the weather conditions are right, (ie: cool and damp, but not necessarily freezing) the carb can ice up and cause exactly what you describe. After it is shut off, the engine heat warms the carb, melts the ice and you are on your way again. I had it happen on my '87 carbed Jeep. Make sure the flexi-pipe that goes from the exhaust manifold to the air filter is intact and the valve in the air cleaner is operational. Otherwise, no heated air is getting in to warm the carb to prevent this. HTH!

KevinC New Reader
8/12/09 11:27 a.m.

Thanks carzan, this happens in the warm weather. I'm not sure if it is heat related but the problem just resurfaced this summer.

carzan Reader
8/12/09 11:40 a.m.

Bah, I got nuthin' then...other than the possibility of electronic parts getting hot, or voltage levels dropping below threshold. Can you monitor the voltage inside the car?
Still could be a fuel issue, I suppose. Plugged, or leaking fuel line (sucking air)? Electric or mechanical fuel pump?

KevinC New Reader
8/12/09 12:08 p.m.

The fuel pump is electric (in tank). The fuel filler neck has a small leak. Maybe the tank needs be be under full vacuum and that could affect it? I am assuming an ignition problem but it could be fuel related. I shouldn't assume.

bludroptop Dork
8/12/09 1:15 p.m.
KevinC wrote: I dabbed a kleenex soaked with ww fluid and cooled down the ignitor module on the side of the distributor. Then the engine starts right back up and runs nicely for another hour.

I don't know anything about this specific car or symptom, but the quote above is whatcha call a "clue".

Can you replicate that? If cooling the ignitor module with a damp rag consistently cures the symptoms - then I'd take the chance that's it.

And now I will defer to someone who actually knows what they are talking about.

carzan Reader
8/12/09 3:19 p.m.
bludroptop wrote:
KevinC wrote: I dabbed a kleenex soaked with ww fluid and cooled down the ignitor module on the side of the distributor. Then the engine starts right back up and runs nicely for another hour.
I don't know anything about this specific car or symptom, but the quote above is whatcha call a "clue". Can you replicate that? If cooling the ignitor module with a damp rag consistently cures the symptoms - then I'd take the chance that's it.

Yeah, that leads to my next question. Did you use the same igniter with the "new" distributor? Or did it come with its own?

poopshovel SuperDork
8/12/09 3:34 p.m.

Not sure if it helps, but my 87 Civic's doing the EXACT same thing. For me, I'm 99% sure it's a fuel issue. The pump is noisy as E36 M3, and you can here it struggling right before the RPMs drop, and the motor shuts down. Also, the rest of the car is rusty, so I'd suspect the tank is as well.

The PO put a pump in it, and it looks brand-freakin' new, but it also looked as though a fuel line was kinked via some ham-fisting. It's really not an issue as I hardly ever drive the car, but same deal; more pronounced when it's really hot out, starts E36 M3ting the bed about 40 minutes in, only when the RPMs drop (i.e. coasting to a light or stopsign in neutral.) Neat thing is, if I time it right, I can just dump the clutch and cruise through the light when it goes green. Has to be saving me some fuel!!!

Is it doing this at full/part throttle, or when coasting? Have you pulled and checked the plugs?

SupraWes Dork
8/12/09 4:10 p.m.

I'm gonna take a wild stab from my regular listening of Car Talk and say ditch the cat and see what happens.

wbjones New Reader
8/12/09 4:10 p.m.

similar problem many yrs ago... a 76 civic.... the carb "heater".... heat shield from the header was removed and in wet weather ( not necessarily cold.. any wet day) would do as you've described .... carb icing .... let it sit a few min and would be fine for another 45 min - hr....

RossD HalfDork
8/12/09 4:21 p.m.

Maybe a clogged fuel filter and the fuel pump over heats and shuts down? The gasoline quickly cools down the fuel pump and you're back on your way?

Jensenman SuperDork
8/12/09 5:31 p.m.

In Poopy's case, if the fuel pump goes bonkers just before the engine shuts off that tells me the pump is starving. I have seen 2 different things:

First, a split in the rubber line on the INTAKE side of the pump. Never saw a drop of fuel leaking anywhere but when the car (an MGB with twin SU's) was run under a high load for a long time (climbing a grade) the fuel pump would begin sucking air through the split. The pump would start clicking like crazy, then the engine would run like crap and stall, a few seconds later it would fire right back up like nothing ever happened.

