Honda Civic sometimes fails to start, battery is brand new, mystery problem!

My 2006 Honda Civic LX has 120,000 miles. About a month ago I stopped for gas, and when I got back into the car, it wouldn’t start. It cranked a couple times but then after a couple tries that stopped. The power all came on as normal (lights, radio, everything with no dimming), but the engine wouldn’t go all the way. I got a jump and things were fine for a couple of weeks, then it did it to me again, following a brief stop in the grocery store after my highway commute home. Again, jumped the car and went home. After four days with no sign of trouble, it happened again at the gas station. I then took it to a mechanic who spent 2 days with it and declared my problem a mystery. He couldn’t get the car to not start for him and said my battery, alternator, fuses, everything he looked at seemed fine. He thinks it could be the starter but couldn’t be completely sure enough to do such expensive work. I also let it sit for two days to see if there was a battery drain, but it started up just fine after sitting for those two days. I did notice that it seems to not want to start the day or two after I use my headlights. Now, 5 days since the last episode, it’s starting but the crank is a little slow. My battery is one month old. Any ideas? I’m at a loss and don’t want to throw money at the problem without knowing. I’m tired of driving everywhere afraid to turn the car off, too.

If it turns over (starter motor is turning the crankshaft) at the usual speed and the engine does not start, there are several possibilities. Ignition switch and distributor come to mind, but here’s one you can check yourself: turn the key from Off to Run (not all the way to Start) and listen for the fuel pump back in the fuel tank to run for a couple seconds. If you hear it, it’s working. Sometimes I have found it takes two or three of these Off-Run “key dances” to pressurize the fuel system enough for the engine to start when turned all the way to Start.

If the fuel pump does not run briefly at each Off-Run turn of the key, the main relay (fuel pump relay) under the dash may be failing. It’s not very hard or expensive to replace.

If it’s turning over slower and slower, that sounds like the battery is being discharged by lots of cranking or for some other current-draining cause.

Thank you so much for the insight. What kind of sound should I be looking for regarding the fuel pump?

Also, the times when it wouldn’t start, it cranks a bit slower than normal, like it’s struggling, and it makes a few crank sounds before just stopping. If I try again it gives me 1-2, and if I try a third time it usually won’t crank at all, like my attempts have drained all the life out of it. I haven’t tried more than that. Right now, every time I start it, it sounds a bit like it’s working harder to start, but it does fire up. Hearing it sound like that makes me nervous, but I can’t just keep bringing it in when they can’t figure out what to do with it.

Have the battery tested.

The battery may have been purchased a month ago, but you don’t know how long the battery sat on the shelf.

I had a vehicle come in with a intermittent no start condition. And even tho the owner installed a new battery a month prior, it turned out the new battery was the problem.


i m wondering if you are having starter problems, does it crank weakly when hot only or when it has been sitting overnight as well? starters can bind up when hot

It cranks weakly even when it’s sitting overnight. I would think that the mechanic tested my battery while it was there - is there some reason he wouldn’t have done so? Battery would make sense as I started having trouble a week or two after the new one… the old one simply saw it’s life end thanks to the South Florida heat and needed to be replaced.

If you told the mechanic that you had just replaced the battery, they might not have tested it.


The car spent two full days at this guy’s shop, and if he didn’t test the battery, that would just kill me. I just moved to a new city and have always had a hard time finding mechanics I trust. If the car starts here at work, I’ll see if I can’t swing by AutoZone or something on my way home to have them test it.

still thinking starter…, or battery, perhaps voltage regulater, which is probably in alternator.

Battery connections are the first place to begin when you have a “No start” situation. Even
if you have a new battery, if the connections are loose, dirty or corroded, you will not be
allowing the full flow of current to pass thru the connections. The connection may be
enough to turn on the lights, but not enough for the huge flow that is needed to operate the
starter. This is where many people say that they know the battery is good….”because the
lights come on”. This is no more a battery test than licking a 9volt battery. It only tells you that there is electricity…not how many volts or the amperage that flows from the battery.
Jump starting may have wiggled the terminal just enough to allow the current to pass and start the engine, but tomorrow you have the same problem.

