View Full Version : Ripoff Garage - Any Advice?

21st Dec 2006, 19:59

Within the last 7-10 days, I noticed that the family-runabout, a Honda Civic, had developed a misfire. When trying to get off a slip-road, the top-end power simply wasn’t there and the engine felt rough at high revs - under load and free-revving.

The car had an issue like this a couple of years ago and it turned to be worn HT leads – you could see a shower of sparks from them.

I took a look at the distributor cap and rotor-arm and they looked worn. As I wasn’t convinced this was responsible, I took the car to a local garage that claimed to have a computer (they do a lot of classic cars, so I felt they’d be likely to be more honest…)

They charged £60 for the computer diagnosis and told me the HT Leads, rotor arm, spark-plugs and distributor cap needed doing… Although I can do these items myself, I had to let them do it as my tools got nicked a while back and I haven’t replaced them.

I did tell them that I was surprised to see the HT Leads going considering they were replaced a couple of years ago with genuine Honda leads…

I went back to the garage this evening and picked up a bill for over £200… I’m dubious, but £60 of that is for the computer test, £50 is labour and the rest are parts.

As soon as I turned out of the garage, I could feel the misfire was still there… A couple of hundred yards later, the car breaks down – the engine wasn’t firing at all…

I telephone garage and they despatch a van. He mucks around with the cap, but nothing happens. He tows the Civic back to the garage and tells me he’ll look at it tomorrow (last working day before holidays…).

So, the distributor cap and rotor arm needed doing, but I couldn’t see any sparks from the HT leads in the dark, which is a giveaway that they’re gone. I also noted that the plugs looked new-ish as the car had a £400 service back in August…

What do you think I should do? My gut instincts told me all along that the replacement parts were unnecessary, bar cap and arm, but I paid to have an easy life – I haven’t even done all the shopping yet…

My instincts also suggest to me that the ‘computer test’ was a scam as it would surely have detected a fault such as this. I now suspect that the coil is gone.

I know that £200 isn’t like losing a leg, but I feel ripped off here – the misfire wasn’t fixed, and the car broke down for the first time in its life (we’ve owned it from new since ’94 – it’s been flawless - a great economical car for the shopping).

Obviously, the garage haven’t fixed it yet, but I’m now worried they’ll give me another bill – the mechanic was extremely defensive...

Small claims court? Do I have a leg to stand on? My last mechanic retired; when I asked him if he could recommend a replacement he replied, “I really wish I could”…

A good garage will give you a bag containing the old parts…I didn’t get one… The fact that they used a “scatter gun” approach, in replacing 4 separate parts of the electrical system makes me think they didn’t even get in the ballpark for where the fault lay.

Things haven’t gotten desperate yet, but I’d really appreciate any advice to prevent getting ripped off any further when I return to the garage tomorrow.

Thanks in advance.

21st Dec 2006, 20:18
You have to be quite bold on this one. A lot of garages will rip you off if they can. Not all of them but there are still too many getting away with basically what amounts to fraud.
My wifes car developed a similar power loss and misfire, with trouble starting it in a morning. The garage said they'd fix it and let her know what the problem was before putting parts on etc. I got home just before she took it to garage. I checked the usual things and because it was cold and wet outside, and me not being too bothered about working on her car in those conditions, she took it to the garage.
Anyway, they came back and said it needed computer diagnosis which she'd have to pay for because the technician would be required. Then they fitted a few bits and pieces, never quite found out what, but to cut a long story short, they didnt fix it. Two more visits still didnt solve the problem.
Eventually i went out and took it for a drive, went home, got my spark plug spanner out and made the adjustment to plug gap which I knew would solve the problem. It did and I wrote to garage and complained. Got letter back saying that they had worked on the car and man hours had been spent so we were liable to pay the bill. I 'visited' the garage and got quite irate with the service manager and let a few customers know that I thought they were incompetent. Not very smart really but I was annoyed. They agreed to adjust the bill as long as we drew a line under it there and then. In the end we paid for an hour of technicians time and for a couple of bits and pieces which were low cost replaceable items.
Happier but still wary of garage charging.

Always ask for the old parts to be bagged up.
It can't hurt to complain and ask to speak to someone higher up who can make a decision.

Just reminds me that main VW dealer garage charged me to re-charge my AC one day. Picked car up and AC not charged. Friend did pressure test on it and no gas! I got a full refund and apology from the manager who said they'd mixed up cars! Service manager tried to make up a story about how refrigeration and AC systems work and that I probably wouldn't understand the complexities of it. (didnt tell him I had been working on AC and fridge plant bigger than a car for last ten years!!!)


21st Dec 2006, 20:21
There ain't no such thing as cheap motoring.

Buy a new car (at huge cost) and you are free from repair costs for a year or so. Buy an old banger and you MIGHT be lucky and have nothing go wrong. Trying to maintain a few-year old car as if it was a new car is gonna cost you (if you use the services of a garage). If you can do the analysis yourself then at least you can ask the mechanics to do so-and-so. Even better if you can fit the parts yourself. Just recognise when you're beaten (when special tools might be required to remove a part) and pay for the expertise rather than scuffing your own knuckles and then still having to get the mechanics to fix.

(I've just received a bill for £30 from a main dealer. Diesel car failed to start on three occasions until it had been allowed to stand with ignition switched on. Noises from the low-pressure fuel pump (in the tank) suggested that said pump was faulty. Garage checked the fuel pressure 'no fault found' and returned the vehicle to me (with-holding the bill) to see whether the problem recurred. It hasn't. After a week the garage phoned me to ask if there had been any further occurrence and then sent me a 'token' bill. I appreciate their honesty (they could so easily have stuck a new fuel pump on and billed me for it).)
We checked Engine ECU for faults, we checked fual pressure, we tested overnight. No faults showed. Customer to monitor.

(Vehicle has completed 109000 miles . . . )

21st Dec 2006, 20:56
Go back and say you intend to get an RAC inspection carried out. Or mention Auto Express magazine's help service.

I was once subject to this type of "sales talk" at a so-called service centre after my car cut out on Exmoor. The "AA" so-called mechanic (breakdown rescue on franchise) ran my starter motor till the battery went flat then tried whacking 24 volts through my starter motor from his truck via jump leads. I told him he would ruin the electrics on my car and that it wouldn't start until the actual fault was found as I had already done basic fault diagnosis and there was no spark.

We were towed 35 miles back the way we had driven. At the "AA" depot they then tried to sell me a new starter motor and a new battery (start with the most expensive parts and work down to the cheapest? I think not, especially as they had almost fried both).

I objected because the fault was nothing to do with either component and they began giving me a whole load of old verbal Bo££ocks. Eventually, an old boy totally unconnected with the business wandered over and agreed with my own diagnosis that either the coil or the condenser had failed. They reluctantly produced a new condenser but they insisted in connecting up the new one with the old one in place (which would mask the failure, as they short out when they fail). I leaned over and removed the old condenser lead, producing an immediate spark at the points. The car subsequently fired immediately, completely fixed. The look of disappointment on their faces was a picture. I shut the bonnet, went inside, paid for the new condenser (about £3) and went on my way, a fair bit wiser about rip-off garages.

I will NEVER again join the AA. :=

21st Dec 2006, 22:23
Thanks for the advice - notes taken.


Loose rivets
22nd Dec 2006, 06:25
A pal of mine, not a million miles from my old home, went to a local garage for an MOT. He had prepped the car and was surprised to find that it had failed.

"Both universal joint boots are leaking grease"


He takes it back and has a good look around. Both had been slashed with a blade.

After some argument, he slaps down on the boss's table his MOT inspector's licence or whatever it's called. He then told him that he had owned a garage not many miles away...for twenty years.

They came to an "agreement" that was very much to my pal's advantage:E :E :E

22nd Dec 2006, 09:01
This is worth keeping in mind


High Wing Drifter
22nd Dec 2006, 09:06
We discovered with our old BMW and our current 10 year old Sharan that using a dealer for all repairs cuts the monthly average bill considerably.

When I take my car to a main dealer, they charge twice as much per hour, fit rather expensive genuine bits. They also diagnose the problem correctly first time, order only the correct parts that need to be changed, take no longer than the required time to fit them, provide a courtesy car and clean the car inside and out. The net effect is convenience and 3/4 of the cost of taking it to a so called specialist or greasy spanner joint.

22nd Dec 2006, 12:06
First off, I'd have to say that any garage in the habit of charging for diagnostic work sounds like a rather dubious operation. Fair enough, if you take a vehicle along and tell them that you've tried to fix it yourself, failed, and want them to diagnose it and point you in the right direction so you can try again, I can see why they'd want to charge you.

If, however, you take the vehicle along and basically tell them to fix it, the diagnostic work shouldn't, in its own right, be chargeable. It's merely a route for them to quickly and easily find the fault which they're being paid to correct. It takes no time at all; literally minutes to select the correct vehicle on their console, plug it into the vehicles diagnostic plug and read off any faults shown. It should be included in the labour costs for any actual work carried out, not a significant extra charge such as £60. If they charged you £50 for labour already then that, or at the very most a nominal extra amount of literally a few pounds for the additional couple of minutes spent, should more than cover it.

WG774, The position you're in is slightly tricky as, technically, you've accepted goods from the garage in the form of parts and services in the form of the labour. However, the services provided have failed to rectify the specific problem you solicited those services to cure. On that basis, and to be honest I'm not sure where you stand legally on this but it's how I'd play it, I'd dispute the overall bill.

In the first instance, I'd ask them to explain to me how they justify a £60 diagnosis bill. I'd suggest to them that performing such a diagnosis is an operation they perform for their own benefit to quickly locate the fault, not something which should make up the bigger part of their labour charges. Secondly I'd ask them how they concluded from that diagnosis that the cap, leads, rotor arm and plugs needed replacing. It won't tell them that. A computer diagnosis will only tell them about faults the ECU has stored in its memory and possibly help pinpoint any sensor faults, although really they're one and the same thing. The only diagnostic kit they could claim to have used to any effect to justify the work they did would be an inductive pick up to read off HT ignition pulses onto an oscilloscope, that may show them some scatter and unevenness pointing to tracking in one of the HT components before the plugs. It may also point to a weak or intermittent low tension signal.