Second was a Datsun 720 pickup which would die for no reason, when this happened if you looked at the 'sight glass' in the carb it would be dry. Replaced the (mechanical) pump, it did it again about a week later. Turned out to be a piece of paper in the fuel tank, when the phase of the moon was just right it would dawdle over and get sucked onto the tip of the intake pipe. Drove us NUTS for about 6 months, that one.

OP, you say you smell 'lean exhaust'? Clarify, please. Lean usually doesn't have any odor, but rich is another thing entirely (fuel odor). If you are getting fuel odor, I tend to blame ignition (no spark = no combustion = rich stanky exhaust).

Also, is there something at the 1 hour mark in your commute that doesn't happen otherwise? Like the MG example above, climb a long grade, go down a long grade, idle for extended period, etc?

You might also check the main relay (the Honda regulars on the board can tell you where it is) it seems when they get old the solder joints crack and cause all kinds of weirdness. That's temp related too. I know the EFI cars have them, not sure about the carbed cars.

Carry a spark plug with you, along with a way of quickly/easily grounding said plug to the motor. If it happens, IMMEDIATELY jump out, connect the plug and ground it, spin the engine and see if you have spark. No spark = ignition problem. Spark = probably fuel system.

I think those had an electric fuel pump, don't remember where it's mounted. You could also tee a fuel pressure gauge in then observe it as the problem happens. Fuel pressure (probably 2-4 PSI since it's carbed) = ignition problem. No fuel pressure = fuel system problem, and that leads me back to the relay, or long shot a bad pump. It's been my experience that the low pressure pumps either work or not, but ya never know...

KevinC New Reader
8/12/09 7:30 p.m.

I went out and had a look under the hood just now. I pulled the distributor cap and found some oil inside of it. I remember that old Hondas had problems with the o-ring between the dist. and engine block. I swapped the original distributor back into the car (that I removed last year). I'm going to drive it to work tomorrow and see what if anything changes. I will look into some of the posted advice for the next steps if this doesn't work. Thanks everyone.

KevinC New Reader
8/14/09 7:33 a.m.

Well, I drove it to work yesterday (after swapping the distributor) and the engine cut out again.

What I know now is that the time is always close to the same (just over an hour). Also, I do not need to let it sit to cool off. If I switch the igintion off then immediately back on, it will restart and it is good for another hour of driving.

It is making me think the ignition switch is causing it. The car does not have an ECU like the EFI Accords. Mine is carbed. Has anyone heard of an ignition switch causing a problem like this?

Jensenman SuperDork
8/14/09 7:52 a.m.

Yes, ignition switches can and do go bad. Haven't seen a Honda do that, but anything is possible. Generally a contact in the switch will get hot, the plastic gets soft and then the contact moves out of position. Usually this is visible, look at the back of the switch and see if there is a brown spot, or is the insulation on a wire brown from heat (IIRC the black/yellow wire is switched ignition power). Generally, wiggling the back of the switch will bring things back to life as well. You might remove the column covers for easy access, then when the problem happens tug on the wiring pigtail. If it clears it up, you are on the right track. Speaking of the pigtail: on my b-i-l's 510 the 6 way connector on the pigtail had an overheated wire inside it. That was easily visible, you could see the brown discoloration of the connector.

KevinC New Reader
8/24/09 7:35 a.m.

Update on my cutting out problem. A couple of your suggestions were correct. It was the electric fuel pump in the tank. I pulled it out for a look and the sock was clogged with debri. I cleaned it up and drove the car for a couple of commutes with no issues.

The fuel filler tube is rusting (common on these cars) and I guess it is letting rust flow into the tank where the sock picked it up. It will restrict the fuel flow and also cause the pump to overheat.I have some work to do on that but now at least I know what the problem is. Thankfully it hasn't cost me anything because I have been switching parts from my parts car. Thanks for all of your suggestions.

carzan Reader
8/24/09 8:03 a.m.

In reply to KevinC:

Awesome! Glad to see you likely have the culprit! (even though I wasn't much help )

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