First remove the cables from the battery and use a wire brush to remove any corrosion and dirt from the battery posts and the cable terminals. There is a tool with a round wire brush for this purpose, found at any auto parts store for less than $10
Before connecting the cables, apply a coating of di-electric grease to the battery posts this will keep oxygen away from the connection so that it will not corrode as fast.

It is just as important that the other end of the cables also have a clean connection. Remove the positive cable from the battery again so that you do not short anything out. Follow both cables to their far ends, remove this connection and wire brush the connection and the cable terminal clean and retighten these connections.

If there was work done recently, there may have been an “engine to body” ground that was not installed following the work. These grounds normally run from the rear of the engine to the firewall and are uninsulated and most are a braided wire. If any of these are found unattached…reattach them.
Remember….this is not a “Sherman Tank” don’t over tighten the connections.
Tight…tight………………too tight…broke!!!


Get a plug-in voltmeter like this one:

Your Civic has a 2-stage alternator charging system. The meter should read ~12.6V when your key is first turned to AUX, then 13.8-14.5V after it starts. After the battery has been recharged sufficiently while driving, the meter will alternate between 12.8 and 14.5 or so volts. Anyone suspecting charging system issues should know what their battery voltage is doing.

I’m so grateful to all of you for your insight. It tested fine, both the battery and the alternator seem to put out the correct voltage, a solid 12.5 - 13.5. I had more problems this morning, called roadside and had the battery switched out but it still wouldn’t start. After the first attempt it wouldn’t even crank. They cleaned and greased the terminals, but it still took several jumps to finally get it started. Today it’s back at the original mechanic and he’s going to put in a new starter. Other than a possible unattached ground, which I hope he would have noticed by now if that was the case, I am thinking it has to be the starter.

let us know how it works out

I see this is an old post but in case someone follows a search engine to this topic I have been through this and I am going through it again. I am a highly experienced dealership diagnostic mechanic (not Honda). Honda alternator is controlled by the engine computer so it cannot be diagnosed by any one that does not have a computer link to the manufacturer - not even me. I have all kinds of tricks to diagnose electrical problems but they will not work on this lousy &%^*^&$& product. I bought a 2012 Civic Si new, in the first six months it stranded me several times. After the dealer did their thing with it I could still tell it wasn’t giving a full charge but Honda said there was no more they could do but if I wanted them to check it over it would cost me, that was before the first year. This morning it wouldn’t start again. My best advice? Don’t buy a Honda! They don’t fix their problems. There are many more stories, squeaky heater, grind going into second gear, noise in clutch. Honda’s response? “OH, they all do that” Wish they had told me that before I bought.

I routinely buy a voltmeter to stick in the cigarette lighter. Years ago a new Civic was showing either 12.8 or 14.3V at random times. I showed the dealer and they replaced the alternator, which, of course, did the same thing. Quick research found that this is intentional for better MPGs. I sent the dealer the info. My Hondas, including current Insight, have been happily bouncing between these voltages for years with nary a problem.

All cars are that way now.

I would do a parasitic draw test on the battery to see if there’s a voltage issue. I have seen many honda’s with issues with the door switches. Luckily a $10 part. But to be sure I would have a mechanic do that test to see where the voltage is leaking. It’s also on you tube, a video that shows you how to do it. Suspect areas too would be any accessories such as remote start. I also know Honda dealers or parts stores will test your battery for free.

Don’t replace the alternator too quick as I see a lot of people make a expensive mistake doing that since those don’t typically fail on these cars.

Just as an update, I was the OP on this thread. I replaced the starter and have not had an issue with electrical or battery since! It wasn’t my alternator or my battery. Just a very expensive starter.

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Thank you for getting back here with your solution!

Thanks for the update CrispyS. Starter motors are common wearing items and almost always have to be replaced at least once, often more, during the life of any car. So you aren’t alone. And starter replacement can indeed be quite expensive, esp if you replace with an oem starter from the dealership. And the labor charge can be quite expensive too. It’s awkward time consuming work getting the old one out and the new one in and connected and verified working.

If this problem crops up again, you could try the method that worked for me to save a few dollars on the job. Instead of replacing the starter motor, I took it to my local auto-electric shop and had them fix it for me. Best of luck.