91 Accord distributor and Master Module?

I was just pulling out of a parking spot when the car died. That never happens and I knew it wouldn't restart. It didn't. There was no problem cranking, it just wouldn't catch.
I had it towed to a service station with a good reputation and they diagnosed that the distributor and master module needed replacing and that it often happens with Hondas at around 100,000 miles.
Price was just under $600. Ouch. I had it done because there wasn't really much of an option. The price was mostly parts, with the distributor being around $300. I could have gotten junk yard parts most likely but I don't think I could have done the work.
Does this repair seem reasonable? I liked the shop and it isn't too far from me. My old mechanic sold his station and I don't trust the new guys so I do need a new one.
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From my experiences with my 91 Civic and reading about many other Hondas here, Hondas typically benefit greatly from having a second new distributor housing (not to include the igniter and coil) installed late in life. I had a new housing put on at about 140k miles. Old housings typically start to see bearing problems, rotor shaft set screw problems, and oil leak problems. I think that covers the gamut anyway.
I would not buy a junk yard distributor housing. I'd buy OEM new. If time permitted, I'd use online OEM sites.
By "Master Module" do you mean ignition module, a.k.a. igniter, which bolts etc. onto the distributor housing? My Civic's original igniter failed at about 90k miles back in 1997. I had a non-OEM igniter installed then.
The original ignition coil (also mounted on the distributor housing) failed at about 120k miles in 2001. The non-OEM one lasted until 2003.
In 2003, a shop installed a new housing (w/cap, this cost $472 for parts and labor). Ten or so days later, the car still had sporadic shutdown problems, and the shop put in a new coil (later, due to misdiagnosis, "only" another $95). I then installed a new igniter pre-emptively. All OEM parts. It's almost exactly four years later, and all goes well. I have come to the conclusion that the new distributor housing, while likely not essential in 2003 (the shop blamed my jury rigged rotor fix, shark bastards), was probably prudent.
The old non-OEM igniter is now an emergency spare. I inspect the inside of the distributor cap housing maybe once a year, looking for moisture (so failed seal) and dust (failed bearing) and oil (different failed seal).
I don't think $600 is bad, even if it did not include a new igniter nor coil.
The question that begs, though, is whether they used OEM parts.
BTW, using OEM ignition wires, and replacing them or checking them routinely, along with the OEM recommended spark plugs, should lengthen the lives of the coil and possibly igniter, too. IIRC I did not start using OEM parts routinely for these until after 2002.

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On Sun, 08 Apr 2007 13:36:34 GMT, "Elle"

Thanks much. I really do need a new mechanic and these guys seemed good. It's a very busy place and not too far from home.
You're right about a junkyard distributor; I would have liked to try OEM but that really wasn't an option.
I think I'm suffering from non-buyers remorse. I tried to buy a Fit earlier this year and couldn't get one at a reasonable price so I put a bunch of money into my Accord. As a reward, it let me down.
It's so hard to know when to get rid of it, but it doesn't even have 100,000 miles yet.
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I would not write off this shop just yet.
Some folks here on occasion have reported picking up a really cheap distributor housing, coil, and igniter at Autozone for an older Honda. They wrote that, if the assembly lasted a year, they'd be happy. Overall, this does not seem like a bad gamble to me. I just plan to keep my old Civic more than a year.

Hang on; don't give up just yet. It's very possible you have turned a corner here, and the money you put into it recently will be the last big wad for several years. This is what I am finding with my 91 Civic.
Remember that the original distributor housing (and coil and igniter?) failing was pretty predictable. Now it should be good for I figure at least a year; maybe three or more. And you know a little what to look for when the car next gives you problems.

Lot of city driving or other extreme conditions (temperatures?)?
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On Mon, 09 Apr 2007 12:55:24 GMT, "Elle"

