CarTalk.com Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Car keeps dying

Im new to this site but thought I’d try and get some help. My father in law gave us a car to use so my husband can get back n forth to work. Recently it started dying on him while he was on the highway and we dont know whats wrong with it. His father told us its a brand new batter that was put in it before he gave it to us. The car is a 1990 Honda Accord. The radio already doesnt work so its always off. The car dies no matter if heat/air is on or off. I dont think it could be a battery problem. Theres 2 lights that come on when it dies: battery and oil. We put oil in it. The weird thing is that after it dies, we put it in park and turn key in ignition to off position and then restart it and it starts right back up with no problem. We really dont know whats wrong with it but cant afford to take it to mechanics to tell us 100 other things wrong with it lol. Any advice???

All the warning lights should illuminate when the engine shuts off.

The problem here, Kris, is that there are just too many things that can cause an engine to die. Someone is going to need look at it to isolate the problem to at least a particular system. They’ll need to check for fuel supply (fuel pressure test), check for spark (or at least look at the basic components that maintain a good spark), check for a serious compression problem, check for proper function of the safety devices such as the safety cutout switch etc., stuff like that.

If your local community college has an automotive program, contact the “department chair” and ask if they’ll look at it for you. You’ll have to pay for parts (which may be discounted even), but the labor will be free. The tradeoff, if they’ll do it, is that you’ll have to wait until the students are studying engine operation, and you’ll have to have the car there while they’re doing their lab credits. For that very minor inconvenience you get your car diagnosed and repaired. But call quickly. Holiday break is imminent.

If you don’t have this option, post back. These cars are known for failure of a main relay under the dash, and while I generally abhor “shotgun maintenance”, this might be the rare case where it’s worth a shot. I know what it’s like to be on a very tight budget.

There’s not enough info known to be specific but there are a number of things that can cause random dying and I assume an instant restart each time after it dies.

Other than the main relay mountainbike mentions this could also be caused by an intermittent fuel pump, faulty distributor, or a faulty ignition switch among other things.

I might be leaning towards the main relay or ignition switch. Keep in mind that most of these are related to each other electrically speaking as the fuel pump current is pulled through both the main relay and switch.

Assuming your husband has at least some mild mechanical ability he might consider pulling the codes just to see if something pops up. Here’s a how-to link. Also keep in mind that pulling codes is part of a process; not necessarily the final answer to every problem. Just scroll down to the appropriate model.

http://www.autozone.com/repairinfo/repairguide/repairGuideContent.jsp?pageId=0900c1528005f5a6

Wild guessing a bit, I might take a stab at replacing the main relay and then the ignition switch if the relay doesn’t cure the problem.
Ignition switches have been somewhat of a sore point for Hondas for a long time.

This is an OBD1 car. Make sure hubby only has the ignition key in the ignition. Sometimes a heavy key ring will cause the enging to cut out. I would start with just replacing the main relay. Here is the way to read the OBD1 codes in your car.
http://honda-tech.com/honda-accord-1990-2002-2/90-93-accord-obd1-cel-codes-2630683/

Here is a video for fixing the main relay. Guy does a poor solder job, but what ever works.