Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Fluttering tachometer and power in Honda

I have a 98 Honda Civic EX. If I take the car over 3,000 rpms, the tachometer begins to flutter. If I keep driving like that, the tachometer suddenly drops to zero, than jumps back up, and repeats this. It feels like the car is running out of gas. It jerks. Sometimes I can recover by dropping below 3,000 rpms. Once I couldn’t recover. So far, I’ve had the ignitor (but not the coil) and the gas cap replaced. Neither of these helped. One mechanic mentioned the catalytic converter, but another disagreed. I’ve read “Honda Interstate Driving”, but didn’t find an answer. Please help.

sounds to me like your timing isn’t advancing. Is it a v-tech?

Has anyone scanned the car for codes or is this all just educated guesses at this point?

Sometimes this is caused by a worn distributor shaft. This is easily checked by removing the cap and noting if there is any sideways movement in the rotor and shaft. There should be none.

The problem might be with the distributor module located at the base of the distributor. This module is an input to both the tachometer and the engine management computer. When these modules malfunction, it can cause the tachometer to act eratic. The computer then loses this input signal where it doesn’t know where the transmission shift points should be.


I hate to say it, but I don’t know if it’s a v-tech. I have a very low automotive IQ. How do I check?

Yes. I’ve paid $230 in diagnosis fees so far, both at Honda service stations. Their scanners give different codes. It read the ignitor at one place, and at the other it read the gas cap and the catalytic converter. I’ve had repairs done based on these codes, and it’s still not fixed, so I’ve lost faith in those code scanners.

I don’t know what the rotor or shaft are, so I’d have to take it in to another place. Do you have any suggestions on how to find a good mechanic. I’ve failed so far. Previously tried Yelp.

By the way, thank you everyone for your responses! This has been a serious headache and wallet drain so far, so I really appreciate the help!

Would a problem with the distributor module also cause the car to lose power? The tachometer flutters independently in the beginning, but if I continue to drive with the tach over 3,000 rpms, that’s when the car jerks, and acts like it’s out of gas. At that point, the tach is no longer just fluttering, but bouncing down to zero and back up repeatedly. It’s whenever it bounces down to zero that the car loses power.

Is the distributor module the same as the distributor shaft? Tester and ok4450, are you both talking about the same thing? (sorry for the low auto IQ!)

Thanks again everyone!


Yes. This module failure can also cause the engine to bog down when the tach acts erratic. This module is located outside the distributor. Look at the base of the distributor and you’ll see it mounted there. I just replaced one of these modules for the exact same problem not too long ago.


Tester is correct about the module of course. It can cause the same symptoms as a worn distributor shaft.
The usual cause of failed distributor shaft bushings is driving habits and/or irregular oil changes. Sludge can develop around the dist. shaft and clog the small holes that provide a bit of engine oil for lubrication. Eventually, the lack of proper lubrication will wear the bushings, which in turn will cause the shaft to start wobbling.

The reason I mention checking the shaft first is because it only takes about 15 seconds to do. If the shaft is snug then replace the module. If the shaft is worn, then the distributor should be replaced and a new or remanufactured dist. will have a new module on it so it will all be cured in one shot.

Just an FYI, but in the future if you have any car problems drop by a local AutoZone, Checkers, Advance Auto, etc. and have them scan the car. They will do this for you free and it only takes a few minutes. Post any results back here for further discussion. Do NOT expect the parts house employees to diagnose the problem; that is not their job.

Another FYI to keep in mind is that getting a code for something does not automatically mean that particular item is bad. It’s only a starting point for further diagnosis.

Thanks Tester. Thanks ok4450.

I’ll look at the distributor, or take it somewhere with that in mind, and will follow through with the results.

One more question: I will try AutoZone etc. in the future for sure (thanks!), but out of curiosity, do most shops roll their diagnosis fees into the cost of the repairs?

Thanks again everyone.

Some do, some don’t. What’s not widely known is that often a lot of diagnosis goes on that the customer is not charged for and is not even aware of.
It becomes a matter of spending a lot of time looking at something and simply chalking a lot of it off rather than hit the customer big time.
It comes with the territory so to speak and I don’t know a tech who does not, or has not, done this.

Some years ago there was a guy who had heard about me from somebody and brought me an old Fiat X-19 from close to a 100 miles away. This car had been in 3 different shops for fuel injection electrical problems and he had spent close to 1600 dollars on this thing while still having a car that would quit on a regular basis.

I did not want to even mess with it but felt sorry for the kid (just turned 18) and agreed to take a look at it in my spare time. He towed it to me and I spent about 14 hours on this car over a 2 week period. After finally finding several problems and repairing them the car was as good as new and I simply could not find it within myself to pile on this kid even more so I charged him 5 hours total. He was as happy as a pig in slop and never knew how much time I actually had invested in that car.

Thanks for the insight, and reminder. I’ve had many mechanics in the past that I felt really good about. Since moving to a new city a year ago, I’ve been to three, but haven’t yet found the ok4450 here. Not that I’m asking for 14 or even 5 or even 1 hour of free work, I just can’t afford anymore mechanics who just hook the car up to the scanner and say that’s what I need fixed. I broke down alone at night in the middle of the desert on my way home for the holidays last year after being “guaranteed” the problem was fixed. But I do hear what you’re saying and it helps–restores some faith (although not in those scanners, but I’ll keep your second FYI in mind).

Thanks again. I look forward to my vat of slop.