Questions about gas mileage and lights flickering, 98 civic LX

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Dear Honda enthusiasts, I need the benefit of your knowledge and experience.
I apologize for the length of this, I wanted to give all details.
The car is an 1998 Civic LX. 165K miles approx.
I have 2 issues/questions.
The first is gas mileage. I bought the car from my son, and he claims he was getting 35 to 40 mpg. His commute was mainly highway to and from Boston. My commute is mostly 2 lane local roads with some highway. I'm getting 32 to 34 max. I have done a timing belt, and a tune-up, plugs, air filter, oil change to synthetic. I verified that the belt is on correct, not off one tooth as I thought. I checked the timing, and yes I shorted the connector and got a CEL. The timing was advanced about 1/4" from the correct marks. When I reset it to the correct marks, the mileage went down. I have since moved the distributor as far retarded as possible, and the mileage came up a bit. I also googled mileage for this car, and it came back as 32 mpg.
My question to you is, from experience, what kind of mileage have you folks who own this car or one very similar, have you gotten? If higher than what I'm getting, what could be wrong/what have I missed?
Second issue. The headlights are flickering. While driving on the highway, the lights will go from normal brightness to a dim mode, and then back to normal brightness. At this time the dash lights and taillights do the same. The taillights were confirmed by a co-worker who passed me on the highway on the way to work. I had mentioned this to him, and he knew it was me when he saw the taillights dim.
To check this, I bought a voltmeter that plugs into the cigarette lighter, and gives a digital readout of the voltage. I'm getting right around 12.0v with headlights off, and as low as 11.5 with headlights on (car running). I have not had the chance to check the voltage levels when the lights do the dimming thing. Tonight, I pulled the fusebox and per the Haynes manual, checked the ELD (electrical load dectector), and it passed the test. Also, I plugged the voltmeter into another vehicle and got 14 volts with the car running, just to check the voltmeter.
I googled the headlight thing, and got this: http://honda-tech.com/showthread.php?t "40390
It seems that several of these folks replaced the alternator to no effect (regarding the lights flickering, not the low voltage). Also, someone mentioned cutting the wire to the computer that shuts the alternator off at times to save gas.
Mr. Tegger, I looked at your sight and found the TSB about the wire chafing on the intake bracket. I have not been able to get under the car yet to check this.
The battery is brand new.
The alternator is keeping the battery charged to some level, the car starts every time I use it. Although, I left the headlights on accidentally one morning and killed the battery in 15 minutes. (almost missed a job interview, I was NOT amused.....)
So, after this longwinded ramble......... my question is, have any of you experienced this, and what was your solution?
Oh yeah, currently, no CEL, and the battery/alternator dash light is working, and never comes on while the car is running. All screws are tight in the under hood fuse box. And, the alternator belt is tight.
?????????????????????
Thanks for any help, /glenn
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That is a normal function of your Electrical Load Detector (thank your friendly federal EPA!).
For proof of this, ask your dealer for a printout of Honda Service News from December 2000.
I can send you a copy of this issue if you supply a valid email address.
--
Tegger

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And the error code you got was........?

What were you interpreting as the "correct marks"? There's only one "correct mark", you know.

Then something's still wrong. The distributor should be just about in the middle of its adjustment when the timimg is set correctly.
<snip>

With the enigne idling, you should see about 13.5-14.4VDC between the battery terminals. Anything less and you've got a bad alternator. Or it's the ELD in action...
<snip>
--
Tegger

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I didn't check for an error code. My understanding is that when you short the timing connector, the check engine light should come on, and it did. When I pulled the short, the light went out. Something about telling the computer not to adjust the timing while you are trying to set the timing.

Correct, the center one in the group of 3. The center is 16 btdc, (I think) and the outer ones are 2 degrees in either direction, one advanced from the center and the other retarded from the center. And there is a single mark a bit off to the right, and that is TDC.

I think that is about where it was...... I did mark where it was before I moved anything, and that mark was slightly off center which makes sense seeing as it came up as a few degrees advanced.

And that's exactly what I'm trying to figure out. Whereas my battery is not getting a full charge, as confirmed by Sears who load tested the battery and said that the capacity was about 350CCA on a battery that has a full charge of 500CCA. I really don't want to just change out the alternator just to find out that it isn't the problem. Even with the ELD in action though, shouldn't the voltage jump to 14V or so at some time? Every time I check the meter, it's between 11.5 and 12.2vdc.

