Mystery problem

Dear Car Guys

I own a 2001 CRV which I bought in Canada (where I live)but I work in Detroit. A while back the ‘engine’ light came on and nobody can seem to figure out what the problem is. Other than the car idling a little slow, it shows no other problems. The garage I take it to (in Detroit) has put it on the ‘computer’ which told them ‘multiple misfires’. At that point he tried what he thought would be the most likely cause …distributer cap and spark plugs. Shortly after, the light came back on. I took it to a MI Honda dealer who tried to tell me that my model of CRV had problems with the cylander head and that it would be a $4000 repair. I recently took it back to where I bought it in Windsor. They told me it was some ‘spring’ thing (which cost $250 to repair) and then came back to say that didn’t work and that I needed a new distributor! This has been a wonderful vehicle but it is almost 10 yrs old and has quite a few miles (kms :-/) on it. I would prefer to fix it and keep it if someone could just find the problem and actually FIX it instead of this ‘process of elimination’ method. In Canada we are required to have emission testing every 2 yrs and I am due this Aug. I know the car will not pass with this problem and am trying to decide whether to buy a new vehicle or fix this one. Should someone be able to figure this out without nickle and diming me to death along the way?

Any advice would be welcomed.

Thank you!

Stop by the local AutoZone and ask them to read the OBDII Falult Codes for you. Post them here.

Even though it’s a Canada car, it still should have the diagnostic system.

By the way, can you be more specific about what testing the MI Honda dealership did and exactly what they said? Did you keep your copy of the shop order?

Thank you so much for the quick response. I’m afraid I don’t have much more information about what the Honda dealer in Jackson told me (and I haven’t been able to locate the receipt…although, I don’t think there was much info on it). I just remember that they said that they suspected it was this ‘cylander head’ problem but that in order to tell for sure they would need me to leave the car overnight so that the engine would be totally cooled in order for them to check what they needed to check. Since I only spent weekends there, I didn’t have time to leave the vehicle overnight.
Thank you for the suggestion to try AutoZone. I’ll have to look into when I can do that because as most people, I’m very dependent on my car. So, do I just ask them to read the OBDII fault codes and they’ll give me some kind of print out so I can post them for you? Is there much of a charge for that?..I can call and ask that.

Thanks again

Many parts stores do this for free to encourage people to get the repairs done and DIY’s to get their parts there while they’re on site. If there is a charge it’ll be nominal.

I wondered if it was a headgasket. That can be tested for by simply checking the ability of the cylinders to hold pressure. There can be other signs such as bubbles in the radiator as the engine runs and the presence of hydrocarbons in the coolant. Usually if the breech is that bad you’ll have overheating problems and loss of coolant.

Monitor your fluids daily until you get this diagnosed. If it is a bad headgasket you can get it repaired, but of you lose too much fluid and oevrheat you could destroy the entire engine.

So, do you still recommend the Codes test at AutoZone first? If it is the headgasket (is that the same as cylander head?) would that be the $4000 repair that the Jackson dealer spoke of? Because obviously I wouldn’t spend that on a 10 yr old car. This has been going on for some time now. If that were the problem, shouldn’t I have had a problem by now? I neglected to mention that initially my engine light only came on occasionally if the gas cap was not replaced tightly enough after getting gas. But it would always resolve once I tightened it like the manual said. Then this one time, it didn’t resolve and never has.

So, do you still recommend the Codes test at AutoZone first?

That should definitely be your next step. Will cut way down on the guesswork.
If it is just a code for misfires then the ignition system should be tested.
It could be a bad coil or distributor, which Hondas are known for wearing out.

Let’s start from the present, the NOW. What are the symptoms?
Yes, get the codes read, and ask them to erase the codes. You need to find out how long it takes for the check engine light to come on, again. Then, you would have the codes read, again.

I agree with Circuitsmith. The comments made in your original post made me wonder if a headgasket was a possibility, but ignore that for now and get the codes checked.

Especially since you’ve gotten a check engine light. These is not a specific sensor for the condition of the headgasket. A blown headgasket in and of itself would not trip a light, and misfires on multiple cylinders are unlikely to be caused by a blown headgasket. . An ignition problem is a far, far, far higher likelihood than a headgasket.

Don’t get scared until you have to. Chances are that it’ll be affordably repairable.

Thank you everyone for the suggestions (sorry, wasn’t online over the weekend). As soon as I am able I will get the car to AutoZone to get the codes checked since that seems to be the consensus. If you haven’t already figured it out …I am a woman without a lot of car ‘lingo’ understanding so please forgive me if I need further explanation of something simple. Circuitsmith…can you be a little more specific of what a bad ‘coil’ would be? Hellokit…the only symptoms I notice right now are the engine light and the car idling a little slow (but as of yet, it never stauls and it seems to do this most when the A/C or heat is on compared to when they aren’t). Whenever I have it in and they turn the engine light off, it comes on almost immediately again once I start driving. What do you mean by have them erase the codes?

May be a week or so before I can get the car in, so will post the answers then.

Really, thanks again for the help.

OBDII can pinpoint a misfire to a single cylinder, unless the misfire is happening across several cylinders. In that case it is not smart enough to calculate which ones are missing.

That’s when it throws the P0300 code which is no doubt what’s going on.

