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1998 Honda Civic stalls randomly

I have a 1998 Honda Civic with > 200k miles. It drives very well normally. Its problem is that it stalls randomly while driving. There is no 'sputtering' or 'chugging'. The engine just stops running suddenly and the check engine light comes on.



I turn the ignition off, and try to restart. If the check engine light stays on when I turn the key, then it will not start. If it the check engine light goes off then it restarts fine.



Additionally, there is a sound that is associated to my knowing if it will start again. If the check engine light goes OFF, there is a sound like a pump that cycles. If the check engine light stays on, then there is no sound.



Once the check engine light goes off and I can start it, I've taken it to a shop and had them check for error codes, which there are none. I've let the shop drive the car around and they have not had the issue occur while driving.



This issue seems to occur most often when it is above freezing, and usually after I've been driving in 5th gear. Though that comment about the gear is not always repeatable or consistent. It has stalled in ANY gear, just seems to stall the most when I'm in 5th or shortly after.



We've replaced the battery, checked the alternator, replaced the ignition electronics, and had them check for error codes which hasn't resulted in one yet.



The Honda dealer was the worst, saying there was a blown head gasket and engine damage, so I needed to replace all that for $3900.



It has been frustrating, as you probably imagine. :-) The occurrences of this is 0-2 times per trip in the car. Often times where aren't places to pull to the side of a road. I'm also in $400 deep now with zero solutions between taking it to Honda's shop and another local shop.



Any suggestions welcome, and I can clarify any information if needed. Thanks all!

Comments

  • edited March 2010
    Has anyone suggested replacing the main fuel pump relay? These relays usually cause starting trouble when interior temperatures are high, but it the relay is bad it could cause intermittent problems such as you describe, especially considering the miles. The relay is under the dashboard.

    Of course, that assumes a fuel issue is causing the starting. You seem to have covered the spark side.

    When the engine stalls several lights should come on. Do they, or is it just the CEL?

    When you turn the key to "on," before you start the engine, the CEL should ALWAYS come on. Only when you start the engine should it go off. If it stays on after the engine is running, then there should be codes stored.
  • edited March 2010
    Thanks for the reply.

    When I do hear what sounds like a pump cycling, there is a 'click' under the driver's side dashboard. So...here is what I hear/see when I turn the key to the "ON" position normally:
    1. check engine light comes on
    2. pump cycling sound for 1-2 seconds
    3. click under dash when cycling sound stops
    4. check engine light goes off

    I'll pay better attention to what lights that come on additional to the CEL next time it occurs.

    The CEL does always come on initially when I turn the key to 'ON'. But goes off in 1-2 seconds (if the car is going to start normally). The CEL stays on when after a stall when the engine is not going to start right away. If I let it sit for a couple minutes, then it will start normally (like the steps I described above).

    No one yet had suggested the main fuel pump relay until now. Is it a heat and/or moisture issue with the relay? I've noticed that I do not seem to have this issue when the outside temperature is below freezing.
  • edited March 2010
    What I've been told is the solder joints within the relay crack, and when the relay gets hot it expands and can lose contact. When this happens the fuel pump gets no power and the engine won't start.

    If the cycling pump noise you hear is coming from the rear of the car it might be the fuel pump. If it's coming from the front it could be the ABS pressure pump. I don't think a problem with the ABS pump would cause a stall, but a problem with the fuel pump would.

    Has anyone checked the fuel pressure? Maybe the pump itself is failing.

    Am I correct that you had the engine repaired by a Honda dealer for $3,900? Did this stalling happen before the engine repair?
  • edited March 2010
    Would this condition with the fuel pump relay also be able to make the engine suddenly stall without warning (no chugging, no hiccups, etc.)?

    The fuel pressure has not been checked.

    I had taken it to Honda first, but their suggested repairs greatly exceed the value of the car. So, I didn't opt to replace the engine. The second shop I took it to seemed to think the Honda garage was ridiculous, because the car runs great (save for the moments when stalls).

    thanks!
  • edited May 2010
    Hey all. I just wanted to post that I found the issue, and repaired in myself.

    The solution would seem like a fuel-pump relay...though there was no 'chugging'. In looking up what relays we could purchase to try, we found that there is no fuel-pump relay. However, there is a MAIN relay...which governs the fuel-pump AND the injectors. Hence, why when my car would stall...the engine would just suddenly be off. No power to the fuel-pump or the injection system...no run.

    So...if you have a Honda Civic 1998 doing this whole stalling while driving with no chugging (e.g. engine just shuts off), consider checking the MAIN RELAY. The part was around $50 at O'Reilly's. I pulled the glove-box and the dash side panel, and replaced the relay myself.

    Car runs like a charm now.
  • edited August 2010
    Thank you for starting discussion on this issue. I have just recently started to experience this problem in my Civic. I wanted to check with you and see if the main relay has completely solved the problem for you (since it has now been a few months)?
This discussion has been closed.