What to do about my poor old Honda

Vehicle is 87 Accord, Carbureted, 180k.

This car called it quits on me today while driving approx 75 mph on the interstate. It was more of a gradual, rather than a sudden, loss of power.

While cruising along I noticed that the car was stumbling when trying to apply throttle, then it got worse, and as the car slowed down I had no choice to pull over, because I could not sustain a safe freeway speed even when using lower gears.

The car abruptly stalled when I put it into neutral. I was able to restart it, but it ran very rough at 100-200 rpm. After a minute or two of this, and applying throttle, the car ran smoothly again and I was able to slowly, take of and merge back onto the freeway.

I had to repeat this process two more times and somehow by the grace of god I made it home (i was only 70 miles away).

I am a college student and depend on this vehicle to commute 100 miles one way every so often when traveling from campus to home and back. But now I am scared to drive this car back, I don’t want to be faced with the same incident.

So my question is: Is it even worth diagnosing and fixing a problem like this on a 21 year old car? Any ideas?

Lately we’ve been having icy precipitation in this area (KY) and in the meantime the car sat in the parking lot with a damned near empty tank of fuel, and I could only fill it up about half way today so I suspected maybe some ice in the system but it seems illogical that it would remain after the car reached its running temp.

What should I do?? I have to be back at school on monday. I am able to replace this vehicle with something in the $5k range, but I don’t want to unless I absolutely have to. Help!

I don’t think this is too serious-- try and fix it so you can take your time shopping for a replacement. First thing to do would be to check that there’s fuel getting to the carburetor-- if not then check the fuel filter and fuel pump.

The more exotic problem, which this sounds like a textbook example of, is carb icing! The rush of air going through the venturis in the carburetor can cause ice to form, even when the ambient temperature is above freezing. There should be some sort of heat tube possibly with a thermally-controlled valve that should route warm air to the carburetor-- hopefully you have a service manual that will describe the system. The valves can stick or commonly in warmer climates such as your own, they simply get disconnected.

And, if you feel like spending 95 cents, someone who had this problem with an 85 Accord was on the show around Christmas:


Two bottles of dry gas and a full tank . . 'bout $20. Run it around tomorrow and Sunday . . . see if it clears up for you. I’d get it to a decent Honda mechanic and have him check the easy stuff . . . wires, plugs, rotor, plugs, gas filter(s) . . . and keep that gas tank over 1/2 in the wintertime. Good luck! Rocketman

The Consumer Reports 2008 Buying Guide is still at the book stores and it will be a good guide for your next car. The cover is red and white with the 2008 in blue and $9.99 is printed on the cover. It’s about the size of a Readers Digest only thicker, with newspaper looking pages. Don’t fix the Honda unless it is done cheaply. You can’t run away from trouble forever, but there’s nothing wrong with getting a good head start.

The carb icing idea seems right to me. My 76 Honda Civic had the same kind of gradual loss of power sometimes, and after a few minutes sitting roadside with the engine off it could be started again, to run OK for at least a while. I never did solve this intermittent problem, but there may be a missing cardboard and aluminum foil tube that is supposed to carry heat from the exhaust manifold area into the air cleaner, or a malfunction of the temp sensor inside the air cleaner or of the vacuum hoses running to it. Without this system functioning, damp air above 32F will form ice in the carb. A few minutes sitting will let the warm engine melt the ice. (My 1972 Fiat had a simpler system: a shutter on the air cleaner that you slid one way for summer, the other way for winter. It is not Honda’s nature to do something so crude.)

A Honda mechanic with a bald spot or dentures will probably know just what to check first.

C’mon Jeff! Be a college student! I had a 69 Torino in college that spun out in the snow, doors would freeze if you drove by a Dairy Queen (resulting in either door opening on turns or freezing closed requiring many different episodes and fixes I’d rather not remember), got horrible MPG (but again, that was 1978 for me), carb would freeze up in the winter and vapor lock in the really hot weather, had POINTS and no electronic ignition (remember carrying a match book guys?), and all kinds of cool quirks . . . fool around with the old Honda . . . carry the title in the glovebox in case it gives it up for good somewhere remote, and have FUN! Get thee to a WAL-MART, buy some dry gas, fill her up and keep it full in the Winter or wet weather. Rocketman

great idea! I think it will be much more gratifying to drive this old thing until it breaks in half (literally). Then a new(er) car will feel more refreshing (yes! finally) type euphoric feeling. Thanks rocketman. Just for the record I consider myself lucky to be alive between driving this old Honda and being a pilot, flying aircraft much much much older than my car with Carbureted engines. Carb icing can be scary when you’re 5000 feet above the ground. It can be terrifying 200 feet above the ground. : )

Jeff . . . when I finished college I bought that new car, pushed the old Torino onto the lot as a trade-in. It was gratifying getting rid of it, but I never did regret owning it. Kinda wish I had it today. I didn’t read your OP as the old Honda getting ready to break into two pieces . . . to me it sounds like a fuel problem with an old car. It also sounds like you’re sick of fixing this and emotionally want out . . . can’t help you with that, just trying to be a bit upbeat when offering my advice on an old Honda, for which I have a good bit of experience. BTW . . . I’m not a pilot but used to skydive from old aircraft, never skipped a heartbeat. Keep thinking good thoughts and remember that when you pack your own parchute, you know what you have. (And you always should have a good reserve in case of an emergency). :0) Rocketman

Speaking of college cars…mine was a 55 Desoto…I placed a pan under the tranny over night, just to replace the fluid the next morning before driving to school. It was time to junk it when the mech. inspecting it told my the tires were too bald while replacing a tail light from inside the trunk; he did the tire inspection from the inside the trunk too as that was completely rusted through.
It was time to invest in a 62 Rambler…from bad to worse.

hey rocketman, was the “new” car you got the old honda you have now ? Just curious.

Hi Jeff! Nope . . . I graduated from college in 1979, got an new SAAB EMS . . . slicker than crap! Still have it in my garage, too. Then went to grad school . . . drove the SAAB almost 300k before buying the 89 Accord. Have had (and still do have) too many “other” cars during that time, but those were my daily drivers. Hope the old Accord has warmed-up for you and the problem gets fixed. Rocketman

Hey Jeff . . just thought of it after re-reading your post. My 89 Accord has had a similar problem to this since new. The distributor cap has a tendency to crack . . don’t know why . . . small hairline crack which causes the engine to stumble and mis-fire when cold/wet/damp conditions. I must have replaced the cap 9 or 10 times, but remember my Accord has over 450k on it. Change the cap and rotor along with the gas fill-up and dry gas. Good luck! Rocketman

Hello, Cap & Rotor have been changed. Car runs and drives like a top since filling up and adding two bottles of Gas Dry. Brand name was IsoHeet. Same thing ? I’m driving the car back tonight, wish me luck. If it seems to be o.k. again i’m taking it to FL next month.

That’s great! Happy motoring. Rocketman