'93 Civic CX - DIED in parking lot?!?

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93 Civic CX hatch, Canadian model, 244 000 km (the "clown car" featured on Tegger's site, FYI).
I've had a broken ball joint and a ruptured Canadian Tire tire in the
past month and a half (I blame a pothole) but the other two problems have me much more concerned.
Six weeks ago, spontaneous failure to start. Cranked but did little else. After being towed to a CAA-approved garage, the ignition control module was found to be faulty and was replaced. Also, oil had leaked up high around all four plugs (which was blamed for the failure of the ICM). We had replaced the valve gaskets 2 years prior. A new gasket set was installed.
Car ran sort of OK for the next four weeks. The subsequent two weeks, we started having start problems (had to crank it twice or three times) and the low idle seemed a little sputtery. It also seemed to be a little sluggish as well. We chocked it up to the car needing a tune-up having last been done around 2 years ago.
After leaving the car in the lot for the weekend, spontaneous failure to start returned on Sunday. Something along the lines of crank-crank-crank-crank-crank - SPUTTER-SPUTTER crank-crank-crank etc. - different than last time. A gasoline smell came after cranking a few times. No oil was observed around the plugs. No check engine light. PGM-FI relay seemed to be clicking as it should, fuel was pumping, decent spark, etc. The oil was down a bit, but still above the 'fill' dot on the dipstick.
I got the car towed to my regular mechanic who is now of the opinion that the engine needs to be replaced. I intend to go to the garage and have him better convince me of this before I shell out bucks for an engine replacement, but I have a few questions that are lingering...
1.)    The mechanic warned us (2 1/2 years ago) that leaving the oil-leak-around-the-plugs problem could result in catastrophic engine failure. I've not found any Internet source that can verify this story. Any opinions?
2.)    Any chance that the ECM could be screwy? I can't see it being that since there's spark and fuel pumping, but can't be sure.
3.)    The whole concept of gently-used Japanese motors was new to me when the mechanic recommended a used Japanese motor as opposed to tearing my existing one apart. Is it true that they export engines and transmissions (as well as whole cars) because of their stringent vehicle inspection policies?
Thanks, Adam (unhappy clown car owner)
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Adam Christopher Lawrence wrote:

IMO, it shouldn't. I suppose it is possible, but usually replacing the seals should solve the issue.

I doubt it. The ECM is pretty hardy. Unless it was covered in water (car in a flood), the ECM should last pretty damned near forever.

Yes.
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Thanks for the advice. Here's another question: does the first mechanic's hypothesis about the oil leak frying the ICM make sense? I mean, if the sparl is arcing to the engine block instead of coming out of the plug, would the igniton system really see any difference?
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No it wouldn't. But *you* might notice. The engine could misfire badly enough to cause driveability problems.
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Tegger

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Adam Christopher Lawrence wrote:

I doubt it. The car would run like hell, but it shouldn't bother the ignition system.
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I'd *love* to know how they determined that. Did they backprobe the blue wire and check for dropped signals? That's the only real way to tell, on-the-car.
You don't have a tach, do you? The stock tach is a handy diag tool, since it gets its power from the igniter's blue wire.

Before you spend lots of dough getting the engine replaced, find a better mechanic. This is not rocket science and he's no rocket scientist.
If the Check Engine light comes on for two seconds when the key is first turned to "II", then goes off, and if the fuel pump runs while the CEL is on, then your ECM is FINE. Do NOT replace it.
Your symptoms right now point to a possible weak spark, weak enough to cause a misfire. Your mechanic needs to ascertain that the spark AT THE PLUGS IN THE ENGINE is a fat and purply-blue. A "spark plug tester" will not tell anybody if the spark is grounding before the plug gap.
If the cap/wires/rotor/plugs are over 5 years old, or show ANY sign of arcing, then the spark is probably not making it to the plugs in the engine, but may be arcing out in the plug tubes. Check for discolored, burned or sooty spots at the plug wire ends, and on the plug tube walls.
Your symptoms also point to a possible weak coil. The blue-spark check is a good test for that as well. A weak coil will put out a (yellow or darker) spark.
If the spark is purply-blue when viewed at a standard plug gap in a dark area, then the ignition is likely just fine.
A final strong possibility is a flooded engine due to a leaky injector. If the car sits for long periods, gum can build up in the injector, sticking it open slightly. The cure is to floor the gas, then hold it there while you crank. This causes the ECM to shut off the injectors in order to clear a flooded condition.
If the car eventually starts when you do this, you've got a fuel condition. If the car starts fine when it's used frequently, then the leaky injector theory becomes more probable.
If the problem turns out to be leaky injectors. Canadian Tire sells the Motorvac injector service, which I highly recommend. It's $100 and is worth doing on any older car. Just make sure you have a high-volume shop do the work, and make 100% certian that they will plumb in at the fuel filter, NOT the fuel pump connections.
Good luck.
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No, it's an automatic unfortunately.
I rode along with the car and was watching over the shoulder of the mechanic while they tinkered. There was *zero* spark when the initial check was done. They checked the cap and rotor, then swapped the whole distributor with another (weak spark) then put the ICM from the other distributor back into my old assembly (problem "solved").

