Ignition cut-out

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This evening (yes - Christmas eve) my daughter's '93 Accord LX (225K miles) suffered a short bout of engine failure. She described it as surging a
couple times when she tried to accelerate, then the engine died when she braked. I quizzed her about the tach and she was clear it was jumping rather than swinging with the engine. It didn't start right away, but would sputter occasionally and eventually lit off as though flooded (which it probably was by then).
The Main Relay and ignitor are each about a year old (but both are NAPA aftermarket, since the car insists on breaking down on Sundays and holidays). The timing belt is 4 years, 60K miles old. My son and I replaced the radiator about 2 weeks ago, so I am wondering if we stirred up evil spirits in the process of that. He bled the system carefully, but a leak in the lower radiator hose attachment may have let air in. I haven't done a visual inspection yet, but will in the morning.
What comes to mind? Ignition switch? Some particular underhood wiring? Distributor? Something I'm forgetting? She is committed to driving to San Diego in a week or so and I'd sure like to sort this out by then.
TIA
Mike
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How old's the ignition coil?
I'd try to do a check of it early on. Dying when braking--then being able to restart it after a cooldown period, at least until the coil fails completely--is a symptom.
I know you have a lot of experience with Hondas. This is just where I'd start, based on the car's age and symptoms.

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shotgun it out, whether or not I find something else wrong. I should even have time to get an OEM part before she leaves. At least that is something I don't have to worry about disturbing unnecessarily - I hate doing invasive work so soon before a big trip. Thanks, Elle!
Mike
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=============================================================================TOPIC: Ignition cut-out http://groups.google.com/group/alt.autos.honda/browse_thread/thread/e8a5fd8cba927459 =============================================================================

I thought coils last forever. I never had to replace a coil, rotor, cup, or wire on any of my cars. I have an Accord that soon will be 22. But on this list it is very frequently recommended to replace, even on young cars, all kind of ignition parts. To me this sounds like "it won't do any harm, so lets replace it."
I have a question about the original message:

Surging - meaning the rpm increased (suddenly, audibly?) more than expected, right? With the cars I am familiar this would not happen when any of the ignition parts fail, to the contrary, they would slow down.
In order for the engine to rev up, without any corresponding increase of the speed, there must be a disconnect between engine and road, for example slipping of the clutch or AT - which most likely happens when they cannot transmit the increased power during acceleration.
.
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The only definite coil failures I've had have been a Nissan that gave one "pop" when starting, then nothing, and my son's Acura coil that objected to not having a place for the spark to go. Old time coils practically never failed; like the old Mopar slant 6s, they didn't have the power to blow themselves up. Modern coils run at much higher power and are no longer oil filled, so failures are not unusual. My experience with electrical parts of all sorts shows the pattern that power handling devices gradually cook themselves one way or another. 200K+ miles on a coil certainly puts it in the range of "untrustworthy," and when a contributor I respect says she has seen intermittent failures in them before they die I think that's reason to change it out on suspicion... while still investigating other possibilities.

power, and of course she instinctively pressed on the gas to compensate. We all know it rarely helps, but we all do it :-)
A follow-up... the symptoms haven't returned yet. This model has a solid ground to the chassis near the battery, and the battery negative cable also takes the ground to the engine, so my concern that we left the ground loose was unfounded. The ignition switch seems solid, but I'd like to check it when it is cold, too.
Mike
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Toss in that Tegger put this item's troubleshooting and replacement, with quite a lot of detail, into his FAQ. Meaning the coil's failure is reported quite a bit here.
My 91 Civic's first coil lasted ten years, 120k miles. My one non-OEM coil lasted less than two years, about 35k miles. Firestone charged me an arm and a leg for that non-OEM coil, too.
'Course, let me be the first to point out that non-OEM ignition wires may have played a role. Tegger's 1991 Integra, at over 240k miles IIRC, is still on its original coil. He appears to take fastidious care of his ignition electrical parts (rotor, cap, wires, plugs all replaced at five years by him, all OEM IIRC). A lesson for us all, IMO.
I read the other day an article by Auto tech writer Larry Carley. He also reported that not taking good care of ignition wires will shorten coil lives.
This might not solve your daughter's car's problem. Again, it's just where I would start. Though I would have taken resistance measurements, per the manual's specs, on the old coil before replacing it, too. Not that you have time over a possible holiday to deal with this.
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Michael Pardee wrote:

I wonder if the problem is electrical in nature, because the RPMs were jumping around wildly.
Since the tach and engine timing both get their signal from the crank sensor, I'd also look in that area.
Remco
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Remco wrote:

I thought I read on here recently that an erratic tach that precedes a cut-out is a sign of a bad igniter.
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High Tech Misfit wrote:

