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My car has been in the shop for a month and it's still not fixed!

I have an 89 Honda Accord and it’s an automatic. About 2 months ago my car would get close to a stop light/sign and it would almost stall unless I gave it some gas. It would run fine until I was coasting and going really slow then to make it not stall I would hit the gas pedal and it would jerk, like it was changing gears too fast but it wouldn’t stall.

Then about a day later I went shopping and after I was done and the car had been sitting for awhile it wouldn’t start. It would turn over and make that winding sound but then nothing. I sat in the lot trying to start the car for about 10 minutes and then let it sit for about 15 and suddenly it did start, while trying to get home it still had that weird problem of almost stalling.

A friend said it might be the fuel filter. When I took it to a mechanic they said that my coolant system was leaking all over and I had oil leaks (I’ve only had this car for about a year and I know it leaks oil). They didn’t know the problem because they said there was too many leaks. So I asked them to replace the fuel filter and they did.

A couple days later my car wouldn’t start at all and I towed it to this same independent mechanic shop. They said it was the coolant leaks because the car couldn’t tell that it was overheating. So I got all the coolant hoses and pipes replaced costing me almost $900. (not much more than the car is worth, but I’m really not in a position to buy a car so I went for it)

They had my car in the shop for about 2 and a half weeks to replace all those parts because these parts were at the dealers. And some of the parts they had trouble finding…

I had my car for about 4 days when the same systems happened. My car started acting like it was going to stall at stop lights/signs and then did stall at a stop light and wouldn’t start again. When my car is cold after about 45 minutes it will start and run as long as I keep giving it gas. That’s how I got it home to be towed to the shop again.

After a week and a half of tests they have told me they don’t know the problem because the car is so old their diagnostic machines couldn’t read anything. They said that it could be the distributor because that’s a common problem with Hondas but that that would be guess work and it’s not a sure fix.

Any ideas what could be going on?

Sad and disparate,

A Harrowing Honda

Many Hondas of this era had problems with EGR passages getting loaded with carbon, causing the symptoms you are experiencing. Your mechanic is correct on one front, and that is that distributors are a common issue on these Hondas, but a bad distributor will not cause the problems you are having. EGR blockage will. A failed distributor will simply cause the engine to not start. Try to find a Honda specialist to take a look at this one. You will save a lot of money in the long run since it sounds like your current mechanic does not have much experience in Honda driveability.

You’ve run into the increasingly common problem that many mechanics can’t diagnose anything unless a computer tells them what’s wrong.

The trouble you’re going to have is that your symptoms could be caused by a lot of stuff, and so you’d need to be able to get under the hood and run some tests for us in order for us to help you for sure. If you’re not comfortable doing that, find a friend who is.

So you know, I’m throwing out what the mechanic told you about the cooling system, etc, because since he didn’t fix the car and admitted that he can’t diagnose anything unless a machine tells him what to do, I don’t trust him. I’m going solely on what you have observed.

It sounds like a fuel delivery issue to me. Here’s the first thing to try: Remove the gas cap, and drive around. See if the problem goes away. If it does, then you have bad venting on the gas tank. Frankly for a car that old I wouldn’t bother fixing it. I’d just remember not to tighten the cap down all the way when I filled up the car.

The next step is to verify that you are getting fuel. Some Hondas of that era had dual-point fuel injection, which means that instead of actual fuel injection, where the fuel is sprayed right into the cylinder, they had a couple of fuel injectors that sprayed fuel into the air intake stream. The fuel then flowed with the air into the cylinders. The trouble with that design is that if a fuel injector fails, it doesn’t just effect one cylinder like it would in a real fuel injection setup - it effects them all. So if you have a fuel injector that’s sticking or for some other reason intermittently failing, you can run into stalling issues like this.

Another possibility is the fuel filter. It wouldn’t hurt to change that out. It’s pretty cheap.

Yet another possibility is that you have two problems - the near-stalling while you’re going slow could be the idle air control valve, which is supposed to keep the engine running properly when it’s idling. If it breaks or gets dirty it can cause that symptom. And the failure to start that day after shopping could be the main relay. In Hondas of that era the main relays are pretty famous for going bad, and then refusing to work until the car’s been off for a while and things have cooled down. When they die like that, the car won’t start.