He's been good to me in the past, but I intend to pay him a visit before agreeing to something as drastic as an engine swap. I want to be thoroughly convinced that nothing else will work.

This is what's happening. I can hear the fuel pump run until the CEL goes off. Agreed that the ECM is most likely not involved.

The cap, rotor and wires were replaced two years ago by the same mechanic. Probably after-market (which is its own can of worms, I know)

I'll keep this in mind for tomorrow's chat.

If it's conceivable that 30 hours of inactivity can leak enough fuel to flood the engine, then this could be the problem. I normally use the car daily.
I did try cranking the car with the gas down as per the FAQ, but still couldn't get it to change its condition. Prior to Sunday, it was having trouble starting every day but would get going eventually (would sometimes take two or three sets of cranks to get going).

If I get a good resolution tomorrow, I'll absolutely consider this.
Thanks for the advice!
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I see their reasoning, but with a Honda you're much more likely to have NO spark than a weak spark, from a failing igniter.
An igniter usually works fine all along, then quits outright, usually while driving.
I'm really thinking a weak coil at this point. I might be wrong, not having actually been there when they did their work...
Ask them if they checked for shorting into the spark plug tubes.
<snip>

Make 100% certain the spark is actually good before getting the Motorvac done.
If your car is used daily, chances are the injectors are fine. Modern fuels have loads of detergents and do a very good job of keeping injectors clean.
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Delay getting the JDM engine ... sigh ... so much for the "local" supplier. The clown car is still at the garage. Fingers crossed for tomorrow.
If I didn't trust my mechanic I'd have towed the carcass somewhere else by now (perhaps the scrapyard) - blasphemous words, I know ... I'm letting cooler heads deal with things (the wife) :)
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sell it and get a monkey!
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Replacement engine installed. It's a D16Z6. No VTEC for the time being, still using the stock wiring and ECU.
At least the car is running now!
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snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com wrote in wrote:

Running well hot, cold and during warmup? Good power and pickup?
Was it a straight drop-in ,or did the mechanic have to monkey around with the brackets and fittings?
Did all your engine sensors fit properly?
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The replacement engine was fitted with a rebuilt distributor (with new sensors) and a fresh timing belt. A new radiator was installed, as the old one had the old-age corroded fin problem. The oil pressure sensor was swapped from my old engine. No warnings, alarams, CELs - everything seems to be running fine. It was a direct drop-in with no modifications to the mounts, AFAIK, since the Z6 engine is from the same model year.
There's definitely a note change between the two engines. The D15B7 sounded like an angry sewing machine. The D16Z6 actually has a more respectable throaty growl going on.
The clown car is A/T so the acceleration gain isn't huge, but is noticeable. The low-end torque seems to be greater. The main thing that I've noticed is that the engine isn't working nearly as hard to get the car up to speed. The RPMs are definitely lower. Bringing it up to highway speed (120 - 130 km/h) is not a problem, and the vibration level is much reduced compared to what I'm used to. Without the VTEC wired up I didn't expect to see a speed improvement - 130 is as fast as I feel comfortable doing in such a small car, so no loss there. Finding a VTEC-enabled ECU and wiring up the VTEC isn't a priority, but if I happen to find a working one at a good price, I'll certainly go ahead with it.
We've put 200km or so on the engine since the swap, and have had only a minor issue with a hose leak at the new radiator, which was repaired earlier today. We're going for a good highway drive later today.
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snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com wrote:

it will be - the low speed part of the cam is optimized for it.

now /that/ is impossible unless you also swapped the transmission!!!

you should do it. the vtec cam has two profiles - low speed and high speed. running the low cam at high speed is losing efficiency.
you can get a simple rev-triggered switch from one of the after-market companies that will work the solenoid for you - no new ecu required.
this is not the one i had in mind, but it gives you an idea of what i mean: http://www.jegs.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/product_10001_10002_754062_-1_11553
don't switch the secondary cam at too low revs though. i think factory is near 5krpm.

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I don't believe that a transmission swap was part of the equation.
That being said, I agree that my perception that the engine isn't revving as high at certain speeds doesn't make sense. [shrug]

I suppose that this would be a better-than-nothing approach, but would the cost significantly differ from a junkyard or eBay-sourced ECU?
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snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com wrote:

can be apita to wire if you existing wiring harness doesn't accommodate the upgrade. and it won't.
on that basis, there's a strong argument for the after-market switch. but if there's any change in engine mapping [and i don't know if there is] that goes with the vtec ecu, vtec ecu is the better way to go.
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wrote:

controller knows about engine load, the very thing that raises the shiftpoints when the throttle is opened more. The engine doesn't work as hard one way or another, and the controller decides it is time to upshift to give the engine better load.
Mike
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Michael Pardee wrote:

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wrote:

the driver), but not the revs at any given speed.
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900km with no problems.
I noticed that the oil pressure light takes around 2 seconds to turn off after starting the engine. It never comes on during normal operation.
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