In practice however, you simply wouldn't bother. You'd visually inspect the cap and rotor arm, maybe check the resistance of the leads with a simple multi-meter to see if they were breaking down electrically if they appeared physically sound and perhaps change the plugs as a matter of course if their age was unknown. If all looked well and no signs of tracking were evident with the engine running they should have looked to the low tension side. HT faults are very obvious and easy to find with no tools or equipment whatsoever; you hear, see and ,if you touch things, feel them.

The diagnostic kit would then have had some use on the low tension and engine management fault-finding. Although, as said, I still don't consider using it to be a chargeable operation. It's their job, as part of the standard labour rates, to find the fault using the tools at their disposal - I don't imagine there was a charge for use of screwdrivers or spanners on the bill, and it's the same thing.

Of course, 'computer diagnosis' isn't anything half as clever as it sounds. It's actually very basic. They don't plug in and get a full, detailed run down of all that's right, wrong, or slightly awry. Nothing of the sort. Basically, the ECU will log any failed sensors in its memory. The console simply displays them. But guess what, often so will the car. Either an LED on the main ECU or, through a sequence of ignition key turns, the engine management warning light in the dashboard can show the same faults by a series of blinks. The number of blinks between long pauses identifying certain components. For example, if the crankshaft position sensor has failed, it may be identified by 4 rapid blinks separated by a longer pause. That same information is about all they can interrogate the ECU for. They'll just get it translated in to a text identification by the console which saves them knowing or looking up the fault codes for each vehicle. Same often goes for ABS and airbag ECU's, they can be made to show a component fault either on the dash warning light by getting the car into diagnostic mode or on a connected console for easier interpretation. So, let's say, with an ABS fault, once in diagnostic mode, the ABS light may flash 3 times for an offside front wheel speed sensor failure or if a console is connected to the car it may display 'OSF WHL SPD SNS' or something. Simple, change the crankshaft position sensor in the engine example, change the OSF wheel speed sensor in the ABS example.

Right, I'll get to the point. If a sensor or component had completely failed, you'd almost certainly have an engine management warning light illuminated on the dash and the car would go into limp home mode, where it runs on fixed rather than variable parameters with an associated loss of power and economy. From your post, it seems you don't have such a fault, so something is failing gradually and not giving a signal to the ECU far enough outside its parameters to bring up a fault. Most sensors either give a signal the ECU can work with or not anyway, so you either have no problem or a warning light, even if it only shows intermittently as the sensor goes U/S as, in general driving mode, the dash warning light may only illuminate for faults as whilst they're actually being currently detected, whereas in diagnostic mode they will also show recorded faults. From your description, and since you make no mention of seeing any warning lights, I'd take a guess at it being the ignition amplifier. This is downstream of and may not, beyond a certain point within itself, return any fault info to the ECU, so if it goes on the blink in the area it's most likely to, the ECU won't show a fault as the ECU can't see what's going on in the amplified side of the amplifier... if you see what I mean. They tend to break down over time as they get hot and electronics don't like being heat cycled. Any weakness in them also often worsens when hot, so if the misfire is absent when the car is cold and worsens as it warms up, that'd make me more certain. They will fail completely in time, be warned.

Unfortunately, there's no simple way to test them. All they do is take the low power electronic ignition signals from the ECU and make them powerful enough to operate the low tension switching side of the distributor - that's what was once the points but in your Honda will be a hall effect, magnetic or optical sensor of some kind. When the amplifier breaks down it sends weak and/or erratic signals to the sensor in the distributor meaning that it won't trigger the high tension side properly. Result - misfire.

I'm not sure of the best approach to advise, amplifiers can be pricey so I wouldn't just throw one at a car of that age in blind hope. Maybe a Honda dealer would be prepared to try a new amplifier on the car to see if cures the fault, only charging for it if it turns out you do need it. Most main dealers have loads of bits and bobs lying around for test purposes and are pretty willing to help. They may also be able to test the existing amplifier for resistances etc. and establish if it is faulty, although it may show a clean bill of health when off the car and cold. Possibly, the best thing they could do is oscilloscope the low tension side and see if the waveform is all wobbly proving the amplifier to blame. Your independent garage are very unlikely to have done this.

As for that garage, I'd go back and tell them you're not happy. They've fixed nothing, charged you for a diagnosis which led to no cure and replaced parts which apparently didn't need replacing. Personally, I'd angle to recover the old parts, return the new and unneeded ones to them in order not to have to pay the £90 for them (which sounds an awful lot unless they fitted genuine Honda bits), have them knock off the £60 diagnosis charge and agree to pay only the £50 labour, making it very plain to them that I was doing so rather begrudgingly as it's essentially for time they spent doing nothing of any use whatsoever. I wouldn't expect them to warm to such a proposition, but then I'm prepared to play hard when dissatisfied. I may also mention something to do with the trading standards if they remained reluctant. A good operation should have done better and charged more fairly if they failed. A bad operation won't want anyone official involved and most likely cut their losses.

Crikey, sorry about the long post! :bored:

22nd Dec 2006, 13:00
An excellent and comprehensive post, SG.

But may I raise a point about "the diagnostic work shouldn't, in it's own right, be chargeable. It's merely a route for them to quickly and easily find the fault which they're being paid to correct".

They have incurred some expense on the diagnostic equipment which they will want to recoup (+ profit) by sharing it out among customers using the facility.

Also, by using said equipment, they will (in theory) cut the chargeable time normally spent in fault finding, thus saving the customer money.

22nd Dec 2006, 13:27
Not uncommon for main dealers to charge to diagnose, seems to be around £60. This is a complete scam as I've watched them do it and it takes a minute or two.

Ah, but as has had been said, they have to pay for the kit. Well so do all the other garages and I've never been charged to diagnose by the one down the road. Had a problem with the Hound Mobile earlier this week which the local garage couldn't fix, and they didn't charge me a penny to tell me this.

What is an even bigger scam is the fault code that the ECU had stored was not decypherable by the fancy kit the local garage had - in fact the code came up as 'Main Dealer'. The local garage couldn't even make a diagnosis, so I had to go to Ford. Ford could work it out immediately, and then quoted me almost twice what it would get it fixed elsewhere.

Somebody in Trading Standards or similar needs to look at that.

22nd Dec 2006, 13:52
£875 +VAT for a clutch yesterday on one of the minion's SAABs, don't talk to me about main agents. Don't get me on about F...ing minions who can burn out a clutch on a 3 year old car either. I got 160,000 miles out of my last SAAB and the clutch was still strong. :ugh:

22nd Dec 2006, 14:02
Thanks to all, particularly SG.

The irony here is that my toolkit got nicked a while back (don't ask...) and I could do the job myself... I have a sophisticated multi-meter (it even has a PC interface for logging) and a couple of oscilloscopes... I took the car to a garage because I felt it was an easy fault and I have a lot on my plate professionally and opted for an easy life.

I now know this outfit are proper crooks... I spoke to Trading Standards... When I mentioned the name of the garage, they read me the postcode... I said to the TS guy, "does this mean you've had complaints about them before?", he replied, "I can't tell you that, DPA (horrible piece of legislation - every crook must love it), but considering we have the postcode on file, you can draw your own conclusions, Sir...".

The staff at this garage look pretty rough to me and I suspect they could turn nasty at any moment. They also have my address... (paranoid, I know, but the car was vandalised on the drive recently and I guess it raises your paranoia level)

Even more stupidly, I paid them cash yesterday; if I'd paid via credit card, could I lobby the card firm and tell them the goods weren't correct and they shouldn't honour the transaction?

I'm going to ring them in a moment... Considering I'm an engineer by trade, I feel pretty stupid finding myself in this predicament...

Many, many thanks again to everyone :ok:

22nd Dec 2006, 14:02
Maybe some years back, when 'electronic engine tuning' was in its infancy and chaps were using oscilloscopes to locate faulty components and rectify problems in essentially non-electronic engines, I'd have agreed that that was the case to a point.

In those instances they were, perhaps, saving people money by quickly and accurately identifying problems, resulting in a cost benefit to the customer in terms of both avoiding the fitment of unnecessary parts and charges for increased labour periods. The kit was expensive to buy and to some small degree perhaps the time savings did make up for the rates they were charging. Although, that said, how much would it really have cost to bung a set of leads, condensor, points, plugs and maybe even a coil on a Cortina and time it up with a strobe light? Probably not more than the electronic magic man would have charged anyway, and you'd have all new parts to boot. Perhaps the only useful things they ever diagnosed more quickly than a manual approach would have were things like wonky timing issues due worn distributors or drives, or issues with vacum or mechanical ignition advance. Although again you'd be able to see if those were basically functioning with a strobe. Really, the electronic engine tuning business was something of a fad. There simply wasn't enough to need diagnosing. The only thing they actually did usefully was to set up the fuelling of a car using exhaust gas analysers.

Since cars have gone electronic, they've mostly been able to self-diagnose as I mentioned. The really expensive bit of kit in most garages is still the exhaust gas analyser as used for MOT emissions testing, but it won't really help you track down a fault such as WG's. Why would you want to analyse the exhaust to see if there's a fuelling fault when the car has been reported with poor running and economy and smells rich? You wouldn't, it'd be obvious and all you'd get is a load of high emissions numbers telling you what you already knew. You'd plug in your console, or put the car in diagnostic mode, read off the fault, which is what would point you to, say, the airflow meter, then go straight to checking out the airflow meter and replace if U/S.

As I said the bit of kit they use is generally a very simple hand held device, not that costly and has for some years been very common in most garages and most certainly present in all decent ones. All it does is repeat the ECU fault codes in text form.

If I took my car to a good garage and told them it was running poorly, I'd expect them to plug it in and, if that identified a fault, come and tell me, "You need a new valve/sensor/whatever. That'll be £90 for the part and an hours labour to fit it." I wouldn't expect them to say, "You need a new valve/sensor/whatever. That'll be £90 for the part, an hours labour to fit it... oh and it'll be £60 for telling you that."

If someone went in with a dodgy exhaust and the car was put up on a ramp so they could take a quick look at what needed doing and give an idea of cost before continuing, nobody would expect them to bung £60 onto the bill just for doing that, and it amounts to basically the same thing... only the ramp will have cost many many times more than the console.

It's simply the use of one of their tools to tell a customer what needs doing, just like use of an insepction lamp would be. I don't see it as a service in its own right and hence wouldn't expect to be billed a significant amount extra for it any more than I'd expect them to tell me I already owed them £60 just for putting my car on a ramp to tell me how many pieces of exhaust need replacing.

Basically, charging for it is a rip-off and a scam. It's money for nothing and the stuff of cowboys out to make an easy buck.

