Intermittent trouble starting Honda 2002 CRV - NO MECHANIC CAN FIND PROBLEM

My 2002 Honda CRV has had occasional problems starting over the years i.e. takes 2 times to start engine. But lately it is struggling more to start ie. engine turns over but you can hear it struggling to start i.e. sounds like dead battery but in fact battery is brand new. Now it can take 3 turns to start and this morning it took 5 tries. The problem is no mechanic can find out what is wrong i.e. starter, fuel line, electrical or what? because it always starts when in the shop. I have even taken it to the Honda dealer and they could not find the problem. This is a random problem but seems to be getting worse and happening more often. Can anyone PLEASE HELP as am worried I will be stuck somewhere when the car does not start AT ALL one day.

I don’t mean to sound harsh here but so far…you haven’t found a real mechanic. Take your CRV to a good independent mechanic and let them find the problem for you. It would help if you would explain “tries” a little better. I suspect that your fuel pump is failing but that’s only a guess here because we need more info to properly diagnose your starting problem.

I have taken it to our local mechanic on several occasions but they cannot find the problem. Also the Honda dealer. When I say “tries” it makes a congested, struggling sound when turning over. When it does finally start though it sounds clear and fine.

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You might have two different problems. It sounds like sometimes it will crank over just fine but won’t fire up. But then you also said it’s “struggling” as if with a weak battery. I assume you mean it cranks over but weakly - rather than getting a strong and fast RR.RR.RR.RR.RR it might decline to a weaker and slower RR.RR.Rrrrr…rrrrr…rrrrrrr… Or something like that. Is that what is happening? If so, then don’t assume that just because the battery is “new” that that it came off the shelf with a full charge on it. They often sit around a long time before ending up in a car. I would put it on a charger. Second, don’t assume that the battery can’t be defective. BUT, its more likely that you are having a problem with the battery cables. They should be inspected for signs of corrosion - both the positive and negative. Most any shop should easily be able to do a voltage drop test on the cables as well.

If there are also times when it cranks strongly but just wont’ start then you need to say some more. Are there times when it is more likely to occur? First thing in the morning? After a long drive? Warmer days? Colder days? If there’s even a hint of a pattern lay it out. You also need to say more about the car - like how many miles are on it and something about maintenance. How old are the plugs and wires? Fuel & air filters? Etc.

Is there a check engine light on?

Most times it just starts fine i.e. turns over clear and clean. Occasionally, and becoming more frequent, it turns over but is struggling to ignite i.e, it sounds congested and like a dying battery. It did this before I replaced the battery and it is doing it after putting in new battery. The local mechanic who put in the new battery did test it and said it was fine. The probelm with starting is 9/10 times first thing in the morning. I thought it was worse in cold weather until it started doing it in warmer weather too. There are 81,000 miles on the car. I do not know how old the plugs, wires etc are. It has been a good car with not much to repair over the years. No, the check engine light is not on. I hope this might help. Thanks so much for responding and will wait to hear anything more.

I would have someone take a close look at the main power cables, including pulling them, cleaning terminals, checking for corrosion underneath the insulation and replace if necessary. Intermittent lack of starting juice is frequently as simple as that. The alternator does still need to be checked though.

But if it is ever turning over strongly and not firing up, that’s still a whole different kind of problem. Fuel pump, old plugs and wires, … the list could get long.

There is a fuel filter. But its not upfront, its in the tank (thank you Honda). You will have to drop the tank to change it. Its a regular maintenance item like spark plugs. I do not know if it will solve your problem, but it should be changed regularly like every two-three years. I change it every year in my car.

Thank you all very much for your feedback. Am trying new mechanic and will see what happens.

Like some others have already stated, the main battery cable going to the starter may have some internal wire corrosion at the battery clamp end. The vehicle is old enough for that to be happening, especially if the battery clamps have been allowed to accumulate corrosion on them over time.

