What is the Problem - UPDATE

[Copied from original message]
For about a week or so, I had noticed a scratching sort of noise coming from somewhere under the hood, but was unable to pin-point its location.
There were no changes in engine performance or behavior. One morning, I was sitting at a stoplight, the engine stumbled very hard, and almost cut off. The Check-Engine light came on, and idle RPM level returned to normal. (I also noticed the scratching noise had stopped) Upon trying to accelerate, I noticed the car would not rev any higher than 3,500RPMs. (This is a classic symptom of the auxillary fuel injector not working) I checked the ECU and the LED was blinking 16 times, which corresponds to the "Fuel Injector or Fuel Injector Circuit". I called a few mechanics that were supposed to be "Honda specialists" and they all told me to change the throttle body because the Throttle Position Sensor had gone bad and that is what was causing the Check Engine light to come on and making the Fuel Injector stop working. I bought a throttle body from Beaver's Honda (junk yard) for $65 and changed it myself. Now, when I crank it up, it idles at almost 2,000RPMs. The idle adjuster screw is all the way out, so that's not causing the high idle speed. When the accelerator is pressed, I can hear the engine suck in a lot of air, but instead of revving up, it bogs down, and then back-fires through the intake. Aside from changing the throttle body, I have not changed any other parts.
[End original message]
**UPDATE**
I took my car to a highly recommended mechanic and he told me that the problem was being caused by 2 things: #1. My distributor is not working properly. #2. Due to #1, the ECU is throwing code #16. So, he recommended replacing the distributor and the ECU. I've gotten a few responses to my original post; what do you guys think? (If you're just joining us, my car is a 1990 Civic LX, 5-speed, 1.5L Dual-Point Fuel Injection; D15B2)
Thanx again! ;-)
Jonathan
P.S. By distributor, he means the whole thing, not just the cap.
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The distributor has a spotty reputation, but I see no reason at all for replacing the ECU unless it has definitely gotten wet. (In that case, start with the ECU and see if the distributor is causing symptoms.) If the gurus approve, the distributor sounds semi-reasonable (on the basis of his reputation - I don't see the link to the injector code but it could be). I recommend you have him hold off on the ECU. If you get to the point you believe you need an ECU, definitely go for one from a wrecking yard for a tenth the price of a new one. But I'd bet heavily you don't need an ECU if the car hasn't been in deep water when this started.
Mike
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K-town wrote:

DO NOT, DO NOT, DO NOT replace the distributor & ecu for a code 16. i can't tell you how many times i've seen owners get hosed for massive amounts of money like this, & guess what? it /won't/ fix your problem!
as before, fix the 16 - either $55 for a new relay or $0 if you're handy with a soldering iron, then address the other points we discussed before. if the distributor has an electronic fault, the car won't run at all. if it has a mechanical fault like the rotor arm's broken loose, it's a simple fix unless it's ruined the distributor's bearings, but that's easliy determined by taking the distributor cap off & trying to jiggle the central shaft around. side to side play = bearing problem.
report back after you've dealt with the relay, checked the distributor & checked the hose/injector squirt issues we discussed earlier.
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----- Original Message -----
Newsgroups: alt.autos.honda Sent: Friday, March 11, 2005 10:54 PM Subject: Re: What is the Problem - UPDATE

I picked up my car last night from the mechanic. (I told him I can replace the distributor and ECU myself, so don't fix it) Upon starting the car, the Check-Engine light immediately came on, and all the way home, my car would not go above 40 MPH, even downhill! My average speed was about 25MPH. The car had practically no power whatsoever; like it was running on only 2 out of 4 cylinders. If I pressed the gas pedal down about 1/4, it would backfire through the intake severely about 3 or 4 times in about 2 seconds. If I floored it, it would smoke out the tailpipe terribly, and the temperature gauge would rise to 3/4. I found pressing it down about ½ way was the "happy medium"; the temperature gauge stayed at the normal level, it didn't backfire, but it was still running VERY rich. (I could smell gas from inside the car...granted I had the vent open) It will idle at a relatively normal level now, but has almost no torque or horsepower. Any more ideas guys?
Thanx again! :-)
Jonathan
P.S. I'm going to check the distributor and main relay this weekend. The mechanic didn't say anything about finding any vacuum leaks.
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K-town wrote:

