I'm stumped, but also sort of slow, so it's okay :)

I have this '93 Honda Civic with a real strange problem. The car will start (from a jump box, as the battery is currently dead). Once it is going, the box can be removed and theh car will idle fine. The car will rev fine when I give it gas. BUT if I put the car in gear and try to drive, the engine dies right out. I have found that the car will drive if I leave the box attached, but this option is not practical for daily driving.

I am hoping that I am looking at a bad altarnator, but I have no way to know for sure, and I can’t understand why, if it is the alternator why moving the car has anything to do with the engine dying out. Can anybody suggest some steps to figure out what the problem is?

You need a new battery. As long as you have a good battery hooked up the car runs and drives. Your dead battery is the problem, and if you don’t install a new battery soon you’re going to ruin your alternator, too.

After you have installed a new battery, take the car to an auto parts store and let them test the alternator.

Well you know you need a new battery so that is the first thing you need to do. Then use a volt meter on battery clamps and see what voltage reading is when idleing and when you speed up motor.If the volts do not go up to at least 13.5 volts and wires and clamps are in good condition alt is bad

I suggest you charge up the battery with a charger and see if it will accept a charge. If it does then you should be able to drive the car for a little while at least after the battery is charged up. Keep any extra electrical devices off so the load on the battery is minimal. Take the car to a place like Autozone and have them check the alternator along with the battery. I suspect you have a bad alternator and possibly a bad battery but that needs to be tested first. The problem you are having may be due to the alternator not working when you rev the engine. Possibly bad brushes inside it.

Thanks for the tips.

So I charged up the battery from the car with a borrowed charger. It looked like it was taking a charge okay, but it didn’t deliver enough juice to turn the engine over, so I’ll be including it as step #1 in the total repair of the issue. I suspect that the alternator may have been going out, as the battery just ended up being dead one morning, without obvious cause (no lights on, etc…). What I am so puzzled and concerned about is that the car will both idle and rev up just fine until it is placed in gear and the clutch is released. As soon as the engine is used to propel the car in any capacity, the engine dies. Why would the force on the engine affect the alternator or the electrical system? This is what I am so puzzled by…

And does anybody know if I can safely start the car with a jump box and no battery to test the alternator by just clipping to the battery clamps? I sure don’t want to make things worse…

Modern sealed batteries fail instantly without warning many times. Stop fussing around and go get a new battery. They come from the store fully charged. Put it in the car, make sure the + and negative connects are correct. Red wires to + and black wire to negative.

Start the car and then drive it to the store where you bought the battery and have them test the alternator. Fiddling around with jump boxes and driving the car using the alternator without a battery installed will burn out your alternator for sure.

Then you’ve had to buy both a battery and an alternator. Buy and install the battery first. Then see what the status is of the alternator. Just because your old battery went dead that does not mean the alternator is bad. If you had the old battery on a charger and it can’t hold the charge that’s all the proof you need that the battery is shot.

So, new battery is on board. The car starts and runs, so I am off to check into the alternator.

Thanks again for the help with my car troubles!

Good to hear that the battery is in place and the car runs. Now let’s hope the alternator checks out OK. Let’s us know about that too.

So I took the car to a mechanic to look into the alternator. Doug at Primer Transmission (the best deal on a new alternator install I found) did not actually test it, but we talked about the behavior of the car, Doug was fairly confident that my alternator is okay (mostly because of the behavior of the battery indicator ‘idiot light’). The car has been running okay with the new battery (that is, it runs).

What the car is still doing however, and what I thought was an electrical problem is that the car seems to want to die when I give it gas to accelerate. It almost feels like the engine is shutting down momentarily at these times. I have added a dose of fuel injector cleaner, and things feel like they are smoothing out, but I can’t quite be sure just yet. The air filter is clean, I don’t know about the fuel filter (I’m not even sure where the dang thing is)… I’m wondering if I should check or change the spark plugs, or if I should investigate the distributor or what…

Ok, alternator and battery issues are resolved. Now you have more things that are likely not related to the battery problems. We need more info about the car. Have you had this car awhile? If so, what can you tell us about the maintenance history of the car? Last tune up, stuff like that. Mileage on the odometer? Things you have done to the car? Be as specific as you can about the problem(s). Is it all the time? Wnen the car is hot? When the car is cold, just after start up?