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<snip>

That's only a partial test. Here's how to do the other test: Engine OFF, key OUT, 1) Turn headlights on for 5 minutes. 2) Turn headlights off and wait another 5 minutes. 3) Check across battery terminals with a DVOM.
If you get ANYTHING less than 12.65V, the batery is either failing to retain a full-charge, or is not being properly topped-up by the alternator.

A bad alternator is pretty accurately reflected in the charge light coming on. If the charge light doesn't come on, the alternator is likely fine.

Yes, the voltage ought to jump to 14.4 or so from time to time; those are the only times the alternator is charging the battery. If the voltage never goes to 14, either the alternator is not charging, or the ELD is bad. Most likely the second one.
ELD failure was common in these cars, which is why Honda eventually made it a replaceable item. Previously it was part of the fuse-box itself, and was expensive to replace.
With the engine running, turn on the headlights and rear-window defogger while monitoring the DVOM. The load should force a properly-operating ELD to allow charging-voltage fairly quickly.
Your ELD plugs-in to the under-hood fuse box. You can grab a replacement at a wreckers for pretty cheap. It should be the black box towards the front- right-hand corner of the fuse box.
--
Tegger

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Thanks. I don't even have to do the above. I got home, read your replies and went out and measured the battery with my DVOM, and got something like 12.13vdc. Last night I threw the charger on it, and when I removed the charger after a couple of hours, got 12.6vdc. The battery is brand new, so yes, inadequate charging by the alternator.

No charge light, not even faintly on.....

Started the car, turned on the headlights, rear defogger, heater fan, A/C, and the meter in the cig lighter read about 11.5vdc. I put the DVOM directly on the battery and got about 11.73vdc, or about 1/4 volt higher, which makes sense as there is probably some voltage drop across connections/wires. As I read the battery, something cycled in the engine compartment (radiator fan perhaps?) and the voltage rose to 11.83vdc.

This is where it get slightly confusing. Haynes shows a black rectangular object underneath the fuse box, and my car doesn't have that object. I also do not have a black box in the RH corner of the fuse box. What I do have is a brown rectangular object directly above the 3 pin connector that I measured last night for the ELD check. It is connected between a 80A fuse and a 40A fuse. The following link has a picture of a fuse box different than mine, but the red outline shows a device that looks like what I think is the ELD in my fuse box. http://www.civicforums.com/forums/21-i-c-e-electrical/159859-meet-your-eld-electrical-load-detector.html
And btw, thanks for all your time and detailed help in fixing this. I believe that you have pinpointed what is going on with this thing..... thanks again.

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That was what Honda used /previously/. It was a dumb idea, and they changed it.
Haynes is not noted for accuracy...

That's the one.
Sorry, I had the color wrong.

You're welcome. Go to the wreckers and collect a few of them. They're cheap, and one of them will surely work.
--
Tegger

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On 10/25/2011 5:35 PM, Tegger wrote:

Really? I thought they published the official Honda Service Manuals. I have one for my '94 Accord. It's true though that I have seen instances of discrepancy between what the manual showed and what was on the car.
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That's Helm, not Haynes. <http://www.helminc.com/helm/welcome_select_oem.asp?Style=helm
Haynes is a British company that specializes in aftermarket manuals that are sold for a fraction of the cost of the real ones. They obtain copyright permission from Helm for some of their content, but the substance of their manuals is self-created. In order to keep the sell-price well below the original manuals, they do a lot of commonization between models, makes, and years, and that's where the mistakes creep in.
--
Tegger

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On 10/26/2011 3:16 PM, Tegger wrote:

My bad! I mixed them up. What I have is from Helm, not Haynes.
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If you are ever over this side of the pond John Haynes, the founder of Haynes Manuals, has set up a superb motor museum in Sparkford, Somerset that is well worth a visit.
--
Tinkerer



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On 10/24/2011 04:58 PM, /g wrote:

1. there's a ton of things affecting mileage. apart from lead-footedness, type of gasoline, tire inflation pressure, brake usage and condition, there's also the fundamental difference in your "local road" usage vs his highway. you need to get your head around that before you start doing intellectually retarded things like trying to fuck with the ignition timing.
2. i smell bullshit. you /can't/ fuck with the ignition timing on the 98 - it's an obdII vehicle with the timing set by the tone ring on the crank, not distributor position. even if you could retard it, doing so typically reduces mileage, not increases it.

classic alternator problem. you don't state mileage, but if you're up at 150k or more, the alternator is due for replacement. if it's not just a loose belt. if this problem even exists at all.

