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Help My '91 Civic Wagon

This is a 2-parter. 1st, I have a 91 Civic Wagon that has only 145K miles on it but died recently (as I was leaving the parking lot of my mom’s assisted living place). I have over-maintained this car for the nearly 20 years I’ve owned it, but I do understand that stuff happens. Our local mechanic thought it might be the distributor, he replaced the cap & rotor (which had been done 2 years ago), and got it started again, but I’m afraid now to drive it because I generally have either our 2 dogs or my 88-year-old mother in it, and I don’t want to get stranded with any of them. Someone told us it might be a fuel relay or the main engine relay. Is this worth having fixed?

My 2d-part question is, why does no one make a small station wagon any more? I always drive with the rear seats folded down to make room for the dogs. I don’t want a “big” SUV, I don’t like driving anything big and I don’t want to buy the gas. My Civic wagon was perfect. I’ve seen Mazda Protege wagons that were similar in size but they’re older and have more miles, I’m really no better off with one of those. Toyota used to make a Corolla wagon. Why does no one make these any more? (That was the rant part.)

Thanks for your help.

“Toyota used to make a Corolla wagon.”

Toyota still makes a Corolla wagon, but it was rebranded several years ago as the Toyota Matrix and it has been given much more youthful styling than the Corolla sedan–but it is still a Corolla!

If you want a small wagon with the reliability of a Corolla, then look for a Matrix!
Compare the specs of the Matrix to the Corolla and you should see the mechanical similarity.

As to the problems with your old car, I really think that you need a new mechanic.
From afar, it is really difficult for us to diagnose the problem, simply because we don’t have the car in front of us. However, your mechanic does not have the same disadvantage that we have.

Yes, the problem might have been the distributor cap & rotor, or it could be a weak fuel pump, or it could be the main relay, or… You need a mechanic who can first determine if the problem was/is a lack of fuel getting to the engine, or if the problem was/is a lack of spark to ignite the fuel.

If he starts replacing parts because he thinks that they are the source of the problem, that tells me that he is not a good diagnostician. Ask friends, relatives, co-workers, and neighbors for recommendations on a new mechanic who does not just “throw parts” at a problem.

I’m a little confused. Was the issue that the car stalled and wouldn’t restart, but then did start some time later and the mechanic basically guessed on the cap and rotor because he couldn’t reproduce the problem? Or did you have it towed in, he changed the cap and it started? If the latter, I’d call the problem fixed in my book. If the former, that does sound a bit like the Honda main relay problem, but I would probably still wait to see if the problem recurrs before throwing parts at it.

As for the wagon rant, what’s happened more or less is that a lot of wagons are now masquerading as compact SUV’s or crossovers. Despite the different styling, something like a CR-v isn’t so different from your old Wagovan in terms of capability and gas mileage. There are also still some traditional station wagons like Subaru Legacies and the Toyota Matrix (which is the Corolla wagon).

My car died, would not start. Had it towed home, would not start. Towed it to mechanic, who checked for "spark."
Initially (for about ten seconds) there was no spark. Then the tester light came on, and the car started. The mechanic replaced cap and rotor (two years old.) And it has started everytime since (only used it locally), except once at the mechanic’s after the cap and rotor, when the mechanic said he turned the key to the “off” (remove key position) and then it started again, flawless since.
The question remains, I’ve heard the main relay is a problem with older Civics. My husband would replace it, but he can’t find it, it’s under the dash, near the driver door (supposedly).
The other question, if relevant, could the ignition switch cause my Civic to die in transit (I’ve had some trouble, especially in cold weather, getting the key out).

the main relay is indeed under the dash, to the left of the steering wheel. It’s a little black or brown box about the size of a 9 volt battery. That year of Civic was known for main relay issues, but it should only effect starting. It should not make the car die.

The distro is more likely. Was it by any chance wet when the car died? That could point to a cracked distributor cap or a leaking gasket between the cap and the distro body.

I can’t really give you much advice other than to say that replacing the cap and rotor seems to have solved a problem with the engine. You’ll just have to drive it more to determine if there are more problems.

Thanks, this is all very helpful. No, it was a nice sunny day when the car died, we haven’t had any rain for weeks (shocking for Oregon, but true). Maybe replacing the cap & rotor has fixed it, but the guy who did that said he really was not sure what the problem was, which has made me nervous about driving the car – and I can’t sell it if I can’t tell a buyer “This is what’s wrong.” Anyway, thanks for all the suggestions.