1998 Honda Civic won’t start

Dear Car Talk Folks,

I just bought a car that seemed to be working fine, until I went to get it safety checked at our local gas station yesterday. I drove a very short distance (>2 miles) to the station, left it parked in front of the gas pumps, and when I came back an hour later it was still in front of the gas pumps. The car would not start, and the folks at the gas station hadn’t been able to get it to start to do the safety check. I tried, with no luck. The engine would crank and try to catch, but it couldn’t get started. I had to call a tow service, and when the tow truck got there, the tow guy had me try to start the car. It cranked, tried to catch, and the tow guy did something under the hood–it looked like he was pinching something close to the windshield–I didn’t see what exactly, since I was in the car, and the car finally started up. I did not turn it off, and I was able to drive home. This morning my nephew and uncle came to try to see what was wrong with it. The car started when they first got there, but after a few times, it would not start after it was turned off. They changed the distributor, changed a fuel relay hose, cleaned the carburetor, and tried some other stuff, but the “not starting” problem didn’t get resolved. If they let the car sit for a period of time (15-30 minutes?) then the engine would start, but it would not start reliably and would begin failing to start if the car was turned off and on again more than a few times. Do you guys have any idea what could be causing this problem, and is it (hopefully) an easy (and inexpensive) fix? Mahalo (thank you) very much for your time and kokua (assistance).

My first guess fuel pump, but there are diagnostics that can be performed before a hail mary replacement part.

The first thing I think of when someone complains of an intermittent no-start condition on your vintage of Honda is a faulty PGM-FI main relay.

This relay is what operates the fuel pump and computer.

These relays have a history where solder joints would crack. So getting the engine to start would be a hit or miss proposition.



Phone the tow guy and ask what exactly he did to get it to start. That’s where I’d start. My guess is he diddled with the battery cables or an engine compartment fuse.

For cranks ok but won’t start, the scientific approach (which is what usually gets to the bottom of the issue the quickest) is to first figure out if the problem is lack of spark, or lack of fuel. Either check for visual spark at a spare spark plug during cranking, or try spraying some starter fluid into the air intake. That should provide some clues.

So are you in Hawaii?

If you listen carefully, when you turn the key to Run (not all the way to Start) you should hear the fuel pump run a couple seconds each time. It’s in the fuel tank, and you can hear it under the back seat, or through the fuel filler if you take off the gas cap. If you don’t hear it run, that points to the fuel pump relay, as Tester suggested. It could also be the ignition switch. George’s method will ascertain whether it lacks fuel or spark.

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Your car is under a Recall for faulty ignition switches. Degraded contacts can cause the car to refuse to start or stall while in operation. Loss of power to the ECM and fuel pump from the switch is the problem.
Poor electrical engineering. The fuel pump’s high current is drawn through the switch as it is the main relay.
It’s similar to overloading a wall socket in your home.

What should have been done is to use the switch to energize a relay and provide power to the pump, ECM, and so on through the main relay. This would take the ignition switch out of the equation.

VW used to have a problem with glow plug fuses on their diesels. The glow plugs draw 40 amps with an 80 amp surge. The fuse was rated for 50 amps. It’s not difficult to see what IS going to happen…

IF this Recall has never been performed it can be done free of charge at a Honda dealer.


You think? lol :wink:

Maybe the large vacuum hose going to the brake booster. Try pinching it. If it works, you have a leaking booster which must be replaced.