Intermittent Starting Problem

Hi Guys, My 2002 Honda Accord,4 cylinder, 2 door coupe with 160,000 miles has this intermittent starting problem. There have been no issues with starting the car after it has been sitting all night or after being at work all day. The problem arrises when I take short trips, stop the car go into the store and come out, the does not start. The car cranks (battery is strong), but does not catch and start. I have to wait 3 to 5 minutes, then she starts. This issue has been ongoing for a few months. I had my local mechanic take a look at the car. He installed a new distributer cap and rotor. This has not worked, the problem continues.
There has been times that the short trip non starting problem does not happen. I’m baffled and need help diagnosing the problem.

Thanks in advance for you help.

Could be a number of things.
Perhaps get a spark tester from HarborFreight or any car parts store (they are cheap), and, when you’re having this problem, unplug one of the spark plug wires and plug it into the spark tester. If you see it spark, you know it may not be related to the ignition. If you don’t see spark, it is related to the ignition. There’s an igniter inside the distributor that I hear can have intermittent start problems. On Hondas, I’ve only seen them fail to be totally dead but others say they can fail intermittently. That would be one of the things to look at first, the coil, whether you see 12V on its primary, etc.
(here’s the tester:

If you’ve determined it isn’t related to the ignition, it may be related to fuel delivery. Hondas also have this common problem in its main relay that can fail intermittently or totally. It basically controls the fuel pump and the main relay is its Achilles heel. They often can be repaired cheaply with a soldering iron or just be replaced.

See for common Honda things, like the ones mentioned above, to check for.

My first thought is fuel. (It’s either fuel or spark). Fuel pumps often fail intermittently. Next time it happens, spray a bit of starter fluid or gasoline into your air-intake as far in as you can get it and turn the engine over (you may have to crank for a moment to get the fuel in the cylinder.) If it fires up then dies (fuel used up) then you know you have a fuel problem.

I agree with @fatrap. Carry a can of starter fluid with you and when the trouble happens spray a small amount into the air intake to see if the engine will try to fire then. If you still have no action doing that then check the power to the ignition system to see if that is okay. If that is good then check for ignition pulses to the coil

Have your mechanic check the fuel pressure. And what they want to check for is the residual fuel pressure. This is amount of time the fuel pressure bleeds off after the fuel pump stops running. If the fuel pressure bleeds down to zero PSI after the fuel pump stops running then the problem is most likely caused from vapor lock.


Assuming the check engine light is not on. If it is, you know what to do first: Have the DTC codes read.

This must be heat related. On a short trip the engine heats up, then after a brief pause with the ignition off, while you go into the store, then the engine is still hot and it cranks fine, but won’t start. I’ve heard this called a “hot-soak problem”. Why? I’m not sure whre that terminogy comes from. But it means the problem occurs when the engine is off, but fully at operating temp from recent use.

The thing about this problem, is that it can have probably a dozen different causes. But it has to be from among

  • Spark
  • Fuel
  • Timing

I’d start w/the spark first, as that is easiest to test. Make sure each spark plug is getting a good spark during cranking. If that is ok, fuel pressure next. Make sure fuel pressure regulator responds to intake manifold vacuum like it should. And do a visual that the diaphram isn’t leaking, allowing gasoline into the vacuum line. Could be a leaky injector too, if one is leaking it would show up in a fuel pressure hold time test. You’ll probably find it by here, but if not, then you could use a timing light to check the spark timing is correct.

There’s always a possibility – unlikely though – of a ECM problem. You might google “hot soak problem Accord” and see if there’s anybody else who is reporting a similar problem.