22nd Dec 2006, 14:11
The crooks have just told me they suspect it's a fault with a distributor part and they are trying to diagnose it... They've had the car since last night...

My own car is off the road, so this is going to be a real problem if I don't get the Honda back...

Has Britain always been this corrupt? Where did it all go wrong?


22nd Dec 2006, 14:20
WG774, I'd push them, although unfortunately, having already paid them, it is rather awkward. Perhaps ask them if they might source and fit an ignition amplifier for you FOC since their previous efforts have been less than satisfactory. Even if it doesn't cure it, it'd be one thing eliminated and may be easier to persuade them to do than returning cash to you. See what they say, if it's negative leave it quietly there for now and look at any options there may be for action to recover some of your costs for their inadequate services.

In the mean time, I'd look into the ignition amplifier angle if you need to get the car back in reliable use. It's a pretty big guess taken so remotely for sure, but the best I can make.

If you need any info re. diagnostic fault codes, component locations or whatnot, I have them here and will be happy to advise if it helps.

Edit to respond to your last post: The amplifier is in or on the distributor, so, with luck, they may be onto the right thing. Are further labour costs and parts on a no charge basis? I'd get that straight before they proceed.

22nd Dec 2006, 18:01
Hi SC,

The garage told me at 3pm that they believed I had a complex fault with the distributor and the car couldn’t be fixed today and would probably need a new distributor (not funny at £250-ish).

I asked about the amplifier and they said they’d tried a spare one to no avail.

I then asked them how it came to be that I could have been driving the car for around 2 weeks, with it starting first time, with only a misfire, for the car to pack up completely after their attention had been lavished on it… Without hesitation, the receptionist gave me about 10 minutes of spiel about how new ignition parts create a stronger spark, which in turn stresses weak parts; therefore, he explained, it was perfectly normal for another fault to develop after one fault is fixed… Hmmm…

I then read him the riot-act and said I wanted a full refund. Without hesitation he said I could have one and an hour later the car was towed back to my house…

Because it’s dark, I haven’t had a chance to see if all the parts have been returned and fitted… Call me paranoid, but I’m slightly worried that they could have left an early present or two for me…

Anyway, in desperation, I called the local spares shop (been going there years, they’ve always been helpful) and they recommended a local mobile tuner and claimed people had popped back to thank them for recommending him before.

This whole episode has cheesed me off so much I’ve been looking into a replacement car… It’s not a glamorous vehicle I know, a ’94 Civic, but we’ve had it since new, it’s NEVER let us down until these monkeys got onto it, and that Vtec engine goes like a Swiss watch… Considering it’s been such a good car, it seems a shame to be forced into trading it in somewhere just because I can’t find a decent mechanic… Book value for the car is only about a thousand quid, but until now, it’s been a lovely little runabout – and I have a mid-engined car in the garage for fun purposes (not that I get time to attend to the poor thing with my current work commitments…).

Anyway, I have the mobile chap coming over tomorrow morning at 8.30 – fingers crossed! I will print of SC’s suggestions for his perusal.

Thanks again to everyone here for taking the time to help :ok:

22nd Dec 2006, 22:16
Had a Vauxhall Omega V6, misfire, et al went to my local garage [who serviced my car, but hadn't yet seen the Omega], 5 mins late, after use of his diagnostic kit [he pays £150 per MONTH] for updates, I was charged £20 for parts and £10 labour. My Xantia [serviced by the Main Citroen Dealer] developed a misfire, popped round..."They've used the wrong plugs!" It seems that you can get away with single electrode plugs, but really need twin electrodes....total cost 4 plugs, fitted free :D
If you live around East Manch pm me for his name

Loose rivets
22nd Dec 2006, 23:08
Good luck, let us know how it goes.

The garage I mentioned above that cut the uni-boots, was run by the nicest guy you could imagine. His charming wife was part time in reception. He claimed that his man would be fired...but why would an employee want to break the law to drum up work?

On my Caddy, the five black-boxes report to a something that will, on demand by pressing a heater button and something else, show codes on the DIC (I know) There are five pages of tightly printed decodes that I downloaded off the Caddy Forum. One that stuck in my mind was a single resistor R # xxx that lives in the gearbox. I wondered if there was anything that it didn't cover. The lads on the forum would write huge screeds on the decodes, and it gave me a complete tutorial about the computer-suspension which is a pain it seems.

I think the issue of the cost of the diagnostic kit is valid, but it does seem such a step backwards sometimes. Here, $80 is standard diags, machine or not, but happily I've not had to succumb to this yet. Having said that, if I was not retired it would be a different issue.

Just what is it about ign leads?? An after market rip-off if ever I've seen one. I have NEVER changed any leads, which is good, cos the car that I have now has a bill for $hundreds for changing them. I wipe them with silicone from time to time...an that's it...for 50 years of owning 2 to 10 year old cars I might add.

I have just spent two days on my car's A/C. Steep learning curve for a Brit. Will start a shed-owner's thread if I have succeeded.

All the best for Christmas everyone.

brain fade
23rd Dec 2006, 12:58
WG774 (that's that Fairey Delta ain't it?)

They prolly don't know wots wrong with the sucker- thus the prompt refund.

Sounds more like incompetence than crookedness to me.

Least you got your dosh back.

look for a marque specialist in your area. NOT a main dealer. There's often knowledgable garages who specialise in looking after one make or another. Mainly for folk who have complex but low value autos.

Merry Christmas!:ok:

23rd Dec 2006, 14:08
The new mechanic has tried a new amplifier (£62) and there’s still no spark and the injector isn’t turning on either…

He fitted the old amp + coil to a spare distributor he had lying around and that hasn’t made any difference….

There are no unusual warning lights up on the dash…

Any ideas?

Thanks again.

23rd Dec 2006, 14:29
Are you getting coil switching? Your dizzy will either be hall effect or inductive pulse which is easy to test. I'm not to up on Hondas, but it sounds like your ECU does not know the engine is spinning. This is quite comon with ECUs that use inductive pulse sensors as when they get dirty they don't work.

There is an electrical testing article here that should help.


If I can help let me know, I did a 2 week course with the AA as part of my RAF Resettlement!

Top tip as always, keep it simple.

23rd Dec 2006, 15:05
I was about to suggest what FF just did.

If, as is likely, the crankshaft sensing is by a Hall effect sensor down low on the engine, the wiring is in the wet and mud etc that flies around as you drive. If there's a plug-connector down there, unplug it, check the connections, clean as necessary, and reconnect.

Is the coil firing at all? A simple tester should tell you whether or not the plugs are receiving a firing signal. If the spark plugs aren't sparking, go after that first.

If the plugs are sparking, are they doing so at the right time? That's a bit trickier, but if you haven't had the engine apart, that's not likely to be a problem.

Then, you go after fuelling - is any getting to the cylinders? If the engine doesn't start, you'll soon smell fuel coming out of the exhaust if there is any.

23rd Dec 2006, 15:38
You say it's a VTEC engine, WG, so it's a twin-cam, just to check though, is it a 1.6? In fact, what's the car badged as, or even better, what's the engine type code on the VIN plate in the engine bay?

Let me know enough to identify mor or less the right engine and I'll look though the diagnostics and see if anything jumps out.

Sorry about the bad pointer on the ign amp. They're a common problem on those engines. Not this time it seems though.

Loose rivets
23rd Dec 2006, 17:41
If you lose primary fuel pressure, does the ign. get turned off automatically as a safety feature?

23rd Dec 2006, 17:50
Wouldn't be anything as silly as a faulty fuel cutoff switch would it?

23rd Dec 2006, 18:59

New mechanic spent the day with it and replaced the ignition module. He tried using an external coil and proclaimed the issue had to be with the module inside distributor.

Having spent £65 on new module, engine not working…

He then told me it was the main relay as he could only hear one click when he turned on the ignition…

Being from an electronics background, I decided to remove the relay block and test it on the bench via a 12v supply. Click and second click, no problem. My multi-meter also suggested that he diode is ok.

Out of desperation, I called the breakdown service as we pay for Home Start… Their mechanic claimed it was the coil and could only be the coil as the initial problem was a misfire, where car wouldn’t go into high revs, and when it broke down, this was because the coil was totally gone, whereas the misfire indicated it was on the way out…

The question is, did the earlier mechanic try the substitute coil properly? Surely, the original garage, jokers as they may have been, would have tried a spare coil? It’s the most obvious one of all isn’t it?

I rang the mobile mechanic and told him the relay block tested ok… He then said I might have got it to work and I should try it on the car… No work… I guess he felt bad, as when I was out a few minutes ago, he dropped off a couple of manuals – albeit for a Honda Concerto (whatever that is).

Anyway, plan now is to tow it to main agent after the holiday. We certainly won’t be visiting friends this holiday season…

Thanks again to all for the advice.

SC - It's a 1590cc single OHC Vtec (Civic ESI) auto manufactured Dec '94.

brain fade
23rd Dec 2006, 19:10
Faulty crank sensor a possibility. Have a look for a loose wire, it'll be near the flywheel somewhere.

23rd Dec 2006, 19:21
I dunno much about car engines; I stick to simple Lycomings and Continentals but... the condensor comes to mind here.

23rd Dec 2006, 19:38
Won't have one, unless it's got aircon fitted ;)

23rd Dec 2006, 21:33
Hmmm, I can't seem to copy and paste from the program I have here. I'm not sure the text would be much use with out the associated illustrations anyway.

The thing that steers me away from the idea of it being a sensor such as the crankshaft position sensor is that the failure of such a thing wouldn't usually stop the car. It'd more likely just cause the engine to go into limp home mode. Aside from that, assuming I'm looking a the details for the correct engine, a D16Z, the crankshaft position, engine speed, and camshaft position sensor are all within the distributor.

What does sometimes happen with these sensors though is that the copper windings for the pick ups become loose and get snagged round the dizzy shaft leaving you with a real birds nest of fine copper wire inside there which fouls the whole operation up as, if the winding of one sensor fails, it gets thrown round the other two, leaving nothing left to tell the ECU where the engine is in its cycle, preventing even limp home mode functioning. It may be worth whipping the dizzy cap and rotor arm off and seeing if you can see through any openings in the cover/bearing plate into the bottom of the distributor to see if all is well. If you can't, unless you have a set of security Torx bits, you won't be able to go any further as the things are assembled with screws with these heads.