The more info and specifics the better the answers you’ll get back.


Wow… All i can say is wow. Okay, here we go. I bought this car about a year and a half ago from one of those super-shady dealers that pop up and vanish in the blink of an eye (okay, that was probably mistake #1, but I’ve already realized this and moved on). As far as work that I have had done: day one was a new water pump and timing belt. The old water pump was clicking at start up and cold running, I talked shady-dealer-man into doing this work for a song, probably because I had already been taken advantage of. Beyond that the car has had a couple of oil changes, and a new battery. The odometer reads 50,980 miles, but I can’t believe that this is accurate seeing as how the car is a 1993 Honda Civic CX hatchback. I have never done the full tune up routine, which does make me wonder about the spark plugs and such…

The very specific details of the problem are as follows: The engine “stutters” during periods of acceleration, typically in first gear or in reverse when starting from a dead stop. When this problem first arose, it came on suddenly and severely, causing me to actually stall a time or two. I found that I could prevent a stall by hitting the clutch and fluttering the gas.

When I first noticed this problem it appeared when the engine was at running temperature, but had been recently shut off for about fifteen minutes or so. Since replacing the battery I haven’t had this issue progress to a stall out.

Tomorrow I plan to run the car through an Oregon Department of Environmental Quality testing station (I need to renew the tags soon anyhow, so the trip won’t be wasted). Perhaps some of the test results they provide can aid in determining the cause of my car troubles.

You need to get new spark plugs in the car. I think that era Honda has a distributor cap and plug wires which need to be replaced as part of a tune up. A new air filter will help too.

I’d do these things before getting the emissions testing done. The car should run better and is much more likely to pass the test.

I am pretty sure that you are right about the cap and rotor. I haven’t changed one of those since I was tuning up my old '76 Nova back in the early '90s, but I suspect that they will function and change out the same. At least the thing that the spark plug wires feed from looks like a distributor to me (but then again, I’m the one needing help :slight_smile: ).

I’ll defiantly try swapping out the spark plugs, the distributer cap and the plug wires tomorrow. I took a look at the air filter, and I think that I’m going to leave that as is for now. It looks pretty clean… Now that I really think about it, I’m pretty sure that the car was also given a tune up when I bought it, with new plug wires (they still look new, and I would not change them, but as I said before, you are helping me, and I will not question your advice… except about the air filter I guess, 'cause it really does look clean), new plugs oil change and probably other stuff too, but I doubt distributor cap was included.

It seems to me that you are suggesting that my problem is indeed electrical in nature, but unrelated to the alternator. Am I right about this?

Thank you Uncle Turbo!!!

One thing of interest. Do you have vacuum advance and a manual transmission? If so, the ignition pickup (if there is one) in the distributor is moving back and forth whenever you shift. On an 85 Escort, the wires on the pickup frayed and broke, causing a really good stalling problem. It ran better with the vacuum line disconnected from the advance. Then I fixed it and it ran great. You might want to assure that the air tubing is secure at the carb, (throttle body). Any break in it could lead to stalling. Make sure the hot air tube is connected to the blend box too.


I don’t know what an ignition pickup is, ao it could be that. I have fuel injection, so I don’t think a vacuum advance bypass could help me out. I do have a manual transmission though, so I’ll look into the ignition pickup issue you suggested.


Just a thought here. I wonder if there is an electrical connection problem that is occuring somewhere in the engine harness or battery cables and when the torque of the engine goes against the load of the drive train it breaks a connection.

Now that’s an interesting thought… Does an engine rock, wiggle and move more when under the torque and load of moving the vehicle, or will an engine wiggle and shimmy more in neutral?

I suppose I’ll wiggle some wires around while the car idles to see if I can make it “stutter” the way it can.

Thanks for the great idea Cougar!

So, the wife talked me into doing laundry this morning, so I had to run about to get some quarters. I couldn’t get the car to stutter once. I am thinking that I may have had some goobers in an injector, and that the dose of injector cleaner may be helping to work it out. I’ll still be changing the distributer cap, plug wires and plugs before running through the D.E.Q. test facility, but so far things are looking good…