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2001 Civic trouble - help?

Hi Car Talk citizens,

After listening to the show for years, I still know very little about cars, so I thought I’d appeal to this great body of knowledge and see if anyone has any insights into my problem. Here’s the story:

My 2001 Civic LX with 120,000 miles lost power on the freeway tonight.

I had just filled the gas tank, I was going 60 or so, noticed the gas wasn’t responding properly, looked down and saw the check engine light was on. Within moments, the oil and battery lights were also on and the car was dead. I yanked the steering wheel to pull the car onto the shoulder. Immediate attempts to restart it failed.

Then while I was on the phone with AAA, I thought to try it again, and the engine started, so I started to drive away, but the gas had very little power. I figured I may as well try to make it to the mechanic 2 miles away. The car died several more times and accelerated VERY slowly, kind of sputtering the whole time, so I drove it straight to the mechanic and left it there. The check engine light stayed on.

The only other thing that has ever gone wrong with this car was about 6 mos. ago it just lost power completely while driving down the road. In that case, it turned out the battery was dead. (I didn’t know the battery could die while you were driving down the road, but apparently it can.) Funny enough it died right in front of a Honda dealership, so I was able to replace the battery and be on my way, with no other problems until now.

I don’t know if these problems could be related, because this time I was able to restart the car and drive it, however shakily, to the mechanic.

Any ideas as to what might be wrong? I’d love to get a second opinion before I hear from the mechanic, or at least have some idea what to expect it repair bills.

Thanks, citizens of car talk!!


Wow, Trifecta!! 3 Honda questions in a row!

First, I doubt the battery is bad. It never would have started additional times if it were. I’m leaning more towards a fuel problem, or maybe ignition. The check engine light will give the mechanic more guidance. The ODB-II system is fairly complex and sophisticated, and the engine codes are plenty specific when the light goes on.

On the other instance, it could be related. I doubt a bad battery caused the car to die 6 months ago, but a bad battery would have prevented you from restarting it. Maybe the problem now actually started 6 months ago? Just not bad enough until now to set a trouble code, and turn on the CEL. Also, considering the car is 8 years old, if that was the original battery, you got you money’s worth. Car batteries become suspect after 4 years, although I’ve seen them last 7-8 years.

Some of the symptoms are of a dirty fuel filter/low fuel pressure. The fuel filter is like NOT external of the gas tank; so, the fuel pressure needs to be checked.
Another possibility is an ignition problem (module, or sensor).
If that is the original timing belt (I think it probably is), it’s 20,000 miles past due for changing. The timing belt may have slipped. If so, you’re lucky, because, if it slipped far enough, it bends some expensive valves.

This morning the mechanic says the crank shaft sensor died, and he noticed while he was in there that I should probably replace the timing belt. This all sounds reasonable to me, but I know nothing about cars… anyone want to weigh in?
This seems fairly certain that it has nothing to do with the battery, but may the sensor problem had already started back then.

It’s going to cost about $600, $200 for the parts and the rest for the labor. Again, not having been to a mechanic for 10 years, that sounds reasonable to me, but I have nothing to compare to.

I work at a Honda Dealer, and if in fact that is the problem I would say it sounds like a reasonable estimate.

Thanks, that’s good to hear.