--
nomina rutrum rutrum

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On 10/24/2011 5:37 PM, jim beam wrote:

Couldn't just need a new brush kit? My '94 Accord LX just past 300K with the original alternator but the brushes had to be replaced last year. Ever since that I get around 13.6 V at almost any electric load and RPM and around 12.5 V when parked.
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On 10/24/2011 08:17 PM, Cameo wrote:

you got it. i said ~150k for the civic because that's my experience. the accord alternator is mounted higher out of the way of dirt and is at the front of the motor where it can get cooled better than the civic.
--
nomina rutrum rutrum

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I'm not sure that's the OP's problem.
Brush replacement is indicated by an intermittently-flickering charge-light that eventually comes on solid.
--
Tegger

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BINGO !!!!!!!! My other cars have been volvo 740s and 940s. A common failure on these is the alternator brushes wearing out. When this happens, all of the idiot lights start to glow. Dimly at first, and then brighter as the brushes lose contact. Because there is such a load on the system, the battery drains very quickly, stranding you. I always have a spare regulator/brush pack in the car. Two phillips screws and 10 minutes later, and you're running again. I'm very familiar with this failure mode, and is why I couldn't get around the honda alternator being bad.
Unfortunately, before I read your previous reply tonight, today I ordered a brush set for the Honda. The dealer parts guy said that I was the first person that he'd ever ordered one for. It was only $22, so not an extreme loss. I had to prepay, so I guess I own them now.
We've got rain and snow on the way for the next few days, so I'm not sure I'll be able to get to the wrecking yard. I'll ask the dealer about the ELD when I pick up the brushes.....
Also, Tegger, I sent you a reply with my email in it. I am interested in the article about the ELD that you mentioned. If you didn't get the message, I'll resend it with my email addy.....
Thanks so much for all the help...... /glenn

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Honda alternator failure usually only illuminates the charge light.
Alternator failure with Toyotas illuminates /all/ the idiot lights. It seems Volvo uses the same "all" approach as Toyota.

If this isn't an ND alternator, he's probably right. Domestic-made alternators (Delco) usually crap-out for other reasons, and MUCH earlier than ND alternators, long before the brushes wear out.
OE ND alternators last...well...forever. Except for the brushes.

SNOW? Now? I'm deeply in the Rust Belt, and we're not slated to get snow for another month! Where the heck are you?

It might be cheaper than you think... And it would be contain all the latest updates and fixes which would make it more reliable than anything you would pull off a wreck.

My displayed email is bogus. Try this one (correcting where obvious): tegger .at tegger dot. com
--
Tegger

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On 10/25/2011 05:51 PM, Tegger wrote:

no, if the brushes are worn, the headlights start to flicker long before that happens. and if you check the voltage, it takes more rpm's than normal to get that puppy to supply juice.
and if the regulator is gone, the charge light only illuminates intermittently, even though the alternator's cranking out 16v.

no, regulators are a regular failure on them as well. and the slip rings tend to wear out making brush replacement something of a pointless exercise.
this is why replacement or full rebuild is what the pros do - particularly on this vintage civic where you have to move a driveshaft out of the way to get the alternator out. it's a pita, so you don't want to do it twice.

--
nomina rutrum rutrum

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I have had flickering headlights, actually, it's what started this whole string. I'm pretty sure I have dropped the tranny down to D3 to increase revs to see if the voltage came up, as that works when the volvos act up. No response from that. I'll try it again on tomorrows commute.....

If the ELD doesn't fix things, then I will pull the alternator for brush replacement. I know to check the slip rings. Done that, been there. If it does need a new alternator, I have a 2nd car which I'll drive until I get the new alternator. Right now cashflow is an extreme issue. Just getting back to work after being out for a bit....

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the local station talked about the possibility for Wednesday and/or Thursday...... depends on the year, but I remember getting an inch or two first week of October. That was back in '79 or so.....

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