It's still the lack of an engine management warning light which puzzles me. I'm afraid to say, if the dizzy itself checks out, it may be the ECU itself. Although I have seen a Honda dizzy eat most of its innards without the illumination of the management light. Amazingly, in that case, the engine did still run, just, but the lack of light in that case gives some hope that you may not need an ECU yet.

Before assuming the worst though, try this....

Just in case the ECU has logged a fault but it's not showing on the dash light, try and find the data connector under the passenger side dash or in the kick panel. If it's a 2 pin type, with the ignition off, bridge the two pins with a piece of wire, switch the ignition on whilst watching the engine management light in the dash to see if it displays any codes.

DO NOT bridge any pins if the socket you find has 3 or 5 pins. If it does the light in the dash should flas the codes up whenever the ignition is turned on with no jumper wire in place.

If you get a series of flashes, post the result here and I'll look it up. Note: long flashes before short flashes indicate 'tens', the short flashes 'units'. So, 1 long flash, then 6 short indicates fault no. 16. A longer flash still sperates each fault code or the same code repeating itself.

If you find more that one empty connector in the dash area, don't go bridging any pins straight away, just in case the one you're looking at isn't the diag socket. It should have one brown and one green/white wire to it, but best to double check before shorting something out on the wrong socket.

23rd Dec 2006, 22:10
Tis indeed a thorny problem. Sounds like an ignition fault but then again fuel could also be your issue.

Hope you get it sorted, I can't really add to what the other people have said.

On the subject of rip off garages, I once had a mechanic at a garage tell me my car needed a new distributor cap, rotor arm, leads and plugs.

After I'd finished rolling around on the floor laughing I asked him exactly WHERE on my turbo diesel engine he was proposing to fit them! :ugh:

23rd Dec 2006, 23:43
re diagnostic charges, my experience is that Auto Zone will plug in an OBD reader if you have a cEL illuminated (the third letter of the alphabet doesnt' work in capitals on this keyboard :ugh:) which they'll do for free, a regular repair garage, or the stealership want a diagnosis fee, which they credit towards teh work if you decide to get it done.

I generally think htis is ok as you get the money 'credited' and who wants to just do something for free anyway? Although sisty or seventy bucks might be a little steep

can't type for toffee tonight :(

23rd Dec 2006, 23:49
Thanks to all – I can’t tell you how useful it is to get advice from skilled people without a business agenda.

My biggest worry is ECU failure… But, if the ECU were to have failed, would this have created the misfire, to be followed – coincidentally – by the breakdown after leaving the garage? If an ECU goes, doesn’t it go the whole hog rather than in stages?

I believe it is a D16Z btw – the spares shop said it was after I gave them the reg number (it’s an M btw – built Dec ’94)

The last time I got the Civic serviced was in August, by a reputable specialist, at a cost of £400. I took the car with this fault to a local garage because I was convinced it was a simple fault…the cap + rotor arm were worn… I’m now beating myself up for not waiting and taking it to the specialist… I should’ve kept it as it was - the misfire wasn’t a big deal pottering about town - and then taken it to specialist after the holiday period… Idiot of the week award…

Thanks again.

23rd Dec 2006, 23:59
Er - if the ignition timing comes from a Hall effect sensor on the crank, any failure of that wire will stop the engine completely. That's how the ECU knows that the crank is in a certain spot, and it's time for a spark. But what would I know? This is engineering, not theology.

Have you/your engineer wallahs tried to detect if there's a spark? A neon tester or a prehistoric timing strobe on one of the plugs would soon tell you that. It would be useful to know if the problem is ignition or fuelling, eh?

24th Dec 2006, 00:13
Cheers Keef,

The AA man + the other mechanic today both tested it (AA man used a gadget) and they both claimed that there was no spark at all. I was watching the AA man holding the HT lead when I turned the ignition and I must say it looked about as alive as England's Ashes hopes.

24th Dec 2006, 00:26
Keef, on this and a few others Hondas, despite its name the 'crankshaft position sensor' is in the distributor. There are 3 sensors in there all basically doing the same thing. One senses engine speed (albeit that the sensor actually takes its input at half engine speed from the camshaft). One senses camshaft position. The last is the 'crankshaft position sensor', which whilst it's nowhere near the crankshaft does the same job as obviously camshaft position is in direct relation to crankshaft position, unless the cambelt snaps, in which case you have a whole different set of problems.

If one sensor does fail, say, a block mounted crankshaft position sensor has a wire crack, as in the scenario you mention, there's a good chance that another, in this case most likely the camshaft position sensor, can be used to give the ECU enough info to keep the car running on approximate, 'get you home' ignition timing.

24th Dec 2006, 00:37
Ah well, if Mr Honda puts his crank sensor elsewhere, simple folk like me get all confused. Not to worry. I drive a diesel anyway, and have no trouble at all with oily plugs, or cracked distributor cap, or dodgy ignition leads. The fuel consumption's pretty impressive, too.

24th Dec 2006, 00:51
Mr Honda likes to confuse. He managed to find a way of using 24 cam lobes to operate 16 valves in one of his engines.
Clever stuff... until it goes wrong. :uhoh:

Dan Winterland
24th Dec 2006, 03:44
From my experience, it's very hard to get justice in these events. However, you can get some satisfaction by getting even. A small garage like this will have a lot of business by word of mouth. If you 'mention' to all you meet that you were ripped off, you will have an effect. Don't publicise it or go out of your way to bad mouth them as you may be laible for slander or lible action as it would be very hard for you to prove otherwise.

I live in a Far East country where as a white person, it's very easy to get ripped off by the locals who may assume you're a tourist and won't be back to complain. However, I live in a community with a lot of other expats and we have a very good community website which has a forum regarding where to go for a good deal, and more pertiantly where not to go. I'ts so effective that traders bend over backwards to help when you mention where you live.

And in another time, I was a pilot on an RAF airbase which had a small independant garage next to it. Nearly all of his business came from the airbase - so he was particularly stupid when he started following less that honest working practices. He was out of business in a year.

Word of mouth is a powerful thing. Don't get mad, get even!

24th Dec 2006, 07:55
My biggest worry is ECU failure… But, if the ECU were to have failed, would this have created the misfire, to be followed – coincidentally – by the breakdown after leaving the garage? If an ECU goes, doesn’t it go the whole hog rather than in stages?

ECU failures are very rare in reality, but everone likes to blame the ECU coz it sounds cool or something.

The fact you are getting no spark and no injector firing seriously suggest a problem with the sensor in the dizzy. It is an easy test and I am suprised the AA man has not tested it properly. People tend to over complicate things these days.

The simple way of testing you dizzy cap, leads are all in order is as follows:

- Ignition on and check you have 12v (well battery voltage) at the + side of coil.

-Check negative side of the coil, should have zero volts.

- Remove the king plug lead and conect it to a spark plug. Hold the plug against the block with some rubber handled pliers.

- Now use a bit of wire to earth the negative side of the coil, simulating what the igntion module does.

Do you get a spark? If you do you coil etc is fine and as you have a new cap, leads etc the problem is with the signal to the ignition module.

You only need 4 things to get igntion, no matter what the engine/car/make/year:


I believe you are missing the signal. Do the test above and report back, it is easy to test the sensors in the dizzy.

Loose rivets
24th Dec 2006, 08:12
EDIT ha! the last post has arrived while I've been in the garden kicking the telephone box in a rain storm. Faut-finding at its best:}

This is really turning into an epic. Just what you need at Christmas.

Just a few points (more later if you really get stuck)-- without knowing the details of the ignition pulse generation on this particular car.

My years of electronic fault-finding taught me to take Occam's razor to problems like this. You have to stop people throwing expensive parts at the problem, unless they are ‘loaners' and they'll take them back of course.

Now here's a thing in fault-finding. When you put a loan/new part on, don't assume that they work for sure. They should, but when you're in this deep, keep an open mind. This gives the problem another dimension doesn't it? But don't worry...you will win.

Getting rid of variables.

I know we are talking about IGN failure here, but the other thing to stress strongly is the ‘system' logic reasons TO BE SWITCHED OFF. I mentioned the fuel earlier, this is not as daft as it sounds. On early Volvo injection it was called the Beta signal I think. If the fuel pressure was not ‘good', this signal disappeared and other things were turned off. Notably the engine!

Is there a command shutting down an otherwise good ignition circuit?

I see a coil mentioned earlier. Sounds a bit basic but if there is a standard coil, and if you can test the relays on the bench, you can certainly test a coil. Looking at the voltage on the primary can be done with a 12v bulb. Turning the engine slowly should show the input pulses.

Nothing going in? Well, let's forget that for just a moment and test the coil while we're at it. Remember your electronics. Faults spread like a plague, one thing may have nakkered another, so lets be totally sure that we have coil, wires, plugs, that are all okay.

Hopefully you can force-feed this in situ, but REMOVE TOTALLY the normal low voltage connection to protect the car's wiring. Much better done with the battery + terminal off ...just to be sure.

Swiping the primary with 12v will give some vicious back EMF don't forget!!! A bit of wire with one of your plugs will be all you need to see the result. If it goes, test the other plugs while you're at it.

Back to the ‘No volts going into the coil' scenario. Check back along this line to the origin. Remember, this was an intermittent fault, and just moving things may have made it worse. Classic plugs/harness type fault. This line must be capable of carrying significant (square-wave) current. Again, a good test is a 5 to 10 watt bulb. On off on off at one end and not the other...QED.

This will be enough for the first step, and indeed I would have to be briefed by someone with SL's knowledge of the system before I could apply my type of expertise to the detail.

High Wing Drifter
24th Dec 2006, 09:50
Sounds like the Coil or the Ignition Module. If the problem is intermitment with strange revcounter indications, then my experience is the Ignition Module. I can't speak for Hondas, but my experience is that diagnosis usually means just replacing these cheap parts which is a very simple job access permitting.

Ignition Module: http://images.google.co.uk/images?q=tbn:Y-c2bsXkHG6PIM:http://www.qcautoparts.com/images/IM-HD-01.jpg

Coil: http://images.google.co.uk/imgres?imgurl=http://www.qcautoparts.com/images/MCLHD02b.jpg&imgrefurl=http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/NEW-Honda-Accord-Civic-Acura-Integra-Ignition-Coil_W0QQitemZ250018037015QQcmdZViewItem&h=200&w=300&sz=38&hl=en&start=11&tbnid=rELkVhF3zw2VTM:&tbnh=77&tbnw=116&prev=/images%3Fq%3DCivic%2BCoil%2BIgnition%26svnum%3D10%26hl%3Den% 26lr%3D%26safe%3Doff%26sa%3DG

brain fade
24th Dec 2006, 10:33
It's prolly out of petrol.:}

Happy Christmas!