Oh yes, I got it used but it was sold and serviced by the dealer I bought it from, so it's all NYC driving. That means potholes, slush, salt, stop and go. Pretty hard miles. OTOH, it wasn't flooded. Well, not until last year when it got flooded in a park-n-ride lot. That was my first post to the group; you folks told me that I had probably killed the computer and I picked one up at at the junkyard for $60 and put it in and it worked fine.
The idea to dry out the interior by filling it with cat litter was my idea however.That really worked well actually.
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I would agree with the 'turn the corner' idea. I bought my 1991 Honda Accord in 2003. I was plagued with a few problems soon after the purchase, including your distributor problem. (It was replaced by a used one to the tune of about $300 parts+labor; so far so good.) Another ordeal started when the driver's side window came out of track. I tried to remedy the problem myself, with no luck. The next day the door wouldn't open. I thought I had messed something up, and turned the whole thing over to a garage. After diagnosing the infamous 'frozen latch' problem, they ended up removing the seat to get at the innards of the door, finally cutting it open, replacing the latch and, ultimately, the window. You see, there are little clamps on the window... once they come off, you just have to get a new window...
I was going to say, after THOSE problems, things have been pretty good. But reading my own previous paragraph has given me a chill down my spine! :)
-- R Flowers
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Yes, I think I know what you mean. From 2002-2003, My 91 Civic went through a year of several breakdowns, with a Honda dealership and other shops repeatedly just "re-fastening" the distributor rotor without identifying that the distributor shaft's threads (into which the rotor's set screw fits) had stripped.
But all's been well since; no trips to the shop. Though I now do all my own maintenance (knock on wood) and did pre-emptively replace/repair some major items. Naturally with much assistance from this ng.
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Not really. Distributor components can last 300,000 miles when properly cared for.
In your case the failed part was either the igniter or the coil, most likely the igniter.
The tip-off for igniter failure is simple: The tach needle remains dead- still while the car won't fire up. If it jiggles a bit while cranking, it's not the igniter.

Be very careful here. If the shop used aftermarket parts (likely given the price quoted), those parts are likely to fail far sooner than new OEM. A new OEM distributor is about $600, but that includes the cap, rotor and plug wires.
Used stuff from a wrecker's is a gamble just like aftermarket.
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Perhaps they can but reports here indicate distribubor components are Thee Achilles heel of Hondas c. 1990. It's why your site has an extensive FAQ section on the subject, after all.
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Yeah, that's right.
But my observations indicate to me that most Honda ignition failures are due to neglect and incorrect servicing, hence the FAQ page.
The only two exceptions to the above are 1) 1990 igniter failures (for which there was a TSB), and 2) 1992+ distributor shaft bearing failures (again a TSB).
With proper servicing, Honda ignition components last almost forever.
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Those are controversial statements, but I think they hold up. We already know Honda ignitions are unusually powerful, in that they will destroy the coil in short order if the energy isn't directed elsewhere. It stands to reason the entire system is designed to direct that energy to the plug gap. Inadequate leads or rotors or caps can only be trouble, causing some of the energy to be dissipated where it shouldn't be.
Mike
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Yes they are.

No more than any other. They generate the usual 15~20KV to strike the spark, then drop to 4 or 5KV for the duration of the spark.

For shortened ignition life, you're primarily looking for extended periods of overvoltage, such as would result from worn and overly-large plug gaps.
Secondarily, you're looking for coil damage that's due to HT current that can't go its proper route, and so burrows its way through the coil insulation to ground.
Tertiarily, there are igniter failures that may cascade from the aforementioned coil failures, or from poorly-installed or aftermarket parts.
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Tegger wrote:

spark strike voltage depends on mixture, temperature and compression. i understand this type of electronic ignition generates up to 45kV accordingly.

and excess temperature. semiconductors don't last too long at elevated temperatures - and the igniter unit runs too hot to touch.

right. the insulation on these coils is "potted". that's all fine as long as it doesn't get hot and start to bubble, as could be the case with prolonged "diagnostics" where the coil can be left at full unswitched energy for protracted periods and get too hot.

and failing condensers. my ignition ripped through two igniter units inside 12 months thanks to a failing condenser. since condenser replacement, i haven't had a blink of trouble.
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wrote in

You're referring to flame speed.
Spark-strike voltage is mostly a function of the gap the spark has to jump.
Neglected plugs that have their gaps widened to double original gap (or more) dramatically raise strike voltage.
If the spark has created a path to ground in the plug well in the valve cover, it's jumping a gap that can be a quarter-inch or more. Big jump in voltage there.

So does a home PC's CPU. They're made to take the heat.
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Tegger wrote:

no, i'm referring to strike voltage - that needed to initiate the spark. it varies greatly on the gas that's between the electrodes.

no, mainly the gas that's between the electrodes - temperature, pressure, composition, velocity, etc.

no, semiconductors are fundamentally challenged by heat. if your cpu is that hot, there's something wrong, and while it may work for a limited time, its lifetime will be short compared to lifetime at a more ambient temperature.
http://www.reed-electronics.com/tmworld/article/CA187523
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Maybe yours did, in your cold Canadian climate. Otherwise I haven't seen data to convince me that Honda ignition systems are superior.
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Elle wrote:

honda distributor production quality is /way/ superior to domestics. root about in a junk yard some time for comparison. better than bosch too.
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I don't think they are either. I think it's timely servicing with top- quality components that extends life.
I asked a few parts-house countermen about the market for remanned Honda distributors. Apparently they sell quite steadily, so igniters and coils are dying up here as well.
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