'92 Civic DX Hatchback Idle dropout problem

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I just had some major work done on my '92 Civic DX Hatchback (automatic transmission, A/C, NOT a VTEC, the regular engine) at my local Honda dealership. Car had been running well. Have ~85,000 miles
(I'd don't drive much). Now I have a very frustrating idle problem (the engine randomly almost dies) that no one can figure out. Here's the story:
1. In May, the engine began sputtering occasionally at stoplights, especially when trying to accelerate from a stop. Led to a few close calls with oncoming traffic, as the engine almost died mid- intersection. 2. After this happened ~3 times over ~3 days, the engine just died, wouldn't restart (cranked OK), & had to be towed to Honda dealer. 3. Codes revealed a faulty Idle Air Control Valve (IACV), which was stuck shut. IACV was therefore replaced. 4. Also had other major maintenance performed (it was time anyway): 90,000 mile service, including Valve Clearance Adjustment, timing belt, water pump, new plugs & air filter.
Now the trouble really began...
5. Car didn't perform well at highway speeds (hard to quantify, but engine just seemed louder & less powerful at high speeds, ~80 mph). ALSO, at idle, in gear, at a stop, idled roughly, and it seems like the motor is cutting off for a split second. Almost dies, then recovers. Seems to happen more when it is warmer out (~75-80 oF). Rarely happens if either the car is in Park/Neutral, or if the A/C is on, or if you're actually moving. 6. First the dealer's mechanics couldn't observe the idle problem, then didn't believe it was an issue, then asked if I was sure it wasn't happening before I brought the car in the first time, etc. They also said that the IACV had an "adjusting screw" that was improperly adjusted, and that it was now adj. properly. (Next time, I was told that the IACV does not have any adj. screw!!) Did NOT fix the idle problem. 7. Back again to dealer. Service manager is trying his best, and replaced the PCV valve and its hose. No change in idle problem. 8. Back again. Manager discovered that the valve clearance had been adj. too loose, and timing was 5 degrees retarded. Fixed the clearance, rechecked timing, idle speed, etc. Also cleaned out the throttle body (they said it had some carbon buildup). All this now seemed at last to improve the high speed driveability somewhat. Possible improvement in the idle problem (seems less frequent), but still not gone. 9. Now, the idle dropout happens like this: a. Car is idling, and fan comes on. This kicks up the idle speed a bit. b. Fan shuts off. After ~7 seconds, idle speed drops back down. c. After ~20-25 seconds more, engine drops out...idle speed for that split second makes like it is trying to go to zero. d. Cycle of a, b, c repeats (for as long as you're willing to sit and wait).
The specific timing of the problem described #9 makes me think it is unlikely to be plugs, SP wires, rotor, cap, etc. (Wires & cap were replaced ~2 yrs ago (non-Honda).) Coolant-temperature related? Some other kind of sensor? What else could it be? A faulty, new IACV? Other things I've seen mentioned: coolant temp. sensor; Throttle Position Sensor, coil, igniter, SP-etc..
Sorry to be so long-winded, but figured I'd give you experts all the info I have.
Desperate for help!! Thanks!!!
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snipped-for-privacy@alum.mit.edu wrote: <snip> get to the point - i'm not paid for this. 3 lines or less - what's the problem?
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Idle drops out: a. Car is idling OK, fan comes on, idle speed increases a bit. b. Fan shuts off. After ~7 seconds, idle speed drops back down. c. After ~20-25 seconds more, engine drops out...idle speed for a split second goes to zero. d. a, b, c repeats endlessly
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snipped-for-privacy@alum.mit.edu wrote:

1. check the coolant level in the radiator when cold - [never rely on the expansion bottle level to tell you because if there's an air leak, the level never changes.]
2. if the above is ok, check the idle control circuit. disconnect the i.a.c.v. when warm and see what happens to engine revs. if the engine dies, you need to set the idle correctly. and before you do that, you need to check everything else is set right like timing, valve lash, etc. when you've prepared everything else sufficiently, remove the iacv and check the filter screen is not clogged. carburettor cleaner and a q-tip work great for that.
3. check for error codes on the computer as well!
a great thing to buy for your honda is the factory service manual from helminc.com. full diagnostic flowcharts for every system on the vehicle.
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snipped-for-privacy@alum.mit.edu wrote:

------------------------------------
The dealer sounds like a dope. Fill the reservoir to =MAX= and check if the rad is full to the top. (this is in your owner's manual). If the coolant level drops next day, you had AIR in the system. It can screw up LOTS of things on all Hondas.
Look at the adjustment slot on your upper distributor bolt and see if it's set near the center, or has somebody cranked it all the way to one end of the slot? If so, they probably got the Timing belt off by one tooth and tried to correct by changing the ignition timing.
Report back.
'Curly'
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course get coolant flush because of water pump repl. w/ T-belt service. Will a careful re-flush eliminate possible bubbles?

rear of engine, i.e. looks like bolt is toward front end of of range, but I can't quite tell how far to end of range (no personal experience). Do you think this is near end of range? Can also see old marking from washer visible on dist. case at rear of range. So, set wrong now, and possibly before as well? Should it be ~in the middle? If so, should I take it back to dealer and ask that they move T-belt by one tooth in correct direction, then re-do timing, idle adj.? Anything else?

saw no other codes other than orig. IACV problem? I don't have code- checking equip.
Thanks guys
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snipped-for-privacy@alum.mit.edu wrote:

no. the fact that you've recently done the timing belt leads me to suspect the belt's slipped a tooth. very common for the belt not to be tensioned right. google this group for procedure or check the book.