24th Dec 2006, 14:33
Thanks again to everyone.

This is a lot to take in, so I'm going to digest it over the next day or two.

The mechanic yesterday rigged up an outboard coil and we still didn't get a spark, which is why he pointed the finger at the relay... From what I can gather, Honda Vtecs are fussy about the grade of ignition components used, but even if it were the wrong grade, you would've seen some kind of spark...

I don't have any faith in the AA man blaming the coil... It seemed to me that he just wanted to get home... I've met some good AA men before and this didn't seem like one of them.

:ugh: :ugh: :ugh: :ugh:

24th Dec 2006, 15:16
Thanks again to everyone.

This is a lot to take in, so I'm going to digest it over the next day or two.

The mechanic yesterday rigged up an outboard coil and we still didn't get a spark, which is why he pointed the finger at the relay... From what I can gather, Honda Vtecs are fussy about the grade of ignition components used, but even if it were the wrong grade, you would've seen some kind of spark...

I don't have any faith in the AA man blaming the coil... It seemed to me that he just wanted to get home... I've met some good AA men before and this didn't seem like one of them.

:ugh: :ugh: :ugh: :ugh:

If the main relay works you will get power to the coil and injectors. This is easy to test. Coil will be 12v, injectors 5v.

2nd Jan 2007, 19:26

An update, including a basic précis of the original situation:

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed the engine was down on power and sluggish off the slip-road onto M-way.

My first thought was that the exhaust had gone as engine doesn’t sound right, and with Honda engines being relatively complex, I suspect power shortage could be caused by exhaust issue. I take car to exhaust specialist, and low-and-behold, he’s honest and returns car with no charge, stating pipe is fine.

A couple of days before Christmas eve (how stupid am I?), I take the car to a local garage as I’m convinced it’s a simple fault, i.e. new dizzy cap / coil kind of problem (second bad move…).

Local garage charges £200 for new HT leads + cap + rotor arm. I notice engine problem still there (down on power, doesn’t sound great) and car fails half mile from garage… I raise Cain and get refund, with car towed back home.

I get recommendation for local ‘tuner’ who comes and works on car on drive (another very bad move – desperation sets in). Tuner claims main ignition relay is faulty and vehemently defends his decision to replace ignition module (he fits patent part @£62… I’ve never had a lot of joy on ‘Intermotor’ parts to be honest…).

Car isn’t fixed as ‘tuner’ says I need new relay… I test relay and find it’s ok… (what kind of muppet can’t test a relay? It’s middle-school physics, isn’t it?)

On the 27th, I return to ‘tuner’ to get original ignition module and tell him car has been towed to garage… He tells me I’m an idiot and it’s the relay… (why didn’t he give me old module in bag before?...)

Out of more desperation, I call AA man.

AA man claims it’s the coil…

AA man tows car to main Honda dealer.

Today, I get car back from dealer with new COIL!

However… Car starts fine, but is back to original problem – it couldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding…

Engine feels well out of tune and makes a tank-like billowing noise under load. Revs don’t pick up when accelerator depressed in neutral; it takes a split second to kick in, and revs at high RPM are rough – a bit like a carburettor car with jet blockages…
A couple of weeks ago, the car’s bonnet was vandalised. I assume kids have jumped on it… I’m now getting paranoid car’s been sabotaged and fuel has been polluted… How can you check the fuel condition?

BTW – main agent couldn’t figure out why the fuse for the fuel pump had been removed… Today, I get a call from Trading Standards telling me they’ve had numerous complaints about original local garage and they’re paying them a visit… They wanted to know if I wished to be named or not; for sake of easy life, I said not…

Why would you remove fuel pump fuse and not replace it?

Anyway, the car is jiggered and I’m so gutted I’m now looking at trading it in – the new garage can fix it…


Thanks for any advice.

Lon More
2nd Jan 2007, 21:00
Renault suddenly developed a misfire this afternoon, service warning light flickered on. Sounds like it's dropped onto four cylinders when under load. I suspect at least one one of the six coils has jacked it in. Under the bonnet is not a user friendly area so have to wait until next Monday before dealer can have a look.
Chevy is waiting for a new gear box and the Peugeot is leaking oil from one of the drive shafts. Not a good beginning

2nd Jan 2007, 21:12
Just a random thought, and probably way off, but I'm wondering if the timing gear has jumped a cog tooth?

2nd Jan 2007, 21:16
Don't know a lot about car engines but re the fuel fuse.

My mate's Fiesta wasn't started and he'd flooded the engine and flattened the battery by keep trying. After the charging the battery again we tried starting it up without the fuel flow fuse in (stopping the engine flooding) and it worked. Once the car started just pushed the fuse back in and voila.

Doesn't sound overly similar but theres a reason for taking a fuse out. Maybe they just forgot-on-purpose to put it back?

3rd Jan 2007, 13:24
Useful point, Joe - thanks.


Hmmm... You could also have a point... Considering the cambelt was changed in August....

So far, the cost has amounted to £240 and I'm back at square one, before I took car to a 'mechanic'...

Red mist descends...


Thanks again to all that have helped here - you've been great :ok:

3rd Jan 2007, 13:51
I'd be surprised if there's a pattern ignition amplifier, especially made by Intermotor, available. Are you sure it's actually the amplifier (located on or inside the distributor as is the coil which could lead to confusion since both are rectangular, black plastic and not hugely different in size) he replaced and not something else?

Did you try finding the diagnostic plug under the dash? That'd be the very first place I'd look to and yet it seems no one has yet done so to establish if the ECU has actually recorded a fault. If they had, surely you'd have been told for certain one way or the other by now, yet it seems that's not the case.

At this point, I have to say, if Honda have been unable to correctly diagnose (and you might assume they'd have a better chance than any of doing so correctly) and fix the car with it in their presence, the chances of shedding anymore light by remote guesswork here would seem pretty slim.

3rd Jan 2007, 14:08
If it isn't a SOHC engine then it could be the knock sensor. Did you checked the ECU own fault indicator (red LED) yourself? Disconnect the negative battery cable for at least 30 secs, this will erase old memory fault codes and enable you to establish new faults.

Was the compression checked?

3rd Jan 2007, 14:20
I've had some very good tech car advice here: http://www.honestjohn.co.uk/index.php?url=/forum/threads.htm?f=4 - seek out Aprilia amongst others.

Out Of Trim
3rd Jan 2007, 21:11
WG774 - I have to say, I would lean towards a Fuel Pressure problem..

When did you last change the fuel filters?

I don't know Hondas but, I have experienced a similar loss of performance before, caused by clogged filters on previous cars.

It could well be fuel starvation causing the misfire either just at one injector or indeed by the in-line fuel filters restricting the amount of fuel getting to the metering head.


The fuel pump; if electric may be on its way out. I believe, that could be tested by the current it's drawing. Is the fuel pump noisier than normal?

The fuel injectors can be cleaned and tested for fuel spray pattern also.

I hope you manage to get the problem fixed soon.

All the best OOT.

3rd Jan 2007, 22:39
<Flameproof Jacket On>

Just a few notes from the other side of the fence.

I have run an up-market independent garage for 5 years, with a big focus on honesty & integrity, after getting out of a city-based job. We have many happy customers.

Sadly, a massive majority of independents out there are staffed and managed by under-trained mechanics who set up on their own, don't understand the differences between older and more modern engines, can't diagnose faults because they have no modern diagnostic kit and can't manage their business properly so get desperate when money is short, leading to the slashed UJ boots problem. Their concepts of customer service are often a long way from where you might want them to be.

However, in their defence on diagnosis: proper kit costs between 5 and 10k and is very expensive to maintain (updates etc.), you need 2 sets because no one kit does european and japanese cars well. This has to be paid for, hence we (like many) charge a minimum 1 hour, but we don't charge labour for replacing the parts if the total time spent was less than an hour. If we can't diagnose anything and have to send someone to the dealer, we don't charge.

If a mechanic hasn't got proper kit, they should be up-front about diagnostic work and recommend you to go somewhere that has it. We get many people sent to us from other garages, so they can do this.

The kit is often misleading and will tell you something is broken when that's not the problem (e.g. oxygen sensor faulty can be a fuelling problem). Some of these are easy to check, but many aren't.

Diagnostic kit also cannot tell you about a mechanical (as opposed to an electronic) fault, it will just tell you what appears to be faulty downstream from the fault. E.g. a leaking vaccuum pipe might cause a turbo sensor to signal a fault with the air-flow meter, but it won't say a pipe is split and only opens under high pressure. If the fault is intermittent and just logged in the system, how is anyone to know - often the errors are *very* specific: change this part! You do it and the fault's still there. Ditto a faulty cable may generate a coil fault code, but may also weaken the coil so it fails later. It is not unusual to replace a part, reset the ECU codes and immediately have the car come up with a new fault requiring a new part. Then it does it again. Call the manufacturer? They just tell you to replace the bit. Was the original one faulty? well if you put it back the original code comes back and we don't have a test rig to bench test 50,000 parts from 40 manufacturers.

Compound this with the fact that after diagnosis is needed many parts are dealer-only (typically electronic bits) and come with specific sales terms which say you can't return it if fitted for diagnosis (or in some cases can't return it at all). So the garage should tell you they are working on basis of the car's diagnostic reports and replacing the part can't be guaranteed to fix the problem. Funnily enough we have found from customers who get upset about this and then go to dealers that the dealers often do exactly the same thing but with double the labour rate and half the consideration. It's a sod but at the end of the day it's the customer's car, they can choose what to do but no garage can guarantee to steer you clear of big bills.

There is an argument for customers being persuaded (note: not forced or misled) to adopt belt and braces: replace a number of related items if there is uncertainty - leads to higher cost but fewer repeat-breakdowns and visits. E.g. for Toyota lambda sensor failure in previas Toyota replace 4x sensors at £125+VAT each AND the cat, total bill 1k for something that can be done for under £200, but 50/50 another one goes soon after. Dealers nearly always adopt this approach because it improves their quality-control statistics - return visits have to be reported to the manufacturer. Independents tend to be more price-oriented and get more returns.

After several replacements, we tend to go into a 'parts-only' mode where we discuss what the options are with the customer and replace bits with no labour charge so long as it's straightforward - this is to try to keep the peace. I have never found a dealer prepared to do this.

