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Cherry red '99 Honda Fubar

Mistakes were made.

I own a (beloved and well-maintained) '99 Honda CRV, 5-speed manual, 105K miles. About 6 weeks ago, I noticed the car was idling rough, and frequently stalling at stop lights (unless I revved the engine a bit). I took it to a local repair shop, and they said it probably just needed a tune-up.

500 bucks later, I drove it out of the shop. It still seemed rough to me, but at least it had stopped stalling at stoplights! The garage had replaced the ignition wires, the fuel filter, and the distributor cap, (and also changed the oil, since it was due). So, mistake number 1: I should have gotten a second opinion on the rough idle.

Fast forward 6 weeks, I’m on a road trip in Boston (I live in NYC), and I notice the car is hesitating on acceleration and, once again, stalling at stop lights. I guess I should have brought it to a shop or a dealer right away in Boston (this was my 2nd Big Mistake), but the sputtering seemed to smooth out at 3000 rpm, so I drove it back to NYC instead. As I got into the city, the dreaded Check Engine light went on. I brought it directly to a nearby PepBoys and they tested the engine. The readout they gave me said cylinders 2, 3, and 4 were misfiring, and there were 2 notations saying “TDC sensor no pulse” and “noise.” PepBoys said the timing belt needed replacing, but the car had already gotten a new belt when I first bought it (used, at 70k miles). So I brought it back to Garage #1, reminding them of my recent visit.

They called the next morning and said the engine needed to be rebuilt (to the tune of $3500), that the cam shaft was “broken,” and that I could “come and get my car now.” – they would be open until 6 and I could talk to the mechanic then. When I showed up at 5, the only guy left didn’t speak english, and the car was there, keys in ignition, no paperwork of any kind. Crickets chirping…

My husband called them today, and they said they had run a compression test, but hadn’t physically found the problem – I gather they would have had to take the engine apart for this? They seem very interested in getting rid of us.

I’ve dug around on the internet, and have found many recommendations to have a valve adjustment every 30K miles on this car. There was a Honda service bulletin to this effect issued in 2004, but I didn’t know about it, so never had the work done. (I guess this would actually qualify as Mistake #1). I’m not sure if this was the problem that killed my car, but I’d like to know what did.

My main question is this: should I take it to a dealer? back to the original garage? or to a new, independent mechanic? I’m worried that the original garage will try to dodge responsibility – same with the dealer, if I bring up the Service Bulletin. They can make up any story they want and I wouldn’t know the difference. I feel very powerless and confused, in addition to all of the classic grief symptoms (currently still in the “anger” phase, but ready for “bargaining” to begin). Any thoughts or advice would be greatly appreciated!

An engine will not have to be taken apart to run a compression test. It’s a simple matter of removing the spark plugs and testing each cylinder one by one. It’s a very simple process and in your case, should be step No. 1.
Running a compression test should be done every time there is an engine performance problem IMHO.

Since you have mentioned a valve adjustment you could possibly be getting close to the problem. Yes, valve adjustment on mechanical lifter engines should be done every 30k miles at the maximum. Honda, just like several others, has recommended an inspection of the valve adjustment (also called lash) at 100k miles +.
This is utter stupdity IMHO and a certain number of vehicles are going to suffer an expensive problem because of this recommendation.
If tight valve lash (especially on the exhaust valves) exists then there’s good chance a valve job will need to be performed due to valve/seat burning.

Without knowing if they even ran a compression test and what those numbers are even if they did, that’s about the best I can offer.
Not knowing about the service bulletin is not a mistake on your part. TSBs (Tech. Serv. Bulletins) are only issued to dealers and you could not be expected to know about this. Do a net search about CRV valve adjustment problems and you may find this mentioned several times.
(I have no idea why they would say the “camshaft is broken”. If that were the case the car would not run at all, but a hazy understanding of the valve lash problem could lead someone to say this.)

I would say take it to the dealer and have a compression test performed. Post any results back here for discussion. If this turns out to be a burned valve/seat problem in the cylinder head then maybe a appeal to Honda Motor Co. for a good will warranty might work since the car would be at the dealer. A valve job is going to be expensive.
Hope some of that helps anyway.

Thanks! Sorry if I was unclear in my post (I know it’s the length of “War and Peace”)…

the garage did do a compression test, but didn’t give us paperwork. They said the results of the test were “65 psi.” I really hate the idea of letting Garage #1 off the hook – they have given me about 3 different stories, and have been difficult to deal with… but if the dealer is our best bet, I’ll take it there.

Those “mistakes” you think were made, aren’t. The shop #1 did the right thing, for a rough running engine, by changing the spark plugs and wires, distributor cap and rotor, air filter, and fuel filter. They were way past due on the scheduled maintenance list.

Six weeks later, something else failed…the “TDC sensor” (this is, probably, the camshaft position sensor circuit). This circuit needs diagnostics performed on it. Until that is done, we really don’t know what, exactly, is wrong. It could be the camshaft; but, I doubt it.