this is the same "highly recommended" mechanic that wanted to replace the ecu?
jonathan, you've got to be methodical & systematic in both your diagnosis & repair. the symptoms you describe could be a number of things including skipped timing belt, messed up firing order, broken rotor arm, injector jammed open...
1. read the ecu codes & fix each issue as indicated. remember, 16 is usually main relay, not injectors. apart from that, the codes are reliable afaik.
2. check inside the distributor. the rotor arm breaking loose could account for a scraping noise, then misfire.
3. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE take the trouble to check for the things already suggested before continuing to post asking for more diagnosis. it's pretty shabby having to guess which car you have, then have to guess a diagnosis for an incompletely described problem. do your homework, then report results so we can get to the bottom of this.
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jim beam wrote:

Well, we can eliminate the skipped timing belt and messed up firing order. The mechanic told me he checked the timing belt and it is fine. I also don't think the injectors are (or ever were) the problem. (Neither does the mechanic that looked at my car) Plus, if you look at my original message, I said, "I checked the ECU and the LED was blinking 16 times, which corresponds to the 'Fuel Injector or Fuel Injector Circuit'. I called a few mechanics that were supposed to be 'Honda specialists' and they all told me to change the throttle body because the Throttle Position Sensor had gone bad and that is what was causing the Check Engine light to come on and making the Fuel Injector stop working." So I was simply trying to see if you agreed or disagreed with that hypothesis. All you had to say was, "I disagree with them; I think it's...etc." Also, after I took my car to the mechanic who said the problem is in the distributor, and he acutally had his hands on my car, that was more-or-less an indirect dismissal of the ideas those "other mechanics" had.
Anyway, back to the subject: I removed the distributor today and found that there IS some play in the rotor arm. Also, I took the cap off the distributor to find that the contacts inside had grooves in them. (Accompanied by a little pile of metal shavings at the bottom of the cap) The grooves are cut about 1/4 of the way down from the top of the contacts, almost shearing the tops off. My rotor button contact is worn down really bad too. So with this fact in mind, would you think it's safe to say the problem is the distributor?
Thanx,
Jonathan
P.S. I will definitely need a new cap and rotor button now, in addition to another distributor... :-(
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Jonathan Upright wrote:

you still need to check. this is the guy that recommended the new ecu, remember? you've got more chance of being hit by meteorite than the ecu failing.

that's a crock. re-solder the main relay & watch the code 16 disappear. then tell these "honda specialists" that they don't know what they're doing.

you want free advice or not? t.p.s. is code 7. that /is/ reliably diagnosed by the ecu. no code = no t.p.s. problem. your mechanic is clutching at straws because they're trying not to look stupid - and recommend spendy work at the same time.

be systematic. replace the rotor & cap & see if that makes a difference. move on from there. eliminate, eliminate, eliminate.
when you say you have play in the rotor arm, is that side to side play in the spindle after you've taken the arm off? sometimes the rotor plastic comes loose from its metal core - that'll save you the cost of a new one.
you're in "rip-em-off" territory here. be careful.
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<snip>
But if the rotor arm is loose, I would ruin another new cap and rotor, causing me to waste $35. Your approach is logical, but I have to weigh my options on this, keeping my tight budget in mind. (See below)

Yes, the whole thing is loose. I made sure it wasn't just play in the rotor button itself. The spindle on the inside will move back and forth about 2-3mm in any and every direction. I assume it's not supposed to do that? I also noticed this, when I turn the distributor, it makes the EXACT same scratching noise I heard before these problems started. Is it supposed to make a scratching noise when you turn it? (I never heard a scratching noise before, but I've never taken a distributor off before and turned it by hand either)

Well, I found a good used distributor on eBay for $27.75 (after shipping) which I've already bought. (MUCH better than $135 at a junk yard...rotor and cap included...that's cheaper than a brand-new cap and rotor at Advance Auto) I'm going to install it and see what happens. I hope to receive the item by the end of this week and will report back the results. Since I'm doing all the work myself, the only way I could get "ripped off" is through unnecessary, but relatively inexpensive parts. Luckily, one of the guys that works at the junk yard where I got the [unnecessary] throttle body goes to my church, and he's going to let me exchange it for any other part(s) I need that costs the same. (They usually don't do exchanges...it pays to know the right people) ;-)
Thanks again for all your help! :-)
Jonathan
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K-town wrote:

no. if the spindle is all sloppy, a new distributor is required as the bearings are not user servicable. when you get your new one, be sure to replace the rotor & cap - the rotor has been redesigned to help lessen the chances of this happening & the cap's been redesigned accordingly.