I can't speak for the garages you have been to and fully accept that many may be (and many others really are) crooks. However with the best will in the world, I can tell you that a small minority of faults *really* need you to have a wall of spares and you try bits then put them back. Sadly that option doesn't exist, and the customer ends up believing their mechanic is a crook when the mechanic may have no other options.

The only real crime some commit in these cases is poor customer communication. Many don't have higher education or even motoring qualifications, they just have substantial experience of cars. That doesn't mean they can handle difficult customer situations well, keep the customer in the loop etc. However Darwinian survival theory explains why they are often good at persuading you that they know what they are doing and taking the money.

But equally some customers expect the garage to have a crystal ball and cannot accept that they may not be able to tell them exactly what the fault is, how long it will take to get the bits and when the car will be ready, and give them a guarantee that this time the fault will be gone. Some get exceptionally upset about this, we tell them to go to the dealer. A large number come back because the dealer can't do much better and charges double. A few save money because the dealer kit has some wizzy feature that tells them the fault, or a guy who has stared at this model for 15 years happens to have seen it before.

Who hasn't seen aircraft in the same situation and some hefty bills arising as the engineers try to figure out what's wrong? Cars can be just as complex as some aircraft systems, particularly the prestige brands. The fact that a well qualified owner after considerable research and effort on only one fault might finally nail it doesn't mean that the mechanic also doing 12 other jobs and unable to charge for 10 hours labour researching all the possibilities isn't doing his best in the circumstances.

Final comment: bear in mind that only a small minority (5%? less?) of mechanics in independents are actually what you would consider highly competent to undertake diagnosis. As an owner of an independent repairer, there are very, very, few garages which I would be happy to give my car to. The large number of horror stories you hear are not without foundation. Be careful out there, and get very detailed about what independents do with your car.

<flameproof jacket staying on...>


3rd Jan 2007, 23:16
Blade washout posted his comments while I was busy typing mine, but I think we're on common ground!

As proprietor of an independent Mercedes garage I feel that I should add my hapenny's worth.
SG is obviously a learned gentlemen when it comes to automotive design, but I would question his practical experience in these matters.
There's nothing worse than a customer who thinks he knows a bit about cars and starts trying to do your job for you.
Vehicle diagnostics, especially modern vehicles, is made more complicated by the fact that manufacturer's will often use different methods of controlling what might appear to somone like SG as common components, and further restrict diagnosis by the use of unique interrogation methods.
Some, but not all cars have the ability to be interrogated by the driver without the need for special tools, but the notion that any kit that is required is a small hand-held device that is cheap to buy is one born out of mis-guided ignorance.
My diagnostic kit costs £22,000. Yes you read it right, £22,000! And of course it needs regular costly updates...
Now you tell me why I shouldn't feel justified in charging a customer £60 (actually £55 in my case) in trying to recover that investment. It is after all, your car that has the fault, not mine, and you are after all EMPLOYING ME to investigate to the best of my ability. Why do you think that this should be a free service? If you go to your GP and he refers you to a specialist, do you think you are entitled to a tax rebate because he hasn't diagnosed you? He has after all still been paid for his time!
If you call a plumber to your house and he duly arrives, carries out an examination, fails to find the fault but still charges you his call out fee, is that unreasonable? Time is money in his case, and he's spent his time coming to assist you in your dilemma. He doesn't have to invest thousands of pounds in diagnostic equipment, doesn't have expensive premises to run, probably doesn't have any staff costs, doesn't pay any business rates, doesn't have to pay huge insurance premiums etc, but you'll still pay him.
I consider myself and my staff to be experts in our field. This does not make us magicians. We will try our best to rectify any fault on a vehicle presented to us to the best of our ability, and in most cases we'll succeed. In all cases we will expect the vehicle's owner/keeper to pay us for our endeavours.
Having said all that we are not the kind of garage that will employ "diagnosis by substition" as a first resort, as most garages, including main dealers do.
If it does become necessary to employ this method, often because the part involved may cost less than the labour charges involved in testing it, it should be made clear to the customer what is being done and why, and what the cost will be. If this is made clear in advance, then the customer has the choice; take the car somewhere else, pay up, or forget all about it!

4th Jan 2007, 00:45
If you go to your GP and he refers you to a specialist, do you think you are entitled to a tax rebate because he hasn't diagnosed you? He has after all still been paid for his timeNot a valid analogy, he has had to decide which specialist to send you to. That in itself is a diagnosis.

That is hardly the same level of expertese as an independent being forced to send you to a main dealer because the fault code tells him to.

If a patient came in with a socket in his arm that helped the GP work out what the problem was then the GP would get paid bugger all. The problem is, patients don't come in that way. Modern cars do.

4th Jan 2007, 07:27
If you call a plumber to your house and he duly arrives, carries out an examination, fails to find the fault but still charges you his call out fee, is that unreasonable?
Im my opinion, yes, it's very unreasonable.
What is there to stop me putting a listing in my local paper, advertising myself as an emergency plumber, then when I get a callout, go to the house in question, pretend to try and diagnose the fault (even though I don't have a clue what I'm doing), say I can't fix it, and charge the householder a £50 callout fee for doing **** all.
Doctors are a totally different matter, mainly because they have to be trained, qualified and regulated, which isn't the case for someone who wants to call themself a mechanic or plumber.

4th Jan 2007, 08:25
If a patient came in with a socket in his arm that helped the GP work out what the problem was then the GP would get paid bugger all. The problem is, patients don't come in that way. Modern cars do.

... and that's where the difference in opinion exists. Just because the car says 'Part X is faulty' doesn't mean the mechanic hasn't got to use his knowledge and expertise to decide whether that really is the problem. If he changes that bit, the fault might not go away. The above naively assumes that cars self-diagnose and all the mechanic has to do is blindly replace stuff - it simply doesn't work that way and you can only make the above statement through a lack of practical experience working with cars and diagnostic kit!

In our case, we often still go to the customer's workplace, pick up his car, put it in the holding pen, put workshop covers on it, test drive to generate the fault code if necessary, put it on the ramp or bay, check which diagnostics apply, fit the kit, spend time reading the codes (which, if you think it's just 5 minutes simply demonstrates a lack of understanding of how the kit works), report back and get the admin to sort out the report + talk to the customer, return the car to the pen and re-deliver to the customer. That all costs us money and experience is a valuable commodity.

But diagnostics in 50%+ of cases requires a mechanic leaning into the bay for an hour with other tools trying to establish what is working and what is not working because a fault code hasn't presented itself or hasn't generated a code which will fix the car.

Just because the mechanic can't diagnose the fault doesn't mean his company hasn't incurred time and cost and undertaken reasonable steps eliminating some possible causes. He should be able to tell you some things he has ruled out and that's worth something.

We don't charge if we can't provide useful information about a fault (either significantly what it is or isn't), but that's more because some customers rant and rave at our staff and it's more about keeping staff stress levels down and retaining a long-term relationship than actually believing that we *shouldn't* charge.

If you ask a company to put aside its other work so they can work on your car (or provide any service for you) you can expect to be told in advance if there will be some sort of charge irrespective of outcome, and pay when they have finished. If you don't know anything about them, you may need to research their background - they are not like plumbers in yellow pages, they have fixed outlets and have generally been around a while. If you don't get agreement on what the diagnostics will cost or use someone without checking, you risk disappointment.

<flameproof jacket still on.... >


4th Jan 2007, 09:19
One of the problems is that anyone can set up a car repair business. You don’t need to have had served an apprenticeship, attended college or any Manufacturers courses. And lets face it many garages have fancy equipment but just don’t know how to use it properly, a car mechanic now needs to understand electronics as well as being good with a spanner.

My experience with engine management faults is if the diagnostic equipment says ‘x’ is wrong, then that is the part that will be changed without any further thought. If the diagnostic equipment gives no fault, then we are in trouble.

4th Jan 2007, 09:33
The above naively assumes that cars self-diagnose and all the mechanic has to do is blindly replace stuff - it simply doesn't work that way and you can only make the above statement through a lack of practical experience working with cars and diagnostic kit!Not at all, and if you read what I typed you would realise that. Note my use of the word 'helped'...(which, if you think it's just 5 minutes simply demonstrates a lack of understanding of how the kit works), report back and get the admin to sort out the report + talk to the customer, return the car to the pen and re-deliver to the customer. I assume this is in reply to something I posted earlier.

The problem with what you have just said is that you are now telling me what I saw with my own eyes didn't happen. The longest part of the diagnostic process was the walk to the crippled car. The hand held (not £21,000) diagnostic computer gave an instant and correct diagnosis. Actually that is not correct, my car gave the diagnosis - it wasn't the mechanic. Anyway, I saw it with my own eyes, so kindly don't tell me it didn't happen.

Anyway. I was responding to somebody who hasn't got a clue how GP's work. Why does everybody think they are comparible to doctors?
My main complaint is a car telling an independant (with all the kit) to send customer to 'main dealer'. That is an anti-competitive practice, IMO.

4th Jan 2007, 10:07
This is a rather different discussion.

As you both rightly say, stickandrudderman and bladewashout, if things get involved, then yes, you obviously are going to have to charge customers for extended periods spent trying to find gremlins hidden behind other gremlins.

What I don't agree with is for a customer to drive into a garage, be it a main dealer or an independent, with, let's say, an ABS warning light showing, that garage to plug in a diagnostic console which cost only a couple of thousand pounds so hardly represents a major investment in the grand scheme of things, which points them to a faulty wheel-speed sensor and then charging that customer the cost of the part, say £125, an hours labour to fit it, if it takes that long, say £60, plus another £60 for the few minutes spent selecting the correct loom adaptor for the console, selecting the correct vehicle and plugging it into the diag' socket.

In my opinion, in such simple circumstances, charging that additional £60 simply isn't on, and I for one wouldn't spend my money with a garage who adopts such practices. The tool used is just another tool like the spanner used to undo the sensors retaining bolt, like the ramp the car was on whilst the sensor was being changed and the torque wrench (hopefully) used to re-torque the wheel bolts when done, none of which I expect to be charged an additional amount for the use of any more than diagnostic kit.

Overall, the use of such a tool saves the mechanic time spent fiddling around establishing which sensor's faulty. Yes, you could argue that in turn saves additional labour costs being passed on to the customer, but where do you draw the line. Charging £60 for a couple of minutes spent using a tool which is pretty standard and likely to be employed as a matter of course is way beyond the line.

