97 Accord shuts off while driving, getting worse

I drive a 97 Honda Accord and just recently started experiencing an issue where while driving, my ignition suddenly shuts off. Sometimes when this happens I’m able to turn the key and get the ignition started right back up while coasting, but usually forces me to coast to the side of the road instead to throw it in park and restart ignition (instantly, no sputtering). This problem seems to occur most frequently while driving at low speeds or stopped at a light or sign. Despite the ignition cutting, my headlights and radio, etc remain on leading me to believe that the battery is fine. I’ve taken it in to get it diagnosed at two different mechanics so far but they’ve been unable to replicate the situation and couldn’t do anything to help. The problem is occurring more and more frequently (as much as 4 times for a 10 minute drive last night) and I’m going crazy trying to figure this out. Any recommendations or sound similar to something that you’ve seen before? (spark plugs, alternator, blocked air filter, etc?).

Could be the ignition key. Do you have a bunch of stuff on your key ring? If so try just the ignition key and see if this helps. If so the ignition cylinder will need replacing.

The most common cause for your problem is the distributor which is easily replaced. It is advisable to replace the rotor, cap and wires at the same time.

Along with ^those^ very good thoughts, it could also be due to an intermittent main relay.
www.tegger.com has some very good suggestions regarding the diagnosis of common Honda/Acura problems.

I think Hondas have a known fuel pump relay problem with models around that old. That or another relay used to power the ECU possibly. The trouble is more than likely to be due to an electrical issue in my opinion.

Main Relay is a good suggestion.

@knfenimore. Nothing on my key ring but the main key itself but it has been known to get bent out of shape once or twice. I’ll get a new key and see if the problem persists.

@RodKnox, @RemcoW, @Cougar, i’ll take these suggestions to the next mechanic I visit! Thanks!

If it still starts the car then the key should be fine. No need to replace it.

No check engine light? Anyone check for pending codes?

@keith no check engine light. Not sure about the codes.

FYI, it should be able to start in neutral so you should have to pull over and put it into park. If you are going fast enough when this happens, will it restart on its own if you just leave the ignition on and coast in gear for a few seconds. You usually have to be going more than 30 mph for it to restart on its own.

When gong at higher speeds, do you occasionally feel like the engine momentarily cuts off or hesitates? While it is running, it the idle smooth and the engine have normal power?

Have your mechanic check for a faulty Ignition Control Module. http://www.rockauto.com/catalog/moreinfo.php?pk=50032&cc=1167498

There’s a test proceedure that will eliminate or confirm that the problem is with the ICM.


@keith I haven’t tried starting it in neutral when it stalls. If i’m going fast enough I’m able to restart the ignition by turning my key while coasting in Drive… At slower speeds, ~30mph or less, trying to restart the ignition while stall-coasting does nothing. I have not seen it restart on its own while coasting in gear or haven’t experienced the problem at high speeds. Has yet to happen on the highway (speeds greater than 65), usually only residential/commercial areas where speeds are 40mph or less.

It occurs most frequently I would say while idling at a stop or when brakes needs to be applied during slowing prior to a stop.

While running, the idle sometimes decides to hesitate and fluctuate for a few seconds but seems to have normal power. I’ve only noticed the engine hesitate once while driving but quickly returned to normal.

@Tester, thanks for the tip

I fully concur with Tester at this point, that would be the first step, except that I’m not sure the test will detect a failed module if the failure is intermittent like yours is. Its worth a try though. My next step would be the ignition switch itself, and not the key portion but the electrical portion. If turning the key from on to off and back on again while in gear at higher speeds works, it could be a bad contact inside the switch.

The crankshaft position sensor (CPK) is located inside the distributor so that should be checked at the same time that the ICM is checked, but I really don’t think that it is the problem.

Turning the key off then on also re energizes the PGM-FI (main) relay. This relay controls power to the ECU and the fuel pump. This might be easier to replace that before going to the the ignition switch. It is located under the dash between the steering wheel and the radio. You remove the panel under the steering wheel by pulling out the coin box, there is a screw at the top of the opening that you remove next, then the panel is just held in by clips in various locations. Start at the bottom next to the door and work your way around. The relay is about a 2" gray box with about 8 pins located above a connector all the way next to the radio.

@keith, thank you very much for the advice! I’ll update when I discover the issue :slight_smile:

I have a 98 Accord with the same problem. I just replaced a relay and spent $200 to do it but the problem continues. When I took it back to the shop, my mechanic then suggested it could be a bad distributor or fuel pump. He said he tested the spark plugs and wires and they’re fine. Now I am trying to figure out what to do next. A distributor is $200. I don’t want to drop 2 bills on a distributor only to see my problem continue.

As for the ignition, I only have 1 key on the key chain.
I too was going at a low speed when I lost power. I threw the car into neutral and it started right up. The radio did not dump the stations so I wonder if that is telling. If the battery had conked out, my radio presets would have gone kaput.

So, is it a fuel pump or distributor?