Transmission Leaks

(96’ Honda accord, 252k miles)

I came back from the auto shop after getting my oil changed and they tell I have leaks in my distributor, cam/crank shaft and transmission. I’ve known about the distributor leak since about April…It’s pretty obvious

They say the transmission leak is so gunked up they can’t tell where it’s coming from. Where should I look? My dad helped me replace my radiator back in June, but I’m not sure that has anything to do with it.

You have cooling lines that go from the transmission to the radiator. They are clamped on at the radiator side so it is possible that either you need new clamp(s), the clamp(s) need to be tightened or you need new hoses.

The distributor leaks onto one of the heater hoses. If it has been leaking onto this hose for very long, the hose will swell up and leak coolant. If the hose is still in good shape, I would fix that quickly. I don’t know how much you were quoted for that job but it is just an o-ring and it is dead easy to replace.

The cam/crank seals are another issue. Your Honda was recalled for these seals because they were prone to popping out and draining all the oil out of the engine very quickly. It would happen so fast that some people lost their engine. The recall just added a retainer to keep the seals from coming out completely. You need to check with a dealer to see if this has been done. Any dealer should be able to trace the VIN to see. If that has been done, then I would wait until the the next timing belt replacement is due and have it done then, unless you are loosing a LOT of oil, i.e. qt/250 miles.

You’re probably going to have to get it all cleaned up in order to figure it out. Get it up on ramps or jack stands & spend a bunch of time with a lot of rags and some kind of degreaser.

The common spots are the cooler lines, as keith mentioned; the pan gasket; the front pump seal (will be seen oozing out where the trans meets the engine) and the axle seals.

The shop cleaned it up and I forgot to mention they said the oil pain was leaking and that my timing belt was oil soaked.

My owner’s manual said the timing belt was replaced at 144,000 miles, it had one owner after 150k miles, so I don’t know if they replaced a timing belt too. They are due to be replaced every 80k miles or so, right?

I’m not sure if I have the money to fix all of this, I’m kind of living on a shoe string budget. If I fix anything I should probably fix the cam/crank shaft seals first, right? …and I doubt that falls under warranty work :confused:

The distributor leak should be fairly easy and inexpensive to fix. I’d probably start there. Monitor your oil and xmission fluid and keep them topped off in the meantime. The camshaft leak might be pretty easy to fix too, if it’s just the cylinder head cover gasket area leaking. That’s the cover right on top of the engine. On my Toyota, sometimes the bolts holding it down come loose so I just tighten them up which stops the leaking. Don’t overtighten though, that can warp the cover and cause you lots of grief later. They barely need to be more than just a little more than finger tight. Usually the best course is to remove the camshaft cover and replace the gasket. Look at your shop manal to see the specific instructions for your car. On my Toyota, it recommends an rtv sealant be placed in a couple of spots too, when replacing the gasket, one of those spots is to prevent oil leaking from where the camshaft ad cover meet. If that leaks, it can coat the timing belt w/oil. So double-check that.

Once you get those two under control, you’re gonna have to clean up what’s left to determine what is leaking, and what isn’t leaking. Sometimes it appears on first sight that everything is leaking, but it is actually just one or two things and the oil is coating everything else.

Not sure about Hondas, but Toyota timing belts are recommended replaced every 60K. I replaced mine at about 100k, but that’s me. I’m lazy and cheap. I expect a lot of Toyota timing belts are not replaced at 60K. When I replaced mine at 100k, it still had a lot of wear left on it. It could have probably gone to 200k before actually needing replacing. It depends on the driving conditions I expect and the owner’s risk tolerance. I think the timing belt is probably not the highest priority in your case. Again, look in the shop manual for you car to see if there’s a way to inspect it without taking everything apart. Usually there is.

Don’t have a shop manual? Go to your local library. If they don’t have the actual shop manual there, they’ll likely have some kind of manuals. Chiltons, etc. And they’ll likely have the Motor or Mitchell’s set of manuals too. They are sort of abbreviated versions of the manuafacturer’s shop manual, geared for use by professional mechanics. Also, the internet may have a lot of info, use Google and search on your make and model and the specific part e.g.: Google 1996 Honda Accord Distributor Seal.

Best of luck.

I agree with the others. fix the dist leak. as for the timing belt, camry’s were 60K but now have 90K for the1997 models and higher. As for hondas, they are interference engines most likely and unlike the toyota that just dies, hondas can have huge damage if the belt breaks while running. I too changed my camrys (1994’s) the belts that is every 120K or so and they were fine. Mine once had oil leaks and the belt was soaked but fine. for the other leaks, you have to see where they’re coming from like the other posters mentioned.

Okay, I’ll fix that distributor, I don’t want to have the oil leak take that out or anything else.

If it’s oil leaking at a gasket by there or the o-ring what’s a fair price for that repair? $80-90?

At this age and this mileage nothing is going to fall under warranty.

While the cam and crank seals should be changed, as well as the timing belt, tensioner, and water pump (these are really all part of the same job), don’t get too optimistic. Multiple oil leaks around all the various seals that keep the oil seperated from the outside world generally mean the engine is pretty tired. Thes seals include the distributor, the crank seals, and the cam seals.

