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
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.
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
Adam (unhappy clown car owner)
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?
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,
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
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
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.
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
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!
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
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.
Make 100% certain the spark is actually good before getting the Motorvac
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
Delay getting the JDM engine ... sigh ... so much for the "local"
supplier. The clown car is still at the garage. Fingers crossed for
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) :)
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?
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.
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:
don't switch the secondary cam at too low revs though. i think factory
is near 5krpm.
junkyard ecu's are uber-cheap - $40 in my neck of the woods. but they
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.
It's actually a function of the kickdown action and how the tranny
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.
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