Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

1999 Civic LX woes

Where to start? I’ve had the car for almost 7 years and put about 90k miles on it (it has 155k). I’m okay with maintenance, not stellar, not terrible. Most recently, I’ve been told and noticed that the car is leaking oil. Nothing on the ground, just needing a few top ups between changes (I usually go 4-5k between oil changes). Last summer, I was told the distributor was the probable cause, so I had it replaced (the dist. only). Top ups still continued, so I recently had the valve cover gasket replaced also. While my boyfriend and I were looking under the hood today (I also have a cracked exhaust manifold- we were poking around to see if we could see the crack), we noticed oil EVERYWHERE- splattered under the hood, pooled around the air filter and intake manifold, and for the first time since I’ve owned the car, on the ground. We also noticed the valve cover gasket was bulged out like a hernia from one side. Obviously, not cool. Left a message with the shop and hope to talk with them tomorrow.
I guess my questions are these: Any other ideas about where the heck the oil is coming from? I’ve been told it could be the rear main seal- a costly repair, I know. The exhaust manifold- how quickly do I need to deal with that? And for the whopper: I am thinking about selling the car. What repairs, if any, should I consider before selling? How do I calculate what I should ask for the car if I don’t do anything?

The first thing to check is the Postive Crankcase Ventilation valve and the related hose. If this valve is stuck closed or the hose is plugged the crankcase can build pressure and blow gaskets/seals out causing oil leaks.


The cracked exhaust manifold could cause a check engine light and may also cause problems during the next smog inspection.
Is the crack very visible or is it “hidden” by the heat shield?
Is the exhaust leak audible?

I wouldn’t get too worried about the oil leaks UNTIL that shop has corrected the valve cover gasket situation. After that’s resolved, I would make sure the engine’s really clean and keep an eye on the oil loss.

Is your oil filler cap still in good shape? If the seal isn’t good, oil could spray everywhere in a hurry.

I’ll assume the check engine light is not yet lit?

Unfortunately it’s hard to put a price on a car with a severe oil leak. That might scare off many potential buyers. An audible exhaust leak may also scare off buyers.

The exhaust leak wasn’t visible and is not audible. I will check the oil cap- but I’m pretty sure it’s in good shape. But thank you for the head’s up- that didn’t occur to me.
No check engine light, either.

@rockyracoon perhaps it would be wise to sell it soon after repairing the oil leak.

By the way, here’s some questions that would affect what you’ll get for the car.

How does it look?
Are the tires in reasonable shape?
Is the suspension and steering still okay (doesn’t pull, no bouncy ride)?
Does the AC still blow cold?
Radio still works?
All power locks and windows still work?

I would advise you to wash, wax, and perhaps detail the car before listing it for sale. You might also consider spending a modest amount of money on paintless dent removal and buffing out any major scratches. First impressions do make a difference.

I have a 1998 Civic, the same basic car as you, and I once had a cracked exhaust manifold too. The problem with this is it is dangerous. You basically have an exhaust leak under the hood, so you should fix it ASAP. Another problem is that this is an expensive problem to have. The exhaust manifold on your car doubles as the catalytic converter, so replacing it could cost more than $600, and that would just cover the part. Labor costs extra.

You need to fix this ASAP, but you might be able to find a cheaper alternative. Do you have any friends or relatives with the skills to work on your car? If so, you might consider going to a junk yard, buying a used exhaust manifold, and having your friend or relative install it in exchange for a case of beer. Don’t let the mechanic who did your valve cover gasket do this job. I’ll explain why in a bit.

For the oil leak problem, one of two things went wrong. Either you have a clogged/damaged PCV valve, or the gasket was installed in a sloppy manner. (There could be other things too, but those are the most likely. You could also have a leak elsewhere, or the engine may have been run without the oil cap in place.) Gasket seals can be a little tricky, which is why I don’t mess with them. You have to tighten the bolts in the right order, and to the right torque specifications. Then, after letting it sit for a while, you tighten the bolts a little more. If you don’t do it right, you can mess up the seal pretty easily. The exhaust manifold will also have a gasket seal, so make sure whomever installs it knows what he/she is doing.

