96 honda civic road trip hell: three repairs in three states, still a mess

My daughter and her dog recently drove from Kansas City to Oregon. Before she left, her car died unexpectedly and wouldn’t start. She thought it was a battery issue and had it replaced in KC (that one I doubted). It happened again the next day; she had it towed to a shop and they replaced her alternator. She made it here fine. The day before she and her cousin were leaving to go back, it happened again: died while she was driving. We took it to a reputable local shop in Oregon and they said it was the distributer and that it also needed a full tune up. They did it in a day and she was off early Sat AM. Sunday AM they’re in Cheyenne WY; same thing: car died while she’s driving. A nice guy looked at it on Monday (shops were closed) and said it was a bad alternator and he couldn’t get a new one til Tuesday. Alternator number two put in and they were off. They drove through the wild storms and made it home late last night.
BUT: the car is now idling very very rough whenever she slows down-- “like it is going to die”. That one’s brand new. So far is starting ok.
Two questions:
Is it likely none of this was the alternator to begin with? What to check next? And what’s the deal with the idle-- seems a full (very expensive!) tune up and new distributor would have it purring like a kitten? But that issue didn’t start until 1500 miles later–
Thanks for any direction. She’s frustrated (and now broke).
–The Mama

With a car this age, it’s very likely that the alternator really was bad, the tuneup really was needed, and there really does exist an additional problem.

Possibilities for a rough idle include but aren’t limited to
a dirty Idle Air Control (IAC) valve,
a sticky Exhaust Gas Recirculator (EGR) valve,
a sticky injector (or injectors, I don’t know whether a '96 would be throttle body or port injection)
and possibly some things I haven’t thought of.

The good news is that it has an OBDII system and should have stored some fault codes. Have a parts store download them (some do it for free) and post them here.

Hi mycomom,

As a former owner of three Gen 6 Civics, that’s a lot of parts to have it run poorly. What would be nice to know are the conditions under which it’s running roughly. Cold, warm, idling, accelerating, up hill, down hill, etc.

will check on the OBDII sx. The rough idle was occuring warm, idling when in stop and go traffic. No problems on highway-- she’d just traveled from Cheyenne WY to KC, MO that afternoon.
Thank you both!

The Honda Civic is a very common car on the road, and usually very reliable. Any good inde shop will be happy to diagnosis this for you, using their OBDII scan tools and expertise. It may not be a quick diagnosis tho. I’m thinking the problem you are having is that you are asking for quick fix, enough to get you home. The shop is just doing the best they can given the limiting time available, to meet your travel schedule. The fix in other words may require considerable diagnostic time and some parts swapping and test driving for a few days to get it nailed down. If you are feeling lucky, and just want a quick fix, you could ask the shop to test each vacuum hose and device for leaks, one by one. There’s an off chance that is the problem.

If your daughter would like some recommendations for repair shops in the Kansas City metro, let me know. I am on the west side of the metro, but may be able to provide some recommendations for reputable shops in other parts of the metro if she needs them. Knowing about where she is located in the metro would help out.

She can also use mechanics file tab above to find some recommended shops near her.

In any case, she needs to provide a list of what already has been done to the mechanic, so as to avoid some duplication of effort.