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Assortment of Civic problems

Hello-
I have a '98 Civic Dx with 217,000+ miles on it. Last year I had the waterpump and timing belt replaced and beginning in February I noticed my antifreeze was disappearing but couldn’t find any leaks. One mechanic said it was the waterpump, so I had it redone under warranty. The antifreeze is still disappearing and now my mechanic tells me it’s the radiator. (Don’t you think he would have said that the first time?) It seems that the transmission is starting to go (see below) so I’m wondering if it’s worth replacing the radiator or trying to patch any leaks I can find. I’ve heard such mixed reviews on patching radiator leaks and this mechanic won’t do it. The part is cheap and I can probably replace or repair it myself. So, repair or replace? Keep in mind the might be on its last legs.

I’ve had a few incidents of my car shuddering after I start driving and losing power around the first turn. Sometimes the shudder is worse if I’ve turned the car on, idled for a few moments and then started driving. The shudder was similar to one time when I had a bad spark plug wire, so thinking it was that I gave my car a tune up-- new plugs, wires, cap, rotor. But two mornings ago it nearly stalled as I was taking the first turn off my street. Then yesterday morning it nearly stalled after I backed out of my parking space and began driving (I’d sat for a few moments with the car idling before backing out). For a while I’ve felt like it wasn’t really getting full power around the first turn. I don’t know how to describe it except that pushing on the accelerator didn’t really do anything until the car had completed the turn and straightened out. I haven’t had any problems throughout the rest of the day-- it drives just fine. It’s only when it’s been sitting at least overnight.

I’m in denial about it being my transmission. It has never liked to start when I’ve down to or below a quarter tank of gas, and someone else who called the show about that was told that the fuel system was probably losing pressure as it sat overnight, which sounds like what happens to mine. Could this be another symptom of that? Or could something in the fuel system be clogged, like the filter? (My Dad had a clogged fuel filter once and his car would lose power on an incline.) Or is this perhaps the beginning of the end for my little friend?

Also, if you’re going to just tell me to get a new car, please be a tad more specific and suggest a good one. I’m at 217k, it’s sadly getting to be time to think about that.

Thanks for your help!

Oh-- oops, it’s an automatic transmission.

I’d replace the radiator, assuming you trust this diagnosis.

As for the transmission, I’m not really seeing this from the symptoms you describe. With a transmission issue, normally the engine is running fine but the car just won’t go (or won’t shift properly). I’d be checking out the fuel filter (if there is one) and fuel pump next. A fuel pressure test would make sense.

Just for fun, the next time you start the car, turn the key to the on position but don’t start the car for ten or fifteen seconds. See if that makes any difference.

Figure out what that coolant leak is first. Depending on what it ends up being, fixing the other issues may be moot:

Antifreeze doesn’t just disappear into thin air. It either leaks or gets into the cylinder head and burns.
Since you can’t find a leak, I’d first check whether there’s a leak. They can do that test by means of putting an instrument on the radiator and see if it holds pressure.
I’d do that before you replace anything. I hate to suggest this but it could very well be a head gasket and that’s an expensive replacement - one that may not be worth it.

The disappearing coolant is most likely due to a leaking head gasket. The coolant seeps into the cylinders and gets burned/vaporized out the tailpipe, which us why you don’t see any leaks. See if you notice a puff of white smoke out the exhaust when first starting the car in the morning…white smoke is an indicator of burning antifreeze.

As for the shudder, since it happens only when cold, I would suspect th idle air control (IAC) valve. You can have a mechanic inspect/clean it, or you can try it yourself if handy.

But I do think it’s time to look for a new car. If the head gasket is leaking, that’s an expensive fix, and I’d sell the car at a discount, disclosing the leak, to someone like a high school student who needs a car cheap and is willing to take on the project him/herself. If you’ve been happy with the Civic, find a newer one with fewer miles on it.

The radiator had a cooler built into it for the transmission. If the cooler coil has a leak, that would account for both of your problems and your mechanic is 100% correct in not patching it. Check your transmission fluid both for level and color, it should be bright red.

If there is even the slightest sign of contamination of the transmission, then I am going to make a recommendation that I normally NEVER make, especially for Hondas, have the transmission fluid “flushed”. Get the Honda ATF only, no other brand or type and have it done on a fluid exchange machine.

Do this immediately after having the radiator replaced and do not drive this vehicle until this is done. Note to Tester, wipe that smug look off your face. lol.

Shuddering after first starting the car can be caused by coolant getting into the combustion chambers. If this is the cause, this is not good. Once the engine warms up, the thermal expansion can make it stop. When you first start up the car, get out and feel the airflow coming from the tailpipe. Is it coming in regular bursts, or is it chugging in a non-regular way once in a while? If you put a dollar bill in the airstream sometimes you can see when it chugs, as it pulls the bill toward the pipe instead of what should be happening, always blowing away from the tailpipe. If you have any question about this, I guess before replacing the radiator I’d ask the mechanic to check the head gasket first. They have a test called a “leak down” which they can do fairly easily.

If it is simply the radiator leaking, the easist way is to replace it with a new one. A leaking radiator should be dripping fluid on the ground though. Do you notice any fluid dripping on the ground after you’ve driven the car? If so, third party (non-OEM) radiators for a Civic shouldn’t be much more than $100. On most economboxes radiators are simple to replace, but I’ve never done a Civic so I don’t know for sure about your car. The non-OEM radiators may not be as good at cooling as the original, but as long as you aren’t pulling trailers or driving in the Mojave desert in July, they should do fine. If you want to keep the original radiator and re-use it, don’t try to fix it yourself and don’t let the repair shop mechanic try to fix it. Instead, take it to the local radiator shop. Every town has one. They can fix it up for you for about the same price as a third party new one, and if the fix takes, which it almost certainly will, you’ll have a better radiator.

Oh, maybe start checking the ads for a replacement car.