Don't get me wrong, if my Mercedes develops some hard to trace fault buried deep in its complex electronis and it gets involved, sure; the most likely candidates to find and fix it are going to be a garage such as yours, stickandrudderman. You're going to need all your vastly more expensive full kit and all your mechanics experience to find it. Consequently, you're going to have to charge for that and I'd accept it as such.
If however, as in my example above, I ran my car in to you, a wheel speed sensor wire had cracked internally, the fault was easily found on a £2k console, I'd be questioning a £55 charge for diagnosis with you. An hour (to more than amply cover the few minutes to diagnose and the generous remainder to fit) and the cost of the part is plenty.

In the scenario WG first described, that I was responding to, it seems unlikely the garage even had any diagnostic kit worthy of the name let alone which warranted a fairly substantial extra charge for its use.
I mean, throwing HT leads and a distributor cap at vehicle afflicted with a high-speed misfire? I'd love to see what that used and how they interpreted the information from whatever that was led them to assuming that was to best route to a solution. I think the only piece of diagnostic kit used and most at fault there was the mechanic himself.

Ultimately, to a point and in the case of reputable business, I agree with you both, bladewashout and stickandrudderman, there most certainly are instances where you're going to have to charge for diagnostics services, and fairly so. Equally, there are also a good number, if not a majority, of garages out there who charge for them across the board, when they don't represent a service in their own right, and thus unfairly. Perhaps i should have made it clearer that I wasn't tarring all with the same brush. However, trying to help WG find a solution so he could get on about his Christmas with some added mobility was more my intent than a long discussion into the rights and wrongs of diag' charges. Hope that makes it clearer.

I would, however, contest the statement which said "the notion that any kit that is required is a small hand-held device that is cheap to buy is one born out of mis-guided ignorance". It seems to imply that such items either don't exist or are of no use if they do. Yet such bits of kit are widely available and regularly used to good effect to identify faulty components. I didn't suggest they'd find every fault on every vehicle in every circumstance as well as a full, much more expensive, perhaps manufacturer specific setup might. Sometimes they will, sometimes they wont whilst the more comprehensive equipment may. As said, sometimes nothing, £2000 or even £22000, will. Where's the miss-guided ignorance?

PS. Stickandrudderman, my particular experience with Honda engines is based on some time spent with the first B16A 'power' VTEC engines fiddling around with PC based electronic tuning for a race application. It was a wonderful engine in its time at the start of the 90s. Way way ahead of anything else then and still one of the few, maybe even the only other than later Honda derivatives, engines to use truly variable valve timing and lift in the form of differing high and low speed cam profiles as opposed to the quasi-VVT employed by most others. A great bit of hardware/sofware based kit allowed you to do all sorts of crazy things with the cam crossover points, ignition timing, fuel mapping and just about anything else you care to mention controlled by the ECU with just a few key strokes on your laptop. A good way to waste lots of dyno and rolling road time. WG's is an 'economy' VTEC so rather different, but they work around a similar setup so I thought I'd share my knowledge of what tends to go wrong in the hope it might assist. And trust me, when you run things up to far enough in excess of 9000rpm that you're half-grining-half-grimmacing you start to create all sorts of new faults and failures and gain a good deal of that sort of knowledge quite quickly. Strangely, we got around the problems in the end by cannibalising distributor parts from Rovers (from Honda engined cars but with a dizzy unique to the Rover application, if you follow) which was different externally but shared some similar and surprisingly more tolerant parts internally.

4th Jan 2007, 12:46
Firstly, I’d like to convey gratitude again to all who’ve contributed here; you’ve all been a great help – thanks.

Update: I got a chance to take the car onto the dual-carriageway last night… Bad move… It’s virtually impossible to get the car above 60mph on level road and above 50mph on a slight incline… I overtook a car in the left lane, but as the road gradient went up slightly, he overtook me on the inside as the Civic illustrated a complete lack of torque – quite dangerous really as this happened quickly.

As I noticed the speed drop rapidly, I panicked slightly and floored the accelerator…bad move… As the auto box dropped down a gear, the revs went up to around 6K and I heard a loud metallic ‘buzzing’ come from the engine; I don’t believe this sound is a million miles away from what you’d hear if valves were clashing due to the cam being out of sync with the crank, and considering the cam-belt was done 1,200 miles ago, I’m inclined to wonder if the previous suggestion of the cam-belt having jumped is on the money…

I’ve been using the garage who did the cam-belt for years and they’re a ‘Honda Specialist’, but the owner recently handed over the company to a young guy and I was surprised to see him do the cam-belt + service in half a day and charge me £400… I wonder if he rushed the job and didn’t set the idler tension?

If the cam-belt were out of sync, wouldn’t the engine be lumpy at idle?

I can’t think of anything else that would cause a metallic buzzing at high revs…and the engine’s probably damaged now…

I’m going to book car in with main dealer to check cam-belt. If idler tension is badly adjusted, I’ll get 2 mechanics to witness it and pursue the ‘Honda specialist’ via Small Claims Court.

I’m back to where the car was before anyone looked at it 2 weeks ago – I fail to see where all the electrical problems came from… The car was as it is now when I took it to original garage, thinking plugs or dizzy cap were at fault…

The sad thing is, we’ve owned car from new for 12 years and I think we’re now 99.99% sure that any fault here is down to shoddy servicing, be it cam-belt or ignition electrics…. I can’t believe it took 4 mechanics to look at it before the coil was replaced…

Thanks again.

4th Jan 2007, 14:58
If the cam-belt were out of sync, wouldn’t the engine be lumpy at idle?Yes, and the exhaust would make sounds like someone is shooting at you. If the valves are bent, you wouldn't be able to start the vehicle. Measuring the compression would tell a lot.

4th Jan 2007, 18:13
Yes, and the exhaust would make sounds like someone is shooting at you. If the valves are bent, you wouldn't be able to start the vehicle. Measuring the compression would tell a lot.
Especially on an engine with variable valve timing!
It is entirely possible for the engine to be apparently fine at idle even if the valve timing is set incorrectly.
It is equally possible for the valves and the pistons to form an unhappy union with increased RPM under such circumstances.

SG: I suspect that my phraseology could have been better in my post. As I said, you obviously know a thing or two about electronic engine management, probably more than me in fact, but 25 years repairing Mercedes does teach one not to expect the obvious!
In fact, after 15 years in the trade, I myself took up motorsport, thinking I knew a lot about cars, but then I found out I had a lot more to learn!

WG: I suspect that your best course of action now would be to inform the garage(S) that have worked on the car so far, in writing, that you're not happy with the work and that you will be seeking an assessment from either a Honda main agent or a reputable Honda specialist. Leave the car with them and have them make a concrete and definitive diagnosis, again in writing. If it can be shown that the repairs have been incorrectly carried out you should have no hesitation in persuing then through the small claims court, which you can do very easily on line.
On the other hand, you could take the view that you've had 12 years use out of the car, is it time to let it go?

Lastly, if everyone out there complains enough about the rogue garages which really are ripping people off, and there are many, then Bladewashout and I will be grateful for the reduced competition!;)

4th Jan 2007, 19:02
Problem analysis:-
When did the problem arise?
What has changed?

What is wrong?
What is not as it is expected to be? What IS as it is expected to be?
When (and where) does the problem occur? When and where does it NOT happen?
When did it start happening? When was it OK?
Has the problem been increasing (or decreasing) in severity or frequency?
Can you detect a pattern to the problem which might identify the limit of the occurrence?
What is distinctive about the problem (and what has changed to explain that distinction?)?
Successful analysis of a problem can be seen to be making progress when you can PREDICT when a problem occurs and reproduce it at will.

(The next section of the analysis covers 'possible causes', which you may or may not be qualified to pursue. Test each possible cause (at first virtually) to see if the possible cause might explain the problem. If so, carry out a physical test.)
If you have the desire, you can refit the 'suspect item(s)' to see whether the problem returns at will, though this is more appropriate when dealing with serial problems such as may affect a production run of product.

4th Jan 2007, 19:59
Thanks again chaps.

StickandRudder - You obviously know ten times more than I do, but you beat me to correcting the point about the valves being damaged; from what I can comprehend, if the sync is slightly out, you can theoretically have a situation where the valves clash very slightly at high RPM.

I've had 12 years use out of the car - you're right. But the thing is, I'm convinced this issue is down to negligence - I'm back at square one, when I first took car to garage with supposed 'misfire'.

To have a car for 12 years that's performed flawlessly, and have to sell it purely because a numpty couldn't fit a cambelt properly...

What else could cause the grating metallic noise at high RPM?

I have another car for pleasure and the Honda is supposed to be a 'bargain' car for nipping to the shops etc in. A made-in-Japan Civic with a FSH and 99K on clock with new cambelt should be good for another 50K before any real grief sets in, shouldn't it?

My old business partner had an Accord that achieved 300K, without ever being properly serviced... It was the scruffiest thing you ever saw, but it was the epitome of bargain motoring.

I probably am going to buy a new car now, but it's f***ing sad to have to change a car because of negligence...

It's no fault of Mr Honda and his production line - they kept their end of the bargain...

If it's proven that the cam-belt's at fault, this guy will have no idea what's hit him... :E

We've had a Honda in the family since 1984 with no breakdowns, until 2 weeks ago, after the local garage (now being investigated by Trading Standards) 'took a look' at the problem I now have.

Scum :yuk:

Thanks again btw - I'm off to seek anger management counselling - I mean, after this, who wouldn't?

4th Jan 2007, 22:08
Good luck, and remember folks,
"It's like a jungle out there, sometimes I wonder how I keep from going under!":bored:

4th Jan 2007, 22:46
WG, I've sent you some info in a pm.

4th Jan 2007, 23:14
WG, Don't just write the car off just yet. As s&rman said it's only 12 years old. At Mercedes money that's far too new to write off (ie. still worth a small fortune as far as a dealer would be concerned ;) ).

On principle however, I'm serious. It would be a shame if it's good to smoke around in. Take a look at Shytehawks PM and see if it sheds any light. I know he knows his fiddling, I can identify with what he fiddles with. If it doesn't help, I've taken on a sort of 'must fix' mind set to this thing and so will be happy assist further via a medium which doesn't tax my limitied typing skills so. I have a good deal of info on most Honda engines of the 90s, both in hard copy and software format. Although much of it is way too involved to be of everyday use, if you find yourself lacking info on the route to a solution, be sure to post again or PM and I'll see what I can do as regards getting copies of the relevant pages posted and/or the info files emailed to you.