bolt should be about the middle of the slot like curly says. see above.

yes.
seriously consider finding another dealer to do this work. these guys don't seem like they know their business.
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Thanks very much, will press dealer to fix their mistakes, and then find a new dealer!
Last thoughts/questions: Is it clear that the mis-set T-belt, and thus the mis-adj. distributor/timing, is the cause of the idle drop-out? or is it a contributing factor, along with possible air bubbles in coolant lines near IACV, or some other cause? I feel a bit like we set out to drain the swamp but are currently wrestling w/ the alligators!
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snipped-for-privacy@alum.mit.edu wrote:

------------------------------------
It would be nice if you knew somebody handy enough to slip off the valve cover and confirm whether the TB is out one tooth. I can't say for sure how hard it is to check on your engine. The TB can be 'out' just because of carelesness when installing it, not necessarily because it's loose. Changing the angle of the distributor is the 'patch', and should have confirmed to the tech that he did the belt wrong. :-( As far as I know, the ignition timing should never need to be changed more than a degree or two over the life of the car, unless there's some 'tuning' going on.
If you have access to a Haynes or Chilton's, the procedure for checking the TB alignment will be in there.
Search at www.tegger.com to learn whether it's necessary to bleed any trapped air from your '92. As was mentioned, later models don't need it and their (reservoir) coolant level stays rock-steady summer and winter, hot or cold.
'Curly'
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I can take off the valve cover no problem. Looked at the link you suggested and found this one -- http://timingbelt.soben.com/ -- that gave pictures from an Acura T-belt replacement. BUT, it's not clear to me just what one does/looks for to determine whether T-belt is off by one tooth. Could you please supply a bit more detail? I assume you take off the valve cover, turn engine (by hand?) until cylinder 1 (the one next to T-belt?) is at TDC (judged how?), then look at where belt lines up with some marking on case? Sounds like a quick job if you know what you're doing/looking for?
Thanks!
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head (supposed to be retorqued after doing this but in practice it won't budge even when we desperately want it to) or by a strap wrench on the crank pulley until the TDC timing mark lines up. Note: most engines turn clockwise, Honda engines turn counterclockwise. Never turn the engine backward as the timing belt tension is on the wrong side and the belt might skip. Anyway, the cam gears should then be in the TDC position or exactly 180 degrees away from TDC. There are stamped markings or holes of various sorts for the various engines. Most of them are obvious enough to figure out, but a few are not so obvious. Any shop manual for your model, even Chilton's or Haynes, will have the details.
Mike
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Indeed, engine dies immediately. Should it idle at all w/o IACV connected (if so, what extra thing does the IACV do?)?
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snipped-for-privacy@alum.mit.edu wrote:

before you adjust anything there, make sure it's not timing, ignition, etc.
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>> connected (if so, what extra thing does the IACV do?)? > when fully warm, it should idle a bit below normal, but not die. but

belt is OK.
Got valve & top T-belt covers off. Can see UP marked on camshaft pully, and a line mark that looks like, if UP were up, would align w/ a little pointy thing on lower (plastic) cover. Mark & point should line up, then cams will all be at TDC if T-belt is OK, otherwise some cams will be off? Do I need to get the bottom cover off, to see the lower two T-belt pulleys? (I think doing so it beyond my skill: too many other pulleys, engine mount, etc there.) I guess what's confusing me is that the T-belt camshaft pulley is physically part of the camshaft, so how can it be anything but lined up (UP=up, mark=pointer, +/-TDC on cams)? I'm clearly missing something (those lower two pulleys??)
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snipped-for-privacy@alum.mit.edu wrote:

there's two sets of marks on the crank pulley - one [or 3 close together] for 18 degrees, the ignition timing mark, and one for tdc. it's the latter you need at the pointer when doing cam timing.
for the cam pulley, there's two sets of marks. you need to check which is which for the ex, but one set should be parallel with the head top and "up" showing. the other gets pointed at a different mark on the head. it'll be one or the other.
again, you really need the book on this.
getting back to the idle, you should /not/ adjust it until you have everything else set right.
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jim beam wrote:

and you should check belt tension since you have the cover off!
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Cam pulley is the one at top, right?, and crank pulley is down & back, where I can't really get at it w/o taking apart the engine mount, etc? (What's the third pulley for?) Tension seemed tight (hard to push belt w/ my finger in ~3 mm).
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snipped-for-privacy@alum.mit.edu wrote:

crank is at the bottom. easily accessed via the wheel well. leave mount alone unless removing belt. should be able to show more than 3mm of belt with the cover removed.
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OK! Wasted enough of all you guy's time, thanks. Will get the book and have a look. Thanks again!!
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Checked T-belt position on cam & crank pulleys. W/ cam pulley at its mark, crank is ~10 degrees past TDC (single mark for TDC, and 3 timing marks at 14, 16, 18 deg. BTDC). With crank at TDC, cam is ~1 tooth before its mark. Cam pulley has 38 teeth, i.e. ~9.5 deg./tooth. Thus, T-belt is off by one tooth.
You would think when you pay professionals a good chunk of change to do the job right, they would! Have they no pride??
Now one of my 3 belts on the crank pulley is squeaking a bit. (I had to work the belts off to see the marks on the pulley.) I assume it can wait until the car goes back for the T-belt (& distributor, and coolant-reflush, and idle speed adj.), I hope tomorrow?
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