The communications with shop #1 aren’t going well. The problem may be beyond shop #1’s abilities (and, they don’t want to admit it). Find another shop which you can have better communications with. The shop would work on diagnosing the trouble coded items first, before looking at compression and vacuum, and valve lash.

Wow. If they said 65 PSI with no 1 in front of the 6 then you’re in heap big trouble on the top end of the engine. Compression readings should all be in the 180 PSI or so range on every cylinder.

It sounds like the first shop was just guessing based on the “probably needs a tune-up” statement. This is why it always recommended a compression test be done as the first step; it prevents throwing hundreds of dollars worth of parts at a vehicle in an attempt to solve a mechanical problem.

I would definitely recommend have the dealer perform a compression check and verify this. Compression readings should be written down on paper for you. Keep us informed and good luck.

As usual, Ok4450’s post was excellent. The one thing I would add is to get it out of that shop, bring it perhaps to a reputable independent shop. I’m concerned about that “broken camshaft” comment. If you had a broken camshaft your engine wouldn’t run.

Thanks for the clear feedback & advice. Do you think we should take it to the dealer, or find a more competent independent mechanic?

I agree with ok4450 and mountainbike. The comment about an allegedly broken camshaft indicates that the personnel at that shop are incompetent. To tell you that the camshaft is broken and to also tell you to come to pick it up just don’t jive, as the engine would be inoperable.

thank you – good to know. I kind of figured that out about the camshaft, after looking at diagrams online. I’m checking into reputable garages, but also made an appointment with the dealer for next week. This seems like a big decision, because the next step will probably be costly – it’s just a matter of how much.

Update: I called Garage #1 again to try to get a straight answer, and they said something about “worn pistons,” and the camshaft again, but then they said they hadn’t looked at the engine. I am through with Garage #1.

Thanks again and oy

This Honda despite the incorrect notion all Honda is infallible however known to burn valves in this engine if they are not adjusted periodically. The problem I believe if I recall correctly is Honda specified 105k miles not a shorter interval like 30k for valve adjustment. Sorry about posting this Honda infallible falsehood but there are people who believe Honda and Toyota don’t have problems occasionally.

Take it to where you are comfortable however in the end your paying the bill not the first garage or others. Its going to be a pricey repair but not a full rebuild. If your valves are burned its the valve train and seats that need the work.

I don’t think you really made any mistake yourself. It seems garages were incompetent in diagnosis and Honda incompetent in publishing proper inspection intervals and their design of engine overall.


Thanks – the Service Bulletin mentions a “good will warranty” consideration – but it sounds like you don’t think Honda is likely to honor it?

This is unrelated to the OP’s question, but the responses here led to a question of my own. My boyfriend drives a 2007 Civic. I don’t know what the manual says about valve adjustment, if anything. Is his car one that needs to be checked every 30k miles? Do all cars need to be checked that often or are certain engines (or manufacturers as a whole) more likely to need adjusting at shorter intervals?

I’m not an expert, but from what I’ve read it seems unlikely that the same issue applies to your car… the models I see repeatedly referred to online are '97-'01. Here’s a quote from another thread (
Honda “used a so-called B20 engine in the 97-01 CR-Vs and that the B20 engine was such hat it required valve clearance inspections and adjustments at 30,000 miles and at every 30,000 miles thereafter.”
& here’s another thread with similar info:
so I think your boyfriend’s Civic is probably okay in that regard… still, you might want to check for any Service Bulletins and Recalls on that model.

Wash your hands of garage 1. You really need to have the dealer verify this problem rather than an independent shop. The reason why is because this will reflect much better on you in regards to a “good will warranty”. This means the dealer is going to be the one doing the repair. Honda Motor Co. is not going to pay an independent garage to do this.

Keep the discussion with the dealer and Honda Motor Co. polite and hopefully they will cover this under good will.
There are a number of other what I consider total, bone-headed, idiotic recommendations in regards to maintenance of vehicles. These include, but are not limited to, recommending that auto trans fluid not be changed until in excess of 100k miles, changing a fuel filter “only when needed”, etc, etc.

Over the last 20-25 years car makers have extended these intervals to make their vehicles appear to be more maintenance free. Most vehicles will survive this but odds are by the time a problem develops the warranty has expired. If they feel so confident in their recommendations then they should increase the warranty period to a couple of hundred thousand miles.

A good example of stupidity is Subaru. Back in the 80s Subaru used to recommend a cylinder head bolt retorque at about a 1000 miles. Subaru paid the dealer to do this. Eventually they stated that automatic transmission cars did not require this but the manual transmission cars did. Same cylinder heads, same head bolts, same head gaskets, etc. so how skewed is that? Of course, eventually the automatic transmission cars started weeping oil from their head gaskets. Who would have thought.

Thanks again OK4450, you have been very helpful! :slight_smile:

I found a local-ish dealer that gets consistently decent reviews – we have an appointment for next week. AAA is going to tow, which will cost a bit, but I don’t want to do any more damage by driving (the car still runs, sort of).