1995 Honda Civic shutting off WHILE DRIVING!

Ok I’m lost here. About a week ago I was driving my 1995 Honda Civic, which normally runs GREAT, and in an instant and with no warning the check engine light came on, it suddenly lost power no matter how much gas I gave it, and it died going down the road. In the middle of the road I tried to crank it and it wouldn’t crank. Very quickly the battery died and I wound up towing it to a service station. I thought, its got to be the alternator, right? But the mechanic said it was my battery not the alternator, so I replaced it, paying $145 for a battery change and a “diagnostics” test I probably could have done in the Autozong parking lot… 'cept I’m a girl and I don’t like to do those kinds of things. Anyway, battery in, all fixed I thought.

I drove it a week and made a 150 mile trip and in the last ten miles going down the highway at 70MPH, same thing. All of the sudden with no warning engine light comes on, it looses power no matter how much gas I gave it, I pull over and I’m stranded. I thought maybe it was the alternator after all, so I turned the lights and radio and wipers off (night and raining) and tried to crank it. It cranked up slowly after flooring it a few times, which really didn’t seem to do that much like it would if it was flooded. Anyway, the car cranks, I drive a little further and again… same thing. I pull over as I’m dying, repeat. Again, pull over, repeat. I tried several times to crank the car by popping the clutch like if the battery died, but that wouldn’t crank it. I literally had to turn off the ignition switch, turn it back on and crank the car, then it would run another mile or so. After the fifth time pulling off the road I decided to put it in neutral, turn off the switch, turn it back on and crank it without even stopping and it worked until it shut off again with the same pattern as the first time. I finally made it home and got it to a service station today. I did notice that if I drove under 40MPH it would make it a short distance, but it did almost shut off twice while going to the service station.

I haven’t heard back from them yet, I’m just wondering how scared I should be before I call them and i would like to have some knowledge since they told me once after diagnostics that it was the battery. :confused:

Things like this are difficult to diagnose over the internet without car in hand and knowing what is missing. (as in spark, fuel, etc)

The most likely suspects would be a failing fuel pump, faulty main relay, faulty ignition switch (electrical part), or a faulty ignition module.

After I read the first few sentences I was thinking timing belt, but since it started and ran ok for a while at least that can’t be it. Thank your lucky stars about that!

So there’s reason to be optimistic. I guess if this were my car what I’d do is put a voltmeter on the “run” signal out of the ignition switch, then drive it around, see if the voltage ever goes below 12 volts. & if it does, is that when it starts acting up. If so, the problem might be something as simple as the ignition switch.

Let me ask you: Do you have a lot of stuff on your key chain? More than 3 or 4 light weight keys?

It could be something like the ignitor (ignition module) in the distributor that could cause the problem.

If the people you brought it to know how to diagnose OBDI Honda’s, they’ll figure it out.


Indeed this sounds like a distributor problem.

Oh you guys are great! So I did get news from the mechanic and they said it was the distributor. So they apparently said the whole thing is bad although they also said it looks new. They’re charging me $430 for a new one. Is this right? They also said that they refused to put in one from Autozone or another parts store because its junk and likely to break down again. Does this sound like good information? Does the price seem high or normal? I have to make a decision on it tomorrow. They said if I wanted to buy my own at a parts store to come get it. Ouch. And after running what they called “diagnostics” on the battery replacement incident they are charging me again for them, $80. I guess it must be something different, but man are they unfriendly about it!

Are they charging you $430 for the distributor? Or is that both parts and labor? What will they use as a part? If they are installing a new OEM Honda distributor, then you are getting a great deal on that. Chances are that they will install a rebuilt (refurbished) distributor instead. What kind of warranty will you get on it? There are too many questions here to say. I can say it’s a lot less than you would pay if you went to Honda and had a brand new OEM distributor installed.

It does not surprise me that they don’t want to use one from one of the big-box auto parts stores because often that stuff is not very good and they are the ones that have to deal with the mess. Unfortunately, the way this stuff works these days they might be getting a rebuilt from a different parts place, but it might have been rebuilt by the same company that supplies Autozone. Unfortunately, you can’t tell from the “brand” put on it - what the box or label says - because the same rebuilders will just package differently for different places. So I guess I’m asking again what the warranty is.

If this is the same shop that did the initial battery check and install, it really surprises me that they want to charge you again for checking that. A good shop will double check their own work if there is a sign of a problem. Given that and their unfriendliness you might want to ask around among some friends for trustworthy shops as an alternative. What kind of place is this? Is it an “auto care” chain store? Or a local shop?

I do not blame them for not wanting to install parts that you supply. My guess is that many professional mechanics these days want to torpedo the internet. First, people probably come in all of the time now with all sorts of really bad ideas about their cars based on what they “read on the internet.” The problem here is that half (or more) of the ideas people get from the internet are really bad ones and not applicable to someone’s situation. So mechanics probably find themselves constantly arguing with an anonymous online rabble and wildly ill-informed customers. (The anonymous online rabble at this web site are obviously not responsible for any of this!)

Second, the parts prices that can be found on the internet do not provide a very good gauge for what a professional shop should be doing or charging. You can find dirt cheap parts all over the place - and I do mean CHEAP. Depending on what it is, many of the parts that you can find online are not ones that even I would use as a DIY mechanic. A shop has the added problem of having to strand behind their own work. They can’t use cheap junk off the internet, nor do they have the luxury of even ordering better quality parts from large discount sites because they can’t keep people waiting around for days for parts to ship. A shop needs to rely on local parts store locations, and maintain good relations with them.

In any case, if you have given them some dose of what you’ve found on the internet that might explain why they seem “unfriendly” and - well, it’s understandable at least in some respects. That said, however, someone should be patient enough to explain things like what kind of distributor they will use and what the warranty is and why they want to charge you again for the battery stuff.

Come on people: it got a “check engine light”! Didn’t anybody take the time to see what it indicated? I wouldn’t put out $430 without knowing that the check engine code pointed to it.

By the way, I have used rebuilt distributors from local parts stores with no problem.

I bet they got a code 15 when the computer was scanned.


That would warrant replacing the distributor.


Yes, it is surprising the first check engine light diagnosis didn’t immediately point to the distributor, or at least a fault in the ignition system. Unless of course the battery was actually no good, in which case it would make sense to replace that first. But still you’d think the shop would test the ignition system best they could, if it passed say there might remain a distributor or ignition problem and for the owner to be on the look-out for it, bring it back immediately if the check engine light comes on again. That’s what I’d expect from a shop I took my car to anyway.

The fact that the shop is unfriendly is a concern. However if what they are is simply insisting that their shop procedure be followed, that isn’t unfriendly, just stubborn. They have probably found it takes a lot of their time to debug unnecessary problems if they use a part not supplied by one of their regular vendors. For one thing, if a part from a regular vendor fails out of the box, the vendor – who makes money supplying many parts to this shop over the year – has a big incentive to make things right so the shop will be happy, and the vendor will go out of their way to get a replacement part to the shop asap. Likewise the vendor has a big incentive not to source low quality parts. On the other hand, how often does a diy’er visit their local auto part retailer, what, a couple times a year. The auto parts retailer doesn’t have nearly as much incentive to keep the customer happy for repeat business.