My Civic has 234,000 miles on it, so I think yours has life left in it if you can afford these repairs. It sounds like little is wrong with the engine, except maybe that it burns some oil. If you keep a close eye on the oil level, that shouldn’t be much of an issue.

If you’re changing the oil every 4,000-5,000 miles, you’re doing fine. I used to change the oil in my Civic every 3,000 miles when I lived in a house, but now that I’m in an apartment, I do it every 5,000 miles, and it hasn’t hurt a thing. I’ll be moving into a house soon, and I think I’ll stick with the 5,000 mile oil changes.

One last thing. I think there was a technical service bulletin or some other kind of notification that this car has a problem with oil filters. Sometimes the rubber gasket of the old oil filter sticks to the engine, and installing a new oil filter over the extra gasket causes a leak. Have someone take a look at the oil filter to make sure the oil isn’t coming from it.

@Whitey FWIW . . . In California junkyards are prohibited from selling catalytic converters. I personally can verify that the “pick a part” yards cut them out before letting us scavengers at the cars.

While I have never double gasketed an oil filter, I know that some of my colleagues have. The reason I’ve never done this is because I always look carefully before I install the new filter. And yes, sometimes I do have to remove the old gasket.

If you have a bulge in your valve cover gasket, then that is a source for a lot of your oil leakage right now. It may not be the only source, but it is definitely a major source. It has to be fixed.

The next question is why is that gasket bulged out like that. The answer to that question might lead to the rood cause of all your oil leaks. As Tester recommended, start with the PCV valve, its cheap and easy to replace in your vehicle. It is also the most likely root cause.

You have numerous seals on the front of your engine, camshaft seal, crank shaft seal and oil pump seal. If your engine has balance shafts, I don’t think it does, but if it does, there are seals for them as well. These can be very expensive to replace because the timing belt has to be removed to get to them.

And that brings up another point, the timing belt. The recommended interval for the belt is 7 years or 105k miles, which ever comes first. You are due for the second replacement. I would recommend that you check with your Honda dealer for a timing belt/water pump service package. The often offer a better deal than the independent mechanics and the job will be done by someone with more experience on YOUR engine.

This package includes most of the aforementioned seals and the valve cover gasket and a coolant exchange and a new serpentine belt. You can add the oil pump seal for about $10 more. I just had this done on our Accord, which did include a balance shaft belt as well for a total of $735 (including the oil pump seal).

BTW, the 7 years part is just as important to the interval as the miles because the belt is made of rubber and rubber rots with time. See this post.

You are due for this service and I think it will solve all your problems and you will have a trouble free car for another 7 years if you want, what a deal.

BTW, too bad you paid for a new distributor. The do develop a leak, but is on the O-ring that goes around the outside of the shaft. The O ring is about $1, but the labor to replace it is the same as the labor to replace the distributor, but you would have saved the cost of the distributor which isn’t cheap.

BTW, for a little more, you can also have the coolant system hoses and thermostat replaced, but if money is tight, you can put this off for a few years when the next cooling system service is due.

I believe the valve cover gasket was bulging because of shoddy installation. The shop put in a new one today, so I will keep an eye on it and on the oil levels.
@keith- I did the timing belt/water pump at 90k- about 4-5 years ago, so I’m not due for that yet.
As far as the exhaust manifold is concerned, I’ve been told (by the auto shop) that it is dangerous because of CO poisoning, but been told by others that it can wait if I’m not hearing a hissing sound or smelling fumes in my car (and yes, I know CO is odorless). Any thoughts on either of those opinions? I’ve switched my heater to recirculate also, and have been cracking my windows when on longer trips.

