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Sporadic trouble starting/Oil light flickering

*1996 Honda accord LX. 255, 498 miles.

Well, a couple months ago I think I overdid it on the seafoam spray in my PCV valve. It was kind of hell to start, I put some starter fluid in there and it finally cranked right over. I thought that was the end of it, but now I’m thinking it was a coincidence.

Today I went to start my car and it wouldn’t rev up to about 200 max out and then drop. If I stopped cranking it with the key, it would die. Well I put starter fluid in the car and it still wouldn’t go! I had to crank it for about 12 seconds to get it to turn over, normally when the engine catches(My foots full on the throttle when it won’t start) it soars to 2.5k RPMs pretty quick. I started it later at school and it acted like it wanted to give me trouble, but a second past and it turned over and started running. I pull into the driveway today and I see my oil light flickering a little bit. First time I’ve ever seen it, a little worried! I turn the back on, starts up right away, to see if the oil light comes back on and nothing. But still worried.

I also got a coolant leak somewhere that I haven’t been to diligent about finding. I don’t see coolant anywhere on the driveway, my cars drinking coolant and I don’t know where it’s going. I checked it the other day and the reservoir tank was bone dry and so was the top of the radiator. I just added some UV dye to see where it’s going, UV flashlight is on the way.

Also, my oil level is fine. So confused, I’m not sure what’s wrong or where to look.

Did you ever check that heater hose?

Is there white smoke coming from the exhaust? If coolant is lost, but not on the ground, through the engine is the other logical place. Check the motor oil for a milky residue. Oil turns milky when mixed with water, and that means an internal coolant leak, possibly a bad head gasket that would also explain the hard starting.

Head gasket was also my first instinct.

Let see Hard starting , Loss of coolant, Oil light coming on. DON"T DRIVE IT!! Unless you want a new engine.

Time to be thinking about a new car. 250k miles on this one, 16 yrs old, and it sounds like a bad head gasket and/ or warped head from a prior overheating incident…coolant is getting into combustion chambers and being vaporized out your tailpipe. Easy check: pull some spark plugs and check the tips. Nice and clean means they’re being steam cleaned by coolant.

@Keith, which one is the heater hose? Does that come off the radiator?

I’m not sure it’s the head gasket, but one of the gaskets is wearing out somewhere. Over the last 3-4 months there were a couple of times I started it and it gave a puff of white smoke at start, but it went away after I started driving.

Oil looks fine, not milky or off-color. I’m going to check the transmission fluid tomorrow.

The heater hoses are the two hoses about 1" in diameter that run to your firewall in the rear of your engine compartment. Behind the firewall they plug into your heater core, the small heat exchanger (radiator like device) that gives you heat in the winter.

A noticable puff of white smoke would suggest that you have a breech in the headgasket, allowing coolant to get drawn into your cylinders. That’s where your coolant is probably going. It’s getting burned (vaporized). There are tests for this, the most definitive being a cylinder leakdown test where air is pumped into the cylinder and the pressure monitored to see if it’s holding. However, if while the engine is idling with the radiator cap off there’re bubbles coming out the hole, that’s a pretty good sign of a blown headgasket. The bubbles will be the conmmbustion gassess getting blown into the water jacket and mirgrating up to the system’s highest point…the fill cap.

I’m betting that the compression is shot on this engine too. And I’l also bet that there are other signs that it’s plum worn out.

Congrats on coming so close to 500,000 miles. If it were me I think I’d push it the last twpo miles just to say I’d hit 500,000!

The 1" diameter hose that goes from the firewall to a port just under your distributor. Your distributor had a leak and the oil dripped on this hose. Oil makes the rubber swell up and get soft so a leak develops there. I told you about this in your last post.

Thanks for the details on that, Keith. I’m going to check that out tomorrow

Good news, I checked the hose beneath the distributor with my car on. While there’s on oil on there a bit, it didn’t appear to be leaking anywhere inside the engine compartment. None of the exterior hoses seem to be leaking. I suppose that must mean the leak is internal somewhere. I checked the transmission fluid and it’s red, so it’s fine.