Not sure about any previous post on this issue, but the ignitor seems to just be a larger power transistor (probably a darlington, but that's besides a point).
The way this transistor is configured, it simply acts as a switch that that closes/opens a contact when its input changes states (to simplify it all, imagine a relay with a coil and contact - that is not quite what a transistor is, but behaves quite similarly the way an ignitor is hooked up). When a level is applied to its input, it switches the primary side (the 12V side, basically) of the coil to ground and does this at a very high rate of speed. The secondary of the coil is what generates a high voltage spark. The output of the ignitor does not seem to attach to anything else so iti it breaks you won't have spark.
I don't think the tach is getting its signal from the ignitor, so don't see how one can tell by the tach that the ignitor is bad. If you somehow can detect this on the tach, it must be some sort of weird artifact.
Remco
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igniter. The current symptoms do sound like igniter trouble, but the igniter (and tune-up parts) are a little less than a year old... from March, IIRC. I might be wise to re-heatsink the igniter, though.
What makes me think it isn't distributor sensor trouble is that there is no "check engine" light, suggesting the problem is past the ECU... i.e. igniter or coil, or high tension side (like the rotor or cap.)
Mike
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The electrical diagram for the ignition system suggests you are remembering correctly. See the top schematic at http://home.earthlink.net/~honda.lioness/id5.html . Tegger's version appears to confirm it: http://www.tegger.com/hondafaq/igniter-operation/index.html

Plus ISTM igniters don't exactly seem to die slowly, at least not the way coils often do. Igniters seem more like an all-or-nothing deal, with symptoms only for the very observant, at best.
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wrote

by Wednesday. Since there really is no way to determine whether the coil is failing intermittently and 225K miles is a lot of service to expect from one, it seemed like the prudent thing to do. I can check the ignition switch by seeing if the voltage across it fluctuates from one time to the next, but the coil keeps its secrets.
In my experience, the more power a device handles the more likely it is to have a limited life. An ignition coil has to transform hefty currents into hefty high voltage jolts, so I don't expect it to last forever. Thanks again for the suggestion.
Mike
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Michael Pardee wrote:

I'm with Elle on the ignitor's failure mode. One would imagine that these things just fail very quickly (unless it is thermal in nature, oif course)
Could it be that the power to the ignitor is intermittent - A bad contact in that path somewhere? Imagine a bad intermittent contact on the 12V (or ground) to the ignitor while the car is running. It would certainly translate into bad spark (too narrow) and getting noise on the tach lead..
Remco
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Elle wrote:

You're absolutely right - I stand corrected and didn't mean to mislead anyone. It has been a while since I looked at the ignitor and didn't have my manual handy, but that's a bad defense <blushing>
This is why we need those pros, huh :)
Remco
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I've looked at the schematic I cited and Tegger's igniter site closely at least half a dozen times each this past year, and I forgot about the tach output until Michael P. mentioned and I re-checked. That the Tach signal comes from the igniter doesn't exactly pass the common sense test. At least not at first blush, afaic.
I trust you see Tegger's site confirms the rest of your conjecture, about the igniter being mostly a Darlington pair transistor, yada.

Yes, plus repair manual hounds. :-)
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Elle wrote:

Aw, shuks - now you're just trying to make me feel better :)
Yeah, that is kinda weird how they have the tach input coming from the ignitor. One would imagine they could have just as easily taken the signal going to the ignitor (possibly current boost it a little) and feed it into the tach directly. Less wire and things that can go wrong, imo...
Maybe they did that as a trouble shooting measure or we can use at as such: This morning I cranked my wife's integra and noticed that while cranking the tach moves very slightly. Maybe if a honda cranks and the tach does not move it is an indication that the ignitor is bad..? That would be an interesting thought.
Wonder how Michael is making out with this thing.
Remco
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You and anyone else who posts or lurks here. This was not an easy catch, IMO. But as importantly, a group like this will thrive only with open-mindedness and polite honesty. (Not that I excel at these, but I know I'm supposed to try... :-)

I thought maybe this might be happening anyway. The igniter gets input from the ECU, of course, after all.
On further thought, the RPM signal really had to be someplace in the vicinity of the camshaft or crankshaft. And someplace protected, like the distributor housing. I am thinking many other cars have their tach input coming from somewhere within the distributor as well.

Tegger's site certainly puts emphasis on this notion. See http://www.tegger.com/hondafaq/igniter-operation/badigniter . html
I see on further examination that Tegger's drawing (at another of his sites on the igniter) has the Tach signal coming out of the igniter's control chip, for one thing.

<Whispering: Why's one of our regulars buying a non-OEM coil?>
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Elle wrote:

Lol -- yeah, I was kinda wondering the same thing. That aforementioned mentioned politeness thing had me keeping it to myself. Sorry for getting on your case, Michael. :)
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I wonder if using a non-integral distributor cap/coil like the separate MSD racing coil and plain distributor cap would be a more durable system?
MSD is supposed to have a good reputation.
I never liked the idea of an integral cap and coil.
--
Jim Yanik
jyanik
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just now, so I can check out the ignition switch and the engine ground. No failures since Friday, though. Whether that's good news or bad news is a matter of perspective :-}
Mike
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