'89 Civic Project Complete - Or So I Thought

Over a year after I started rebuilding this '89 Civic, everything appeared to be in order so I had it towed to the nearest garage for inspection. The
inspector found a few loose nuts and bolts, and charged a ridiculous amount of money to go over the vehicle and double-check my work, but otherwise was satisfied and he then approved the vehicle for the road. Once all the paperwork was taken care of, my Mom picked it up from the garage (I still live at home) and drove it the 20km home, and despite her worries about it failing on the way it worked absolutely perfectly. She was mainly concerned because the alternator was currently removed, it was seized and at the time I was searching for a replacement. I eventually found a shop which rebuilt the old alternator, and the next day I installed it without incident. The charging system now worked fine so at this point I assumed the car was as good as new. How wrong I was. So today I had to go on a TV service call, and thought I'd take this car and see how it worked. It started up great as usual, so my first stop was to fill up at a local gas station. Within minutes of leaving the gas station, I started noticing some engine problems. The engine seemed to be losing power on the hills, and starting to run very roughly. The problem seemed to go away at higher RPM's, so I had to use a lower gear than I normally would. At first I thought it was just my driving habits, having not driven a standard for so long. But by the time I neared my destination some 20km away, it was clear that something definately wasn't right. The engine required an ever-higher RPM to maintain smooth operation, and it finally stalled when I slowed down to turn into my customers driveway. It started again and I was able to make it up the driveway, but that was all. When I went to leave some 15 minutes later, the car would not start at all. It would kick over every so often but just wouldn't start. With the hood up and somebody else cranking the engine, I could hear a strange "pfft" sound - like pressure was being let off - coming from somewhere near the throttle body each time the engine kicked. This led me to suspect the timing but I dismissed this, for reasons I explain shortly. The ECU does not give any error codes at any time. It does however give the single "OK" blink when the ignition is first turned on. The timing belt was newly replaced less than 2 years ago, although this car did sit unused for over a year. The alternator belt was cracked and was newly replaced just yesterday. I didn't inspect the timing belt but assumed it was good. Fortunately, the car failed just a couple of miles from the garage where it was inspected, and my customer graciously gave me a tow. I expect to hear back from the garage early next week but in the meantime I'd like some second opinions. I had rebuilt the body, suspension, brakes, and fuel delivery system (fuel lines and main relay), but did not do any work on the engine or transmission, since neither had any history of trouble and was working great when the car was last regularly driven. There were no other pre-existing conditions that would have warned of such a sudden failure, nor did anything seem wrong when the car was first brought back from the garage. The problem seemed to start within minutes of filling up at the gas station - is it possible the gas was contamined with water or something worse? I'll probably have the garage diagnose the problem, but tow the car back home and do the repairs myself to save money. I don't exactly trust a guy who charged almost $200 just to tighten a few nuts and bolts..... Thanks for any advice.
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wrote:

I'd suspect fuel delivery first. Clogged strainer/filter, bad fuel pump. The "pfft" sound could just be from normal valve activity.
--Vic
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Could be just compression bleeding off through a partly-open engine valve.
--
Tegger


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<snip> > It started up great as usual, so my first stop

As Vic Smith says, probably a fuel problem. I'm leaning towards crud in the fuel filter, which is on the firewall on the passenger side. The filter may be clogged and giving very low fuel pressure. Fuel flow is the first thing to check here.
By the way, you're sure you're getting a good spark even when it won't start?
--
Tegger


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If you push the tandem valve open (that's the choke-like thing at the top) with your finger and have somebody crank the engine, can you see fuel being sprayed from the upper injector?
--
Tegger


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The car is at the garage, so my hands are tied right now. I wanted to go out and do some troubleshooting in the guys yard, but my Mom would not let me - she's afraid I'd insult their mechanic by not letting him do the job instead. (I told her if she's willing to foot the bill, I don't care either way.......) I was since talking to someone who knows a lot more than I do, and he suggested that perhaps I got the fuel return and vent lines reversed, causing fuel to clog the charcoal canister. He says that if this were the case, the problem may only occur when the fuel tank is close to full. It makes a lot of sense, since I did have to replace the rusted-off ends of those lines with rubber hose. It's been several months since I made those repairs, but I remember spending a good deal of time trying to sort them out, with no help from the muddled service manual diagram. And, the fuel tank was less than 1/4 full when the car was driven home without incident. Given the fact that this buddy is an experienced dealership mechanic, and my knack for mixing up such things, I'd be willing to bet money this is what's wrong. Too bad I won't be able to troubleshoot it myself, but maybe if I advise the garage to check this first it might shave an extra digit from the repair bill. Thanks for your advice, and I'll be sure to post back once I hear back from the garage.
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If this is the case, open the gas cap. You'll hear a whooshing noise as air rushes into the tank. Then the car will start and run just fine with the cap off. --scott
--
"C'est un Nagra. C'est suisse, et tres, tres precis."

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I find that a bit hard to imagine. The fuel return is on the driver's side of the throttle body. The EVAP canister and its lines are on the passenger side.
Besides, the EVAP canister is open at the bottom. I'd think that if the fuel return was going to the canister that you'd have a massive gas leak onto the ground.
--
Tegger


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More precisely (and more remotely), the canister is on the passenger side firewall, far from the throttle body.
--
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It wouldn't be a clogged converter, would it??
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Got the car back from the garage today, the tech said the distributor was worn and had a lot of moisture in it. I should have inspected the distributor long before, but I guess I was too busy taking care of all the other problems. Oh well, lesson learned, and a bit more money lost, but at least it wasn't too serious. Thanks anyway for your help.

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