I was just pulling out of a parking spot when the car died. That never
happens and I knew it wouldn't restart. It didn't. There was no
problem cranking, it just wouldn't catch.
I had it towed to a service station with a good reputation and they
diagnosed that the distributor and master module needed replacing and
that it often happens with Hondas at around 100,000 miles.
Price was just under $600. Ouch. I had it done because there wasn't
really much of an option. The price was mostly parts, with the
distributor being around $300. I could have gotten junk yard parts
most likely but I don't think I could have done the work.
Does this repair seem reasonable? I liked the shop and it isn't too
far from me. My old mechanic sold his station and I don't trust the
new guys so I do need a new one.
From my experiences with my 91 Civic and reading about many
other Hondas here, Hondas typically benefit greatly from
having a second new distributor housing (not to include the
igniter and coil) installed late in life. I had a new
housing put on at about 140k miles. Old housings typically
start to see bearing problems, rotor shaft set screw
problems, and oil leak problems. I think that covers the
I would not buy a junk yard distributor housing. I'd buy OEM
new. If time permitted, I'd use online OEM sites.
By "Master Module" do you mean ignition module, a.k.a.
igniter, which bolts etc. onto the distributor housing? My
Civic's original igniter failed at about 90k miles back in
1997. I had a non-OEM igniter installed then.
The original ignition coil (also mounted on the distributor
housing) failed at about 120k miles in 2001. The non-OEM one
lasted until 2003.
In 2003, a shop installed a new housing (w/cap, this cost
$472 for parts and labor). Ten or so days later, the car
still had sporadic shutdown problems, and the shop put in a
new coil (later, due to misdiagnosis, "only" another $95). I
then installed a new igniter pre-emptively. All OEM parts.
It's almost exactly four years later, and all goes well. I
have come to the conclusion that the new distributor
housing, while likely not essential in 2003 (the shop blamed
my jury rigged rotor fix, shark bastards), was probably
The old non-OEM igniter is now an emergency spare. I inspect
the inside of the distributor cap housing maybe once a year,
looking for moisture (so failed seal) and dust (failed
bearing) and oil (different failed seal).
I don't think $600 is bad, even if it did not include a new
igniter nor coil.
The question that begs, though, is whether they used OEM
BTW, using OEM ignition wires, and replacing them or
checking them routinely, along with the OEM recommended
spark plugs, should lengthen the lives of the coil and
possibly igniter, too. IIRC I did not start using OEM parts
routinely for these until after 2002.
Thanks much. I really do need a new mechanic and these guys seemed
good. It's a very busy place and not too far from home.
You're right about a junkyard distributor; I would have liked to try
OEM but that really wasn't an option.
I think I'm suffering from non-buyers remorse. I tried to buy a Fit
earlier this year and couldn't get one at a reasonable price so I put
a bunch of money into my Accord. As a reward, it let me down.
It's so hard to know when to get rid of it, but it doesn't even have
100,000 miles yet.
I would not write off this shop just yet.
Some folks here on occasion have reported picking up a
really cheap distributor housing, coil, and igniter at
Autozone for an older Honda. They wrote that, if the
assembly lasted a year, they'd be happy. Overall, this does
not seem like a bad gamble to me. I just plan to keep my old
Civic more than a year.
Hang on; don't give up just yet. It's very possible you have
turned a corner here, and the money you put into it recently
will be the last big wad for several years. This is what I
am finding with my 91 Civic.
Remember that the original distributor housing (and coil and
igniter?) failing was pretty predictable. Now it should be
good for I figure at least a year; maybe three or more. And
you know a little what to look for when the car next gives
Lot of city driving or other extreme conditions
Oh yes, I got it used but it was sold and serviced by the dealer I
bought it from, so it's all NYC driving. That means potholes, slush,
salt, stop and go. Pretty hard miles. OTOH, it wasn't flooded. Well,
not until last year when it got flooded in a park-n-ride lot. That was
my first post to the group; you folks told me that I had probably
killed the computer and I picked one up at at the junkyard for $60 and
put it in and it worked fine.
The idea to dry out the interior by filling it with cat litter was my
idea however.That really worked well actually.