Problem is of course that all shops want to hold the car, try and start it and see if the problem comes up. Only trouble is the problem does NOT come up most of the time, it’s those random times when it happens just for me. It seems no one can fix the car unless they see/hear the problem so I am stuck again and again waiting for someone mechanical to hear the problem. Meanwhile I have no car which I need for work. Why is there no way for these shops to find the problem without waiting for the car to struggle starting one morning???

The best a tech can do for an intermittent problem is throw parts at the problem and wait to see if that fixes the trouble. This usually makes for extra costs to the customer since it is a best guess scenario. A lot of times the first guess is wrong so the customer gets stuck again and is not happy, so then the yelling starts.

My best guess on this is either the main cable to the starter has corrosion inside it or one of the battery clamps has a connection problem. If the battery connections haven’t been thoroughly cleaned with a wire brush already then that is the first thing to do.

Thank you for your feedback. Appreciate it.

Meanwhile I have no car which I need for work. Why is there no way for these shops to find the problem without waiting for the car to struggle starting one morning

The solution is to ask for a loaner or rent a car to use while yours is being diagnosed. The alternative to properly diagnosing the problem, which must be present to identify the cause, is to throw parts at it and hope it gets fixed. I get the impression you are not in a position to afford that option. NOBODY can definitively diagnose any problem without it manifesting itself during the diagnosis. That goes for anything that is failing intermittently, not just cars.

I have exact same problem on my 2003 CR-V - it almost feels like somehow there is a sudden backpressure buildup in the cylinders, preventing engine from turning. Knowing what I already know, and having read some of the feedback, will check my battery cables though…

Update: it was a starter… at some point, it just quit, barely turning the engine, unable to start it. I did deeper internet search, and got quite convinced about the issue - went ahead with removal of old OEM starter (3 hour, not too easy operation), purchased aftermarket one (REMI, $130 with tax), installation actually took a little less time. All slow/no-start issues are gone now - new starter is a bit noisy, but it runs like a sewing machine at full RPM - while old one was whining like an old man, before it died… from what I also found out, mileage may not matter as much as the age. Interestingly, the same starter is used in Accords (the only difference is one angled wire connector), and is even interchangeable. However, failure rate is much higher in CR-V’s and Elements - my guess, that’s due to the confined configuration of engine compartment and resulting higher heat.
Another downside of having bad (dying) starter: it may be drawing much more current from the battery, at the same time as it struggles to turn. That would also explain, why my previous battery died last fall, just before its first anniversary… hail Costco for their exchange and return policies.
Resume: replacing your starter should alleviate the problem.

I have had the same problem with all 4 of my Hondas! Please complain to Honda’s customer service line! I wish they would recall them. They even have problems with their ATVs! I have a 2004 Honda that I believe the starter is going out - relay switch, or the solenoids, whatever. It’s not the battery, not the alternator, and the starter tests fine. The car has a intermitten problem. The other day it took 20 minutes to start. Ridiculous!

That “congested, struggling sound” suggests to me too that you have a corroded or poor connection somewhere in the circuit. The most common places are the battery cable connections. I support the suggestions to take it to another shop and let them look at it more closely and disconnect, clean, and reconnect the connections. You could, if you like, print this thread and use it for a description of the symptoms.

A poor connection is a high-resistance connection. Resistance “drops” (uses) voltage, as if there were an extra component in the circuit, leaving less voltage for the starter to operate on and for the ignition system to produce spark with. Put simply, the engine might be trying to start on 8VDC instead of 12VDC. And yes, a high resistance connection can act intermittent.

I missed the fact that the problem had already been solved. I’ll leave the post as an explanation for others that might be looking for answers, but I’m humbled by my embarrassing oversight.

@Honda4X‌ I have to say, parts do fail on 10 year old cars. To rant about how Honda should recall cars because parts go bad after a decade seems kind of silly.

Recalling starters . . . ha ha ha

They may as well recall leaking water pumps and worn out brake pads . . .


C’mon @db4690. You know it’s a Honda. Hondas are perfect and impervious to any and all breakdowns. I’m going to Hondas. I used to like Dodges, but on the last one I owned - the darn tires wore out! And Dodge wouldn’t do a thing to help me! They tried to pretend that tire wear is normal!