98 Civic Ignition Switch problem? (All offered advice appreciated.)

Is the problem the ignition switch or something else?
'98 Civic manual trans.
Intermittent - once every few days or more than once same day
Symptoms - engine will not fire
Clues -

  • during symptom turning the ignition, there is no sound of the relays powering
  • during symptom turning the ignition, all other electrical is functional - lights, dash, status, wipers, etc.
  • during symptoms turning the key repeatedly, will finally power the relays after maybe 5 minutes
  • during symptoms, there may be a correlation to waiting a few minutes or a combo of waiting & cranking key
  • since the symptoms appeared, the engine has momentarily stopped (very short cough) on highway maybe 6 times
  • this morning, the engined stopped running while at 60 mph, pulled over, made phone call, after 5 minutes or so turned the key, engine fired up
    Add’l info -
  • changed ignition switch about 18 months ago with aftermarket (Bosch)
  • symptoms began about 6 months ago
    Thank you for reading, and for your replies

The next time this happens, try removing the gas cap. See if it starts. It could be that your tank is not venting properly. Removing the fuel cap will help it vent.

This could cause both your hard-starting problems and your dying on the highway problems.

In your distributor there is your coil, ignition module. One of these may be the culprit.

Thanks guys.
Not too confident with the gas cap scenario since it’s a non-venting tank-cap system.
So, if the coil or ignition module is flakey that could cause the relays & ecm not to power & therefore I wouldn’t here them click when I turn the key to the point just before cranking the starter?

You could possibly have multiple issues with a vehicle this old, and the first place I’d look is at the electrical work you did. The clue that screams out at me is that this started when you replaced the ignition switch. Until you rule the ignition switch as a possible cause, I wouldn’t waste time with anything else.

It’s probably a long shot, but in addition to other issues, your clutch safety switch might be malfunctioning. Testing it might rule it out.

Can you push-start the vehicle by getting it moving, putting it in gear, and releasing the clutch? If you can, that will rule out a bunch of possible causes of your problem.

It sounds to me like you’re mostly describing a no crank situation in which case neither the ignition coil/module or any gas tank issues are related. Those could be related to stalling on the highway. But not to turning the key and getting nothing.

If you’re in for some real troubleshooting, grab a multimeter and find out if the ignition switch is sending 12V to the starter relay, and next if it shows up at the S wire on the starter. Also check the clutch switch for proper operation. Is it safe to assume that you have already cleaned and checked your battery cable connections (both ends of the cables). A bad ground alone could actually cause all of this.

Hi guys. Really appreciate the responses.
I may need to clarify this a bit.
The car does start & run, but starting is an unpredictably intermittent issue.
When the problem occurs, while attempting to start the car, the starter cranks & all electrical is functioning. I know it won’t start when the key is turned to full power just before cranking the starter & the dash lights up etc. because I don’t hear the clicks under the dash. Maybe I should also ask, what are those clicks I hear under the dash when all is well?
Logic does point to the ignition switch, being that I changed it a year or two ago.
I’m not certain about the clutch switch, at this moment I can only say the pin isn’t stuck in the retracted position.

The clutch safety switch would explain the no crank condition but would not explain the stumble/stall condition. When the engine stalled and you had to pull over, did you try to restart immediately and have the no crank condition? If so, that would point to a common problem.

If a common problem, that would point to the ignitions switch, but even then it would be an issue with two separate contacts and two separate wire coming out of the back of the switch.

It seems like some Honda’s of this era were recalled for bad ignition switches, you wold have to check with your local dealer to see, but that won’t do you any good now because you have already replaced the switch with an aftermarket unit. If it was in the recall, you could purchase a new upgraded switch from the dealer and put it in.

I repeat, on a car this old, you could have more than one issue. If you try to find one common cause for all of your symptoms, you might miss something.

When the car stalled, at the Golden Gate Bridge, that was scary. At that point it was in the “no click but all other electrical is good” mode with the starter cranking, but engine not firing up. After about 5 minutes if hoping not to get rear-ended and turning the key every 20 seconds or so, it started up & I drove another 25 miles home.

This changes things. I thought that the no click meant that the starter was not cranking. Now we are down to one circuit, and in your era Honda, that circuit would likely be the main PGM relay. It powers both the fuel pump and the PCM and they have a history. You will need to consult with a repair manual but I think it may be found behind the lower dash/steering panel just above your right leg.

Hey Keith.
So there’s a relay for the PGM not in the actual PCM itself? When the prob occurs and I’ve cranked the starter & engine multiple times without firing, I do not smell gas. And, when it does eventually start, it does not act as if it’s starting from a flooded engine (unless the gas thing is a carb engine issue, this engne is injected).
I’m looking in the manuals I’ve got. No listing of such a relay. Trying to figure it out from the schematics, but I’m not that good with them. I have found a couple photos online. And the following link seems to describe my problem with in reason, particularly when clicking on “symptoms” in section A.

One of the manuals says I should disconnect the SRS before removing the PCM. Should I do so if I’m going to replace the PCM relay? Is it nuts to disconnect the SRS to change the relay?

I think I’m with Keith. For $50 I’d just change out the main fuel relay-non-returnable part. (The relay Keith is talking about is the main fuel relay. When you turn the key, the relay turns on the fuel pump. Has nothing to do with the PCM and these have been a continual problem on Honda/Acuras.)

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Bing - when you sat “main fuel relay” you’re talking about the same PCM relay, right?
Apparently, the PCM relay is notorious for cold solder joints. I just need to locate it. From what I can tell, it may be located beneath the glove box above the PCM. This is my commute car, and I don’t want to put a lot of money into it (ie. professional mechanic services). I’ve managed to change the timing belt and clutch myself - on number 3 for both. I’ve got 297,000 miles on the “silver bullet”.
Can’t tell you how much I appreciate all the help!

Listen to Keith but the PGM-FI main relay is the “programmed fuel injection” relay. The ECM/PCM is the “engine control management/powertrain control management” computer. The main relay may also power the PCM as Keith said, don’t know. At any rate it will prevent the fuel pump from running. The only one I ever replaced was on the kids car and I bought the relay first so I knew which one it was. Don’t know about the air bags and where it is but if its under the dash and the book says to disable it, I guess I’d follow the book. Can really mess your day up having the air bag go off.

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Got it.

The PGM-FI relay is actually a couple of relays in a single package. It provides power for the fuel pump and the injectors, not the PCM/ECU.


On some Civics, it located on the passenger side next to the glove box. You have to remove the glove box and it is to the right.

Awesome Keith! An excellent read. I’ve located & removed the relay. Solder looks good except possibly one joint. Apparently the issue is the first relay doesn’t close when the problem occurs; therefore, not a single click.

Hmm… I suppose it’s also a possibility that IG1 is flakey. I’ll start with the relay and see how it goes.