As the cylinders wear, they allow more and more of the combustion pressure to pass by the rings. This eventually pressurizes the crankcase to where the pressure forces oil past tired ol’ rubber seals. The areas under the valvecover and the distributor are included in this, because those cavities are connected to the crankcase cavity and oil is fed to the engine’s “upper end” to lubricate the camshaft assemblies. That oil drains down through “return passages” back into the oilpan.

The pressure-forced seepage also get oil all over the timing belt, because that’s just past the crank and cam front seals.

Oil can also get pushed past the crankshaft rear main seal and make a mess that can appear to indicate a tranny leak. A mess is a mess is a mess.

If you plan to keep driving this car, by all means get the seals replaced along with the (now weakened) timing belt, tensioner, and water pump. But you might be fighting a losing battle. A compression test should give you an indication if this is true.

Update: Called the Honda dealership and, according to them, my model year was never recalled for cam/crankshaft leaks. It was recalled for a wiring problem in the A/C but it looks like it got service for that.(I wonder if they have records of all the service that was done to my car?)

I took it to a local automotive who I trust. They saw that a leak was coming from the o-ring in the distributor but they couldn’t tell if it was leaking internally or if the oil leak made it seem like the tranny and camshaft for leaking. I paid them to hose it down, degrease it and they used some dye to spot the leaks. They said the distributor was leaking internally, but so far nothing else. I’m going to bring it back tomorrow and see if anything else is leaking (Fingers crossed it’s nothing else)

So I went and bought a re-manufactured distributor from my local auto parts mega store(read Reilly’s) and I’m going to have the shop install it. If I return the core of my old one it’s going to wind up costing me about $250 for the distributor w/tax and all told about $320 for the whole job and labor.

If the timing belt is oil soaked then it needs to be replaced along with the tensioners and water pump because the belt is ruined.
A belt that is oil or coolant saturated is weakened and subject to breaking or shearing teeth off at any time and this means engine damage if and when it does either one.

Hopefully the diagnosis of an oil soaked belt is wrong and I’m just pointing out the impending doom scenario if it’s not wrong.


Well, they said it was leaking pretty bad, there was a lot of oil present and they cleaned it off Thursday morning. They installed the whole distributor(I have the old one if anyone interested in buying my old core :slight_smile: )
for $66, I brought the part from O’reilly’s and it cost me $300 plus tax…

Was it the distributor leaking on my timing belt or is that the cam/crankshaft seal? I have a small oil leak there too.

Looks like the camshaft has a small leak on to the timing belt. I’m going to check it out

How long should it take a skilled mechanic to replace the timing belt and tensioners?

The oil leak form the distributor was external, the O-ring, you just needed the o-ring, but the installation would have still cost you $66. The distributor is at the opposite end of the engine from the timing belt, but it would account for all the oil on the transmission. I hope someone checked that heater hose for you.

The timing belt is good for 90k/6 years. It usually costs about $700 for a new belt, water pump, and oil seals. For about $40 more, you can have the balance shaft belt changed as well, they have to remove it to get to the timing belt anyway. BTW, if the valve cover has been removed and the corners not resealed at the camshaft seal cover, it will leak and look like the camshaft seal is leaking. Much cheaper fix.

BTW, a new distributor was not a total waste. It wasn’t the cause of the leak, but at your mileage, the shaft bearing was probably in its last legs and would have needed changing in the not to distant future.

Anybody know how long it should take a mechanic to do the timing belt and tensioners job?

Well I called the Honda dealer it was originally sold from. Apparently they did a timing belt job at 90k miles replaced the water pump, the pulleys all the belts.(had to call the dealer that sold it, apparently dealer’s don’t link information to all Honda’s)

In my Honda owner’s manual the timing belt job was done again at 144k miles, so looks like somebody got ripped off.

I’m probably not going to waste any money on the water pump or pulleys, they should be in fine condition after only a 160k miles.

Also FYI about distributors, shop around because in this case The dealer sold an OEM distributor for $70 cheaper than the one I bought at O’reilly’s.($230 at Honda as opposed to Reilly’s $300)

Changing the belt again 54k miles later does not mean that someone got ripped off. Time is a factor along with whether or not the belt is being saturated with oil/coolant and environmental conditions also play a part.

You’re also gambling on the water pump and tensioner issue. They “should be in fine condition after only 160k miles” doesn’t mean much. Those pulley bearings have aged, high miles grease in them and once bearing wear starts it can go downhill pretty quickly; same as water pump bushings and seals.

I’m not a gambler but to each his own I guess. (Some years ago a good friend of mine bought a like new, 1 owner Honda Civic from the local Honda dealer. This car had 59k miles on it and a few weeks after buying the car the timing belt snapped on it. This left him and his wife broke down in the far western OK Panhandle (often called No Man’s Land) and a badly damaged engine. The point being that low miles may not mean much and environmental conditions such as extreme heat play a part in belt life.)

HondaHonda, FYI, the two people you need to listen to the most are OK4450 and myself. OK4450 was a Honda mechanic and I have owned several Honda’s, including one just like yours, i do all the maintenance on them and i have the factory service manual for the 97. The 97 was the last year in the generation of Accords that yours and mine are in. The 96/97 are virtually identical. I have nothing to add to OK4450’s post above, he covered it well.

BTW, its not that the others have given bad advice, but as far as I know, they do not own or work on Honda’s specifically. They gave good general advice.

Well, I’ll probably take a look at in the shop and see for myself. If they advise to have the pulleys and water pump replaced again I’ll probably follow suit.