Based on what you have described, I am thinking it’s probably not the distributor, as problems with the distributor should manifest at times other than idle, especially when you accelerate, and you didn’t say you were having any issues in that department.

Thanks to both of you! I’m going to pick up my car today and I will ask if they ruled out any of these possible problem areas.

Thanks again!

A Harrowing Honda

My only suggestion is try a Honda specialist(non dealer) if available. Hopefully they worked on many of these and have a better guess of what is up.

It is pure (educate) guess work at this point.

I believe that Honda’s of this era had an idle position sensor as well as a throttle position sensor. If the idle position sensor, basically a switch that makes when the foot is off the gas pedal, doesn’t make, then the computer can’t take over and control the idle speed. It’s an easy check with an ohm meter.

The most common reason for this switch not “making” is someone trying to adjust the idle via the throttle stop screw.

I agree that you should not take this car to the dealership. There is a difference between a Honda specialist and the Honda dealer service department. Odds are, if you take it to the dealer, you will find yourself in the exact same situation you are currently in. Reason: there is probably nobody employed at your Honda dealership who has worked on a Honda this old.

I picked up my car and I got home without needing a tow truck. :confused: I asked the service manager a few of the suggestions around ventilation in the gas tank, EGR passages, fuel injectors, idle air control valve, and the main relay. He said they tested for all these things and in fact replaced the main relay and nothing seemed wrong or these systems were working.
He told me again it’s the distributor.

If he knows what the problem is, why hasn’t he fixed it? Maybe it’s time to consider finding a new mechanic. There’s a list somewhere on this site, maybe a Honda owner’s group?

Your story has some haziness to me and the dying at idle generally points to an Idle Air Valve problem or a vacuum leak.

Since the independent shop and Honda dealers both are getting ripped here let me play devil’s advocate for a moment.

You bought this car a year ago and chronologically it’s going on a quarter of a century old. It’s puking oil from everywhere and was leaking coolant from who knows how many places. Odds are many things on this car are flat worn out or iffy at best.

When a vehicle like this enters the shop they’re often put into a sticky situation of facing a rolling heap with a plethora of problems with no end in sight to the money pit.
It’s entirely possible that you car may have issues with every single one of those things mentioned.
As an analogy, think of buying a fixer-upper house and expecting the repair of one area to be the cure-all to make it liveable.

As to Honda dealers all being lumped into the all are worthless category I disagree with that premise. Some are worthless, all are not. Before I moved out of a major metro area I worked for a Honda dealer and the mechanics there were about as sharp as you would find anywhere. This dealer went under a couple of years later and 4 of the guys I worked with went to work for a dealer who took on the franchise.

One of those guys has 20 years on Honda and the other 3 have around 3 to 4 DECADES of Honda service. One of the 3 is an obnoxious jerk as a person but you won’t find a better mechanic. Even the service manager stated at one time he would fire him in a heartbeat if he wasn’t so good at what he does.

There’s a Honda specialist who lives 25 miles away from me and anyone who has any mechanical knowledge at all would not let him touch their car.

If the mechanic really knew what he was doing, he could have checked the distributor. Its a simple test, remove the distributor cap, rotate the engine until one vane lines up with the center of the pickup. Then stick a brass feeler gauge between the vane and the pickup. Then push the distributor shaft away from the the pickup and see if the gap “grows”. If it does, then you need a new one.

Everyone keeps pointing to the IAC. The IAC is controlled by the computer only when your foot is off the gas. The only way the computer knows that your foot is off the gas is from either the TPS (throttle position sensor) or the IPS (idle position sensor). The IPS was used in older model vehicles, most newer vehicles use the TPS only.

The most common reason for the IPS or TPS not sensing that your foot is off the gas is either a dirty throttle body or a misadjusted throttle stop screw.

If I had taken this car in (meaning if I was the shop owner) I would not at all expect to get things right on the first vist. What I mean is I would expect an unhappy customer that would be screaming at me but I would bite my tounge, keep fixing the car, and count the money. You like to try and avoid cars that are going to give you trouble but when you need the work, write it up and deal with the unavoidable unhappy customer, or you can send them away and deal with another kind of stress, the kind that comes from not being able to pay your bills.

I was only with Honda about 6 months in 2003 but those guys were still dealing with this distributor problem and clogged EGR passages on some very new models.