Kind of a humdinger here.

Put a piece of white paper towel under each hose connection and drive around. Check them after a day or two, sometimes that is the only way to find a small leak.

Another place they are prone to leak is the rubber seal between the radiator tanks and the radiator core. It blows off easily by the fan so if you see even the slightest dampness, you have a leak. Check especially the seal area just under the radiator cap as they usually don’t bend down and clamp the tines there.

Well, took it to my local mechanic and they had the radiator under pressure for 20 minutes and no sign of that leak. All signs point to head gasket being slightly blown. After they did the pressure check and topped off my coolant I had trouble starting every time I started the car that day. Before it may give me trouble at the beginning of the day but then be fine afterward. According to my mechanic, it’s only leaking a little coolant into the combustion chamber. Could explain the P0420 code? Coolant and catalytic converter mix?

I think it’s my fault, it didn’t give me all this trouble till I put the sea foam into my pcv valve. It might have been weak and holding before that, but I think that blew it out a little. Warning to wise…

Anyway, the car also needs timing belt job. Timing belt, water pump, new drive belts, new seals, and head gasket kit all told they quoted $1350(not including machine shop fee for testing head). Does that sound high? They quoted me the timing belt job for $653!

But then they said even if I fix this, the bottom of my engine could go out. I paid 1.5 grand for this “automobile” and I put that much into the last year. Add another 1.4k this tally is starting to get high quick.

Do they sell anything worthwhile I could use to try and gunk up my coolant?

I’m probably going to get it fixed, because I’m so invested in this one already once I get the engine squared away, there’s only two other things that could go wrong. The bottom of the engine and the transmission and the transmission is shifting great, never had even a wink of a problem there.

I have successfully used a product called “aluma-seal”. But there have also been times that it didn’t work, but its cheap so I’d give it a try.

I don’t know what Sea Foam is, and whatever it is, I doubt spraying it on the PCV valve did much damage to the engine. It may have damaged the PCV valve though, which over time, due to the crankcase gases not being properly vented, that could damage the engine. Was the PCV clear, clicking, and known to be working by using the suction-on-the-thumb test before all this no-start business happened?

Assuming i is just a head gasket and timing belt, $1350 seems a fair price for that amount of work. But w/250K on the engine, I think you’d be better off spending your dough to get a replacement engine instead. Unless you’ve really babied this engine, then the $1350 expense might be worth it.

If you could get a replacement engine from a wreck say, not rebuilt, but with around 100K on it, that’s a good bet. If not, you can almost certainly get a replacement engine that has been completely rebuilt. If the car is in good condition otherwise, and you like driving it, consider that.

A second alternative is to sell it or give it away to a local high school student who wants to fix it up for himself. Then buy you a replacement vehicle. A used car of your make/vintage but with considerably lower miles won’t cost too much more than $1350 I’d guess. That’d get you back on the road right away.

If you want to try to keep this one on the road without spending hardly money at all, you could try to re-torque the head bolts. It’s fairly inexpensive to have this done. It has to be done with the correct torque and in the correct order, so have it done by someone with experience. And little harm done if it doesn’t work. That might allow you to get the car to start at least, and buy you a few more miles.


That’s an interesting idea. I read that coolant leak can come from a warped head, if I had it re-torqued would they then be able to confirm if it was warped or not?

Also, I’m pretty sure it’s my head gaskets leaking, I don’t think aluma-seal is designed for gaskets but it is compatible with coolant. I was wondering if it would be a bad idea to take off the top radiator hose and pour the aluma powder straight down there? Least that way it doesn’t clog up the radiator.

Also, is their a cap you can put on the top radiator port so that it doesn’t let out all the coolant? or does everyone just stuff a rag in there?

And yes, coolant in the exhaust can contaminate the oxygen sensors and cause a P0420 code.

I agree with George, have the head bolts re-torqued. It might help if the leak is minor enough, and it’s a cheap fix if it works.