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My car has a stuttering problem

I have a 2007 Honda Element and she’ll be rolling over 200K miles later this year. Ellie runs great except for one odd little quirk and she’s done it since I bought her, a year and a half ago.

As I am accelerating, if I steady my speed around two certain spots, (25ish mph and 40ish mph), my car sometimes stutters. It’s almost as if she is trying to figure out what gear to be in and is bouncing between the two. Any ideas? Could it be something as simple as a sensor? I don’t know where to start with this one.

Do you have all of the maintenance records for this vehicle’s 200k miles?
Whether you do or not, the first thing to do is to make sure that EVERYTHING is up to date with its maintenance.

Take out the mfr’s maintenance schedule (it could be contained w/in the Owner’s Manual, or it could be in a separate booklet), and make sure that everything listed for the 120k, 150k, and 180k mileage intervals has been performed. If you don’t have past maintenance records, then–unfortunately–you have to assume that none of the required maintenance has been done.

Pay particular attention to an entry in the maintenance schedule for timing belt replacement. I don’t recall if your engine has a timing belt, or if it uses a timing chain, but if it has a timing belt, that part (along with the belt tensioners & the water pump) needs to be replaced every 8 years or 105k miles (whichever comes first). If it isn’t replaced on schedule–in your case, by 210k miles–you risk truly catastrophic engine damage when that belt snaps.

Even if bringing maintenance up to date doesn’t help with the hesitation symptoms, up-to-date maintenance will make it easier to diagnose the problem, and it will help to ensure that you can add a lot more miles over the next few years without a breakdown.

Regarding maintenance, one or two items have been deleted from mfr’s maintenance schedules over the past few years, in an attempt to make their cars look virtually maintenance-free. However, these deletions do not change the reality that changing transmission fluid (& filter) every 3 years/30k miles is essential. And, it is also very important to check/adjust valve lash. Both of these items no longer appear in most mfr’s maintenance schedules, even though they are still vital.

So, in addition to the procedures listed in the mfr’s maintenance schedule, I urge you to include transmission service and valve lash service to the list that you give your mechanic. For the symptoms that you mentioned, it would probably also be a good idea to have him clean the Mass Air Flow sensor (MAF) and the throttle body.

Do NOT go to a chain-run establishment for the maintenance. Find a well-reputed independent mechanic in your area. Ask friends, neighbors, and co-workers for recommended mechanic’s shops.

Please let us know if you have further questions!

We purchased it used, with 143,000 miles on it. It was well-taken care of, but there were no maintenance logs included. I know the previous owner lives local, but I do not know their name to try and track down any records they might have.

The Element has a timing chain, so what maintenance is recommended in relation to it? I’ve had the transmission service done in the last year but it did not seem to help.

Are there any speculations of what COULD be causing the issue?

There is no scheduled maintenance for the timing chain.
With most vehicles, they last for the life of the vehicle, but if it is beginning to loosen, you will likely hear something that sounds like a chain rattling inside a metal case. If you begin to hear that type of noise, then you need to have it investigated very soon.

The issue could be the result of a dirty MAF or throttle body, which is why I suggested those procedures. However, I also wonder when the fuel filter was last replaced, along with the spark plugs.

If the problem actually does lie w/in the transmission, it could be the result of using the wrong fluid. Hondas are absolutely intolerant of the wrong fluid, and as a result ONLY genuine Honda trans fluid should be used. Can you verify what type of fluid was used when you had it serviced last year?

We changed the spark plugs about three months ago, before we took a road trip. We have not changed the fuel filter.

The transmission service was done at the Honda dealership, so we’re good there. We check and change the air filter regularly too.

What about the throttle position sensor? Could it cause the issue?

"What about the throttle position sensor?"

Absolutely, yes!

Now, the next task is to figure out how hard it is to replace and if I can get to it myself, without being a circus contortionist with fancy tools. :slight_smile:

If it has been happening for a year and a half and 50,000 miles, but not getting worse, chances are it is just a quirk. Many cars have all kinds of quirks or ‘ghosts in the machine’ thanks to the heavy use of electronic control modules. They can be pesky, but are typically benign. I chased what sounded lke a valve tap in my truck for a year after I had bought it. Finally resolved it as a quirk. I had that truck for 15 years and 325,000 miles. It still had that quirk it’s whole life. My Ford is 14 years old with 256,000 miles on it, and tends to hang in gear if you accelerate too fast. Been there since new. Just another quirk.

It’s definitely not getting worse, but it’s not getting better either.

My check engine light is on and now I’m wondering if the TPS is causing it. The code it’s throwing is catalytic converter but the dealership said it’s rarely the cat and I’d notice other issues if it was. They said it’s usually a sensor that causes the false code and it’s often the O2 sensor, of which I have three. Now, I think I’ll order the $50 TPS, change it out, and see what happens. The check engine has been on since about the same time and I’ve had the dealership look at it, but not start diagnosing and ripping my wallet apart. They said if I have no performance or gas mileage issues, to not sweat it too bad with the code it’s throwing.

Does the stutter occur only after the engine warms up?

Or does it occur from the get-go?

Tester

Engine temp does not seem to affect it.