Gremlins... No Odometer/Speedo and check engine light, intermittent dash light failure/no start

1991 Honda Civic DX 1.5L

Was having issues with my clutch interlock switch keeping the car from starting… fiddled with it this morning, tried to remove the sensor, had my hands all up in the dash. After awhile I realized that it was not the sensor but the pad, glued a penny to it, VIOLA everything was solved.

Car started up and drove just fine. However, the speedometer/odometer is disabled and a check engine light came on. Got home, let the car sit for 30 minutes or so. Went out to check the VSS connection had not been jumbled… checked a couple of plugs. When I went to start the car it turned over for a second then I heard a clicking noise under the dash and the dash lights went dark.

The car would not start, no power to CD player or dash, relay didn’t even click. I looked up under the dash where I had been working to make sure no connectors had been bumped… really didn’t do anything. Then, the car starts right up, no issues with dash lights or anything. I think it is likely a short somewhere, but really no clue where.

It’s weird because I have never had the car fail to start AND no dash lights/accessory power… any ideas of what this could have been?

I replaced the radiator this morning before I got up in the dash to fix the clutch switch, hoping it is not related but not too hopeful.

It sounds like you created a loose power connection somewhere between the battery and the ignition switch. There might a fusible link involved due to the age of your vehicle.

Honda doesn’t use fusible links, but the electrical section of the ignition switch is a common failure as they get older. Look at the back of the ignition switch, sometimes you can see that the solder has “melted” off,you might even find a few drops of solder inside the steering column cover. Also, with the key in the run position, wiggle it slightly, if the dash indicator lights turn off and on, the switch is bad, if the key will stay in a spot in the run position with no lights on, it is worn out. If you replace it, check Hondas price, sometimes this part is less expensive than aftermarket.

The 91’s didn’t use an electronic speedo. They had a spinning cable that ran from the transmission to the gauge cluster. If that cable breaks, your speedometer and odometer stop working, and your check engine light will come on. If you peel the carpet back from the passenger side floorboard under the glove box you’ll see a big metal cover with a glass lens in it. I bet the light behind the lens blinks 17 times before pausing (assuming the electrical issue did not kill power to the ECU) - that’s the code that your VSS is not working properly.

It’s possible that you broke the cable while jiggling around under the dash, but it’s also possible that the cable is old as hell and just broke. Replacement isn’t all that hard - the worst part is getting the lock clip back on once you insert the new cable.

As to the electrical problem start with Conoso’s comments, but then check the wires under the dash carefully. There’s a lot of sharp metal under there and if you were too vigorous in your explorations earlier it’s possible you snagged a wire on an edge and created a short.