I would agree with the 'turn the corner' idea. I bought my 1991 Honda Accord
in 2003. I was plagued with a few problems soon after the purchase,
including your distributor problem. (It was replaced by a used one to the
tune of about $300 parts+labor; so far so good.) Another ordeal started when
the driver's side window came out of track. I tried to remedy the problem
myself, with no luck. The next day the door wouldn't open. I thought I had
messed something up, and turned the whole thing over to a garage. After
diagnosing the infamous 'frozen latch' problem, they ended up removing the
seat to get at the innards of the door, finally cutting it open, replacing
the latch and, ultimately, the window. You see, there are little clamps on
the window... once they come off, you just have to get a new window...
I was going to say, after THOSE problems, things have been pretty good. But
reading my own previous paragraph has given me a chill down my spine! :)
-- R Flowers
Yes, I think I know what you mean. From 2002-2003, My 91
Civic went through a year of several breakdowns, with a
Honda dealership and other shops repeatedly just
"re-fastening" the distributor rotor without identifying
that the distributor shaft's threads (into which the rotor's
set screw fits) had stripped.
But all's been well since; no trips to the shop. Though I
now do all my own maintenance (knock on wood) and did
pre-emptively replace/repair some major items. Naturally
with much assistance from this ng.
Not really. Distributor components can last 300,000 miles when properly
In your case the failed part was either the igniter or the coil, most
likely the igniter.
The tip-off for igniter failure is simple: The tach needle remains dead-
still while the car won't fire up. If it jiggles a bit while cranking, it's
not the igniter.
Be very careful here. If the shop used aftermarket parts (likely given the
price quoted), those parts are likely to fail far sooner than new OEM. A
new OEM distributor is about $600, but that includes the cap, rotor and
Used stuff from a wrecker's is a gamble just like aftermarket.
Yeah, that's right.
But my observations indicate to me that most Honda ignition failures are
due to neglect and incorrect servicing, hence the FAQ page.
The only two exceptions to the above are
1) 1990 igniter failures (for which there was a TSB), and
2) 1992+ distributor shaft bearing failures (again a TSB).
With proper servicing, Honda ignition components last almost forever.
Those are controversial statements, but I think they hold up. We already
know Honda ignitions are unusually powerful, in that they will destroy the
coil in short order if the energy isn't directed elsewhere. It stands to
reason the entire system is designed to direct that energy to the plug gap.
Inadequate leads or rotors or caps can only be trouble, causing some of the
energy to be dissipated where it shouldn't be.
No more than any other. They generate the usual 15~20KV to strike the
spark, then drop to 4 or 5KV for the duration of the spark.
For shortened ignition life, you're primarily looking for extended
periods of overvoltage, such as would result from worn and overly-large
Secondarily, you're looking for coil damage that's due to HT current
that can't go its proper route, and so burrows its way through the coil
insulation to ground.
Tertiarily, there are igniter failures that may cascade from the
aforementioned coil failures, or from poorly-installed or aftermarket
spark strike voltage depends on mixture, temperature and compression. i
understand this type of electronic ignition generates up to 45kV
and excess temperature. semiconductors don't last too long at elevated
temperatures - and the igniter unit runs too hot to touch.
right. the insulation on these coils is "potted". that's all fine as
long as it doesn't get hot and start to bubble, as could be the case
with prolonged "diagnostics" where the coil can be left at full
unswitched energy for protracted periods and get too hot.
and failing condensers. my ignition ripped through two igniter units
inside 12 months thanks to a failing condenser. since condenser
replacement, i haven't had a blink of trouble.
You're referring to flame speed.
Spark-strike voltage is mostly a function of the gap the spark has to
Neglected plugs that have their gaps widened to double original gap (or
more) dramatically raise strike voltage.
If the spark has created a path to ground in the plug well in the valve
cover, it's jumping a gap that can be a quarter-inch or more. Big jump
in voltage there.
So does a home PC's CPU. They're made to take the heat.
no, i'm referring to strike voltage - that needed to initiate the spark.
it varies greatly on the gas that's between the electrodes.
no, mainly the gas that's between the electrodes - temperature,
pressure, composition, velocity, etc.
no, semiconductors are fundamentally challenged by heat. if your cpu is
that hot, there's something wrong, and while it may work for a limited
time, its lifetime will be short compared to lifetime at a more ambient
I don't think they are either. I think it's timely servicing with top-
quality components that extends life.
I asked a few parts-house countermen about the market for remanned Honda
distributors. Apparently they sell quite steadily, so igniters and coils
are dying up here as well.
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