I had a hard time with this exact code on a car. I checked injectors even as far as spray patterns, duration, and spray timing. I checked compression, leakdown, spark timing, changed plugs, tested wires, which were relatively new.

I was dubfounded and basically gave up when I looked at just the right angle to see weak sparking on the back side of the engine.

Turns out two spark plug wires had gotten hot by touching an EGR valve and degraded. The resistance through every wire was within spec and I visually confirmed spark at each plug. But the degraded insulation (which was gray and could hardly be discerned as damaged) was allowing the spark to short to the block on 2 cylinders. Problem fixed.

OBDII was little help. I mean, I could have told you it was missing. Didn’t need no stinking computer to tell me that!

Point is, think like a mechanic. Not like a CISCO network guy. Get in there and test the vacuum, compression, leakdown, injectors, fuel pressure… touch and feel everything you can until you lay your hands on the problem. You have a big advantage over the computer: you can touch, feel, smell, and see. I do not recommend tasting anything though.

Please don’t fell like you have to apologize for needing more explanation. Or believe that it has anything to do with being a woman. I know many men and women who are extemely knowledgable in their fields, some of them medical doctors, some with doctorates in other technical fields, who know absoluetly zip about cars.

A bad “coil” is an ignition coil. It, like the distributor, is a part of the ignition system. The ignition system is the system that fires the spark plugs, which ignite the gas in the cylinders. Your symptoms sound like something in the ignition system is a possibility. That could cause one or more cylinders to not fire reliably and cause the CEL light to come on.

“Erase the codes” means to have the stored “trouble codes” cleared from the computer’s memory banks. Those codes are what cause the Check Engine Light to come on.

The new info, that it happens when the AC or heat is on and it comes on when you start driving (after they’ve cleared the codes), is good information. That suggests that it’s related to the added load that the AC compressor is putting on the engine. The AC system comes on to remove moisture when you have your defroster on. That, to me, further suggests a weak ignition component.

First try having the codes “read” and post hem here. Depending on what they are, I may sugest you try to find a shop that can put the engine on a scope. They can actually watch the ignition system while the engine is revved up and see by the shape of the waveforms what the cause likely is. They’ll also be able to isolate and test specific components.

Post back. We care.

All the advice here is good stuff. I’ve had this occur with a 2.0 Neon. No plausible explanation for the code (misfire). New coil packs, plugs, wires (no cap). I finally closed the gap on the plugs from .035 to .028. That stopped the CEL light from coming on. One shop had said that low compression was the reason, but the drivability of the car was way too functional for me to think that it was the issue. I did an Auto-Rx treatment to assure that any stuck rings were contributing to the problem. There was no abnormal consumption or blow by present.

While it’s not a preferred practice, in your case novice parts replacing can be cheaper than professional diagnostics. As you can see, that doesn’t always produce results.

Again, an adaptive (not preferred) regapping of the plugs should allow you to get an OBDII emissions check with the CEL off.

Thank you so much Mountainbike! Sorry, I didn’t see your last post until now! And yes, I can navigate my way around an Operating Room …but a car is another story lol. I’m taking the CRV to Autozone tomorrow. Might not get back online til Monday but will let you know what they come up with.

Thank you geeaea. Starting with Autozone tomorrow, then will go from there.

Ok guys. Finally got the car into Autozone and can I tell you that if ONE more person tells me all it needs is a tune up I’m going to SCREAM!! OK, this is what he told me:

  1. P0301 - cylander 1 misfire
  2. PO302 - " 2 "
  3. PO303 - " 3 "
  4. P0304 - " 4 "
  5. P0300 - random multiple cylander misfire
  6. P1399 - manufacturer control ignition system misfire

So, then after telling me that it needed a tune-up …which I said had been done. He said maybe distributer cap (been done 8/08) and rotor (?) and/or plugs (done on 1/11/10) and wires (not sure if the wires were replaced that time but on 8/08 my bill says plugs and wires were changed). So then he kind of agreed that maybe the entire distributer needed replacing. The Autozone guy could not erase the codes but I know they would have come right back on anyway. Another person has suggested that the ‘timing belt’ might also be the cause.
So…any ideas on where to go from here?
Thank you!

Can YOU detect any misfire when you drive the car??? It feels like the engine is jerking and stumbling… Try a full-throttle acceleration from 0 to70 mph. Did it do that nice and smooth?? If so, then I suspect a sensor someplace is telling lies to the computer and there is NO real problem with the ignition…Don’t spend any more money on this unless the shop GUARANTEES that their recommended repair will cure the problem or they refund your money. You do not have to pay for their guesswork…

Here is a list of things that I ran across doing a search that may be causing the trouble. Also there was a lot of talk about valve adjustment as a possible cause of the problem.

a. vacuum leak at the intake manifold
b. fuel injector has failed
c. EGR valve is stuck open
d. mass air flow sensor has failed
e. oxygen sensor has failed
f. air intake boot is cracked

Thanks for all the suggestions. I think I’m going to try a garage that’s recommended on this website which has lots of positive feedback and provide some of these ideas. Hopefully as you said Caddyman, I can get some kind of guarantee.

Thanks again

You should definitely find someone who has an oscilloscope and knows how to use it. I can think of a bunch of things that might be causing this, all of them electrical in nature. I would be suspicious of anyone saying it’s a bad O2 sensor or vacuum leak. I’d believe a bad ECM before something non-electrical and those are pretty rare.