don't forget to resolder your main relay!
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<snip>

</snip>
Sorry, but my memory isn't the best. Why do I need to do this? Is there a way to check the main relay to see if it's good or bad before taking it apart and resoldering? Besides the fuel pump, what else does the main relay control? I know there is a slight problem with my main relay because sometimes when it's hot inside the car, it won't click when the check-engine light goes off, and of course, the car won't start. I have to squeeze the main relay and hold it to make it click so my car will fire up.
Thanx again! :-)
Jonathan
P.S. The last 2 sentences have been going on for awhile, and may not be directly related to my current problem.
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K-town wrote:

--------------------------
You've described a 'textbook case' of main relay failure. Resolder it and you'll overcome a major headache. Meantime, don't lend your Honda to somebody who is trying to go somewhere important. :-)
'Curly'
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The relay controls the fuel pump, and if the power to the pump is intermittent it will cause the ECU to report problems with the fuel injectors (sound familiar?) and the engine to run very badly. A guage on the fuel rail to measure the fuel pressure will tell everything about the fuel delivery system - including the main relay - and what part it plays (if any) in your symptoms.
You already know from visual inspection the distributor is bad and from history the main relay is bad. Replacing the distributor and resoldering or replacing the main relay could very well be all you need to get back on the road. If not, at least those known bad parts won't be making you crazy any more.
Mike
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The injectors themselves receive their power from termianl 3 on the Main Relay. All the ECU does is ground them as needed, causing current to flow.
If the solder is cracked and terminal 3 fails to provide power to the injectors, the ECU sees a no-voltage when it tries to ground the injectors and sets a code 16.
--
TeGGeR®

The Unofficial Honda/Acura FAQ
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I've never taken a main relay apart before, so is it a no-brainer as to what I will have to resolder? Is there a URL or some sort of reference guide I can read that will tell me about the inner-workings of the main relay? I just don't want to solder the wrong thing or screw it up some other way.
Thanx,
Jonathan
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K-town wrote:

A Google search for honda main relay gives you exactly what you want. http://www.markl.f9.co.uk/howto/electrical/main-relay/main-relay.htm is one of many sites that came up.
======================================================A very modest collection of Honda tech info can be found at: http://www.geocities.com/ng_randolph
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Thanx a million! :-)
Jonathan
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One other thing I meant to mention in my previous post. There was also a small amount of oil INSIDE the distributor cap. Don't know how long it had been in there, but if I had to guess at the amount, I'd have to say about 2-3 drops worth. (Drop = same amount as if you were using an eye-dropper or a syringe without a needle) I know oil in the cap is bad news, and there is only 1 way it could have gotten in there...by going through the distributor somehow. (I checked the cap, it was NOT loose or cracked)
Thanx again! :-)
Jonathan
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It sounds like the distributor does need to be replaced, based on the visual inspection. Whether that is your fundamental problem is another story.
The ECU code indicates the ECU is unable to set a correct mixture, for whatever reason. Normal distributor problems will not cause that, although if the abnormal wear is causing the timing to be erratic (*something* is very wrong, we already know) it could cause the ECU to complain the mixture is all over the chart - Error 16.
There are two critical diagnostics I'm not seeing here - ignition timing and fuel pressure.
The timing will tell the story on how much the distributor is contributing to the problem. If the timing mark hops around like a fountain in a strobe light - no two flashes near each other - the engine won't run right until the distributor is replaced. If the mark shifts with the engine speed's wobbles but isn't being any wilder than the engine is, the distributor may be bad but it isn't what is driving your symptoms.
The fuel pressure will tell you if the injectors are getting a steady supply of fuel. With the vacuum line (I assume your model has one - most do) detached from the fuel pressure regulator the fuel pressure should be steady as a rock. If not, "jim beam" is on target about the main relay or possibly the fuel pump. Of couse, if the pressure is way high the regulator itself is bad.
You could spend a dismaying amount of money letting mechanics (and us) guess for lack of a couple of diagnostics to tell us all what is good or bad.
Mike
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[See response I wrote to "Jim Beam"]
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[See response I wrote to "Jim Beam"]
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