@rockyraccoon sounds like you’ve got 60K on that timing belt. It should be time for a new one right about now.

If you replace the timing belt now and save the invoices, that might make it more appealing to a prospective buyer.

The owner’s manual recommends every 105k for the timing belt…?

@rockyraccoon In that case you’re fine. I don’t have your owner’s manual and the old rule of thumb was to replace timing belts at 60K intervals.

Not sure about the other issues, but the cracked exhaust manifold should be repaired or replaced. Any outside air getting into the exhaust stream not coming from the engine confuses the ECM about how to set the air/fuel mixture. The ECM thinks all the O2 in the exhaust is coming from the engine. So when extra O2 appears, the ECM will increase the amount of gas injected to compensate, which will make the mixture to rich for your actual condition. Poor drivability and other problems could ensue. If you notice the engine idles poorly or is surging, varies the rpm even though you don’t change the gas pedal, this could well be caused by this cracked EM problem.

Yes, the owner’s manual recommends changing the timing belt every 105,000 miles, but that is for the “regular conditions” maintenance schedule. The “severe conditions” maintenance schedule recommends you do the job every 90,000 miles. The issue is that if you look at what defines “severe conditions,” just about everyone in the United States lives in a place that qualifies because of the weather. I’ve had my timing belt replaced every 90,000 miles, replacing the water pump with every other timing belt, and I’ve had no problems. I’ll be due for my next timing belt at 270,000 miles.

I have an two civics (93&98). To find where the oil coming from, I would clean the engine compartment first - use pressuried water. Cover the electrical connectors and distributor. Use air compressor to blow off all the water after wash. With 155K on odor, I would replace the PCV (as Tester mentioned). If the oil leak still persist, you should see where it is right the way.

Note: Did you put the correct oil filter for your car? Make sure old oil filter gasket was not stick on the engine block. Last thing, check oil every other gas fill up. Honda DOES consump oil.

Wonder you can attach the picture with the issue?

IMHO, If the car body overall in good condition and you don’t have money lay around, AND IF the fix of everything will not cost more than 50% of you civic value (or about $1K) you can drive it until the next timing belt/water pump/tension pulley/front main seal due at 200K. Dont worry much about timing belt brake if you use OEM, it should last 110K. I replace mine at 112K and it still look good!

and please use OEM part like water pump and timing belt.

PerhapsYou Should Hang a Battery Powered CO Detector In The Car, Right Under The Pine Tree Air Freshener Would Be Good.

I’d get one that has a digital readout of CO ppm. The instructions tell what level is dangerous. To me, any amount of CO in the cabin is bad, but some people are a little light headed to begin with and it may not make much difference.

The CO detector could enhance the value of this little Honda by probably at least 40 or 50 bucks.


If you use a CO detector, place it on the floor. CO is heavier than air. I really wonder how anyone determined that you have a cracked exhaust manifold. You can’t see it, hear it or smell it (CO is oderless but there is more to exhaust gasses than CO so it can have an odor). How do you know it is cracked?

Since the valve cover gasket has been replaced, you are right to just monitor the oil levels for awhile to see if you still have a problem.

@Keith, this exhaust manifold is easy to see. It’s right in front of the engine. You just remove one or two heat shields, and it’s right there to see.

Whitey, I know that. The OP stated that she and her boyfriend were unable to see or hear the leak. It makes me question why they think it is cracked. If someone told me that my Honda has a cracked manifold, I would want them to show it to me. I would not take their word for it.

@keith- i like your style. i completely forgot to ask about seeing the crack when i dropped my car off (have i mentioned i’m a full time student- in the middle of midterms, no less). my bf said the same thing- and honestly, i have very little experience with this auto shop. as soon as i have more time and am back in my hometown (where i have a bit more experience with a couple of shops), i will take it in for a second opinion… and a look.
a CO detector sounds like a decent idea, also.
@2seaters- is the PCV a diy repair? i know nothing about said part, obviously.