SC. SG. Whatever... :)

PS. There ain't nothing I've not fixed yet which I set my mind to fixin'. More fool me. :ugh:

4th Jan 2007, 23:19
Especially on an engine with variable valve timing!
It is entirely possible for the engine to be apparently fine at idle even if the valve timing is set incorrectly.
It is equally possible for the valves and the pistons to form an unhappy union with increased RPM under such circumstances.When I had bent valves in my racing engines it would never start, but have to admit those were pre-variable timing times. Maybe it´s a burned valve, anyways, a simple compression check will show immediately if there´s a valve problem.

5th Jan 2007, 11:42
Capt. K, Mainly for interest, there is a possibilty of valve/piston interference at higher RPM since there will be increased valve lift and duration on the inlet valves (no variable timing on exhaust valves on the SOHC engine) then.

Essentially, what you have for each cylinder is a third inlet lobe on the camshaft between the two that operate the inlet valves at low speed. At higher RPM, a solenoid opens allowing oil to pressurise a pin in the inlet rocker assembly, lengthening the pin, which then connects the previously idle centre lobe follower to the two conventional inlet rockers, thus operating the inlet valves from that centre lobe. Since the centre lobe has a higher lift and longer duration grind than the low speed lobes, there is a slim chance that if the cam timing is a tooth or two out, some valve/piston overlap could occur which wouldn't when the valves were being operated by the lower lift, shorter duration low speed lobes. Lift 'em higher and longer and the piston runs closer, maybe closer than close.

On the DOHC VTEC engines, this trick is carried out on both the exhaust and inlet cams, so, consequently, on all valves. Clever stuff.

You can just imagine the Honda engine designers talking over lunch saying 'Wouldn't it be great if we could find a way of changing the cams in an engine from a mild-mannered shopping grind to a semi-race, won't idle or pull low down race grind whilst the engines running.' Then cracking on with it after lunch. One engine, two completely different mannerisms either side of 4500rpm. You've gotta love that sort of approach to things.... it's a mad idea, but let's try it!

All that said, it'd be a lucky (or unlucky perhaps, but against the odds at any rate) break which allowed an engine to run with correct cam timing, presumably for some miles over some months, then the cambelt to skip just little enough to create such a situation. If the belt skips, something's caused it to skip, such as physical damage to the belt, the failure of the tensioner or the collapse of the waterpump bearings. If one of these had happened, chances are the belt would skip further, and you'd have a complete non-runner with some very sick valve gear. Then again, anything's possible.

WG, If, as per the above, we acknowledge that anything is possible and since the cambelt is now under suspicion due to its relatively recent change (which incidentally books at 2 1/2 hours plus the cost of the belt, so shouldn't really have cost as much as £400 odd unless he had a particularly high labour rate), I'd take a peek at the timing marks if you've half an hour to spend.

The upper cambelt cover should be easy enough to get at and remove, just a bolt or two. Make sure the ignition is off and the keys out, select third gear and nudge the car along whilst watching the cam pulley. As it comes round, you should see that it's clearly marked 'UP', that goes at the top ;), keep going 'til it's close. You should also see marks on the pulley's periphery at 3 and 9 o'clock which should line up with the surface of the cylinder head and/or there should be a mark at around 7 o'clock which lines up with some sort of mark or apparent feature (I'm not sure quite what, but it should be obvious when seen) there. Line these up exactly. Then, have a look down at the crankshaft pulley where the auxiliary belt runs and see if you have a mark at roughly (depending on the slant of the whole engine) 12 o'clock on the pulley which lines through with a couple of protruding lugs on the lower cambelt cover above it. I'm not sure what the access is like down there but try and put a straight edge across them to verify the alignment as you may be looking from a deceptive angle.

If all the marks line up exactly, top and bottom at the same time, your valve timing is OK. Unless the belt has jumped again and by chance the thing's ended up bang on again, which would be the stuff of sheer wonder, you can assume the belt has never slipped.

While you're there, have a quick feel of the belt tension. It's very crude, but the straight run of the belt (toward the front of the car if the engine's the way round I think it is) should twist by about 90 degrees under moderate finger pressure at its centre. You probably won't be able to get that low with only the top cover off, but from how it feels to twist as low as you can get your fingers on it you'll get an idea. Don't go mad twisting, it's not a kind thing to do to cambelts.

That's about as much as you can do without getting at all involved in it, as to get at the tensioner etc. you need the lower cover off.

Lastly, chances are that the belt was tensioned reasonably accurately when it was changed as it's a simple procedure. The tensioner is allowed to rest against the belt, the slack is taken up on the non-tensioner side and fed into the tensioner side by a small degree of rotation on the crankshaft pulley. This allows the tensioner to take up it's design position and tension the belt correctly. The tensioner is then tightened. The only two likely possibilities for error are that the guy who changed it failed to rotate the engine as described and assumed the belt was tensioned by way of the pressure of the tensioner alone, in which case there may well have been enough slack to allow the belt to skip quite freely and cause a problem almost immediately. The other is the he physically loaded the tensioner against the belt. The first would lead to under-tensioning. The second, most likely, to over-tensioning. Either way, even if he was way out on his first go, I'd like to think anyone who got that far could be given enough credit to check how the belt felt having turned the engine over a couple of times by hand and would also then check the timing was still on and hadn't been thrown out by a ham-fisted effort of taking the slack out of the wrong side of the belt. Also the tensioner only needs tightening to 45Nm, so, if he put a spanner on it at all, he more than likely got it tight enough, probably too tight.

Anyway, worth a look before parting with more money only to find doing so reveals nothing new.

5th Jan 2007, 12:43
I would, however, contest the statement which said "the notion that any kit that is required is a small hand-held device that is cheap to buy is one born out of mis-guided ignorance". It seems to imply that such items either don't exist or are of no use if they doAbsolutely 100% correct.

And sometimes (if not usually) you can get the fault codes on the car instrument panel by turning on the ignition and pressing certain buttons - or whatever your make/model requires.

That bit of kit costs zero. Absolutely nothing. It comes with the car.

And sometimes (if not usually) the fault codes are correct and are all you need to fix the problem.

One has deep suspicions of car mechanics (both independants and main dealers) which have been gained by experience of the same.

These new fangled cars with their fancy computers and valves that do different things at different revs are marvellous things. I doubt we would get >50 mpg and >100000 miles out of them if they didn't work that way. Unfortunately this also tends to mean they are a lot harder now for amateur hacks like me to fix. Then we are at the mercy of mechanics who tell you it needs a £21k bit of kit to diagnose, and 2.5 hours at £100 an hour to fix because that's what the book says. Then you watch what is going on and you realise it doesn't take that long at all.

5th Jan 2007, 13:34
All that said, it'd be a lucky (or unlucky perhaps, but against the odds at any rate) break which allowed an engine to run with correct cam timing, presumably for some miles over some months, then the cambelt to skip just little enough to create such a situation. If the belt skips, something's caused it to skip, such as physical damage to the belt, the failure of the tensioner or the collapse of the waterpump bearings. If one of these had happened, chances are the belt would skip further, and you'd have a complete non-runner with some very sick valve gear. Then again, anything's possible.Thanks for the explanation SG, I had a cambelt jumped over the teeth just by a little stone that came between it. It destroyed my valves. Expensive business for a cross flow engine.

5th Jan 2007, 13:51
Best to keep out of the gravel traps and not spray all those little stones around if you've not got belt covers in place, Capt.
Either or will do, either or. ;)

Seriously though, that's a tough break. As you say, costly.

Here's a funny. I seem to recall at one point the drivers for one of the BTCC teams were told to hit the engine kill button when a gravel trap trip became inevitable in an attempt to decrease on the number of engines they were totalling by that very occurence. Seems a little unlikey to me. You're already crashing, and are expected to depress the clutch and calmly turn the engine off all in good enough time that it's stopped rotating before you leave the tarmac and those pesky little stones find their way between belt and pulley. Hmmmm? Aside from which, BTCC drivers don't lift off to avoid one another, so kill the engine for a little gravel? No chance! Judging by the way they still crash into one another at every given opportunity, I suspect the kill-switch idea never took off with the drivers and they fitted some form of cover eventually. Loonies!

5th Jan 2007, 17:36
Another idea, on a high mileage car, how is the battery and charging circuit - and the alternator; anyone thought to check that? If the alternator is on its way out and not producing much voltage, or the battery is failing, be aware that the fuel injector opening period can be badly affected, hence very poor running and lack of power.
If, subsequently the alternator brushes have gone down to the backing (worn then one suddenly broke, causing the pressure spring to make contact) that can cause a pretty horrendous noise in close proximity to the engine which might lead you up the garden path.

5th Jan 2007, 18:36
Now, is there anything we haven't replaced? Trigger's broom springs to mind. :}

6th Jan 2007, 13:02

Please excuse the time I’ve taken to get back to the discussion; running around in circles with the car has occupied so much of my time that I lost several days work and I’ve had to put in a couple of late nights to catch up.

There’s a lot to take in, so I think I’m going to print off a couple of the deeper posts and study + digest.

ShyTorque makes an interesting point about the Lambda sensor being a potential culprit, but that was changed 2K miles ago (on the exhaust manifold).

The current plan is to ascertain whether the cam-belt situation is ok and take it from there.

Please note that I’m extremely grateful for the advice received here and – regardless of the outcome in this situation – there’s some very useful information in this thread for future reference.


9th Jan 2007, 23:22
Just thought I’d post an update…

Got main dealer to check cam-belt timing and diagnose lack of power.

They found that the cam-belt was fine and couldn’t figure out where lack of power was coming from and suggested changing the plugs and fuel filter… The original garage (who gave refund) changed plugs and I drove it briefly afterwards and that didn’t fix it (problem same, prior to engine dying).

Even though the fuel filter was only £30-odd quid, I didn’t want to throw good money after bad, so I paid £125 for the belt check and have taken the sick car home…

Unless anyone’s got another idea, it looks as if the car will be traded-in for peanuts against another Honda (30K on an ’01 plate, part-ex stock with 1yr warrantee from non-Honda main agent) next Tuesday…

Even though I see the points in the thread, I’m a bit flummoxed by the main agent’s argument that they can only apply a scatter-gun approach and replace parts and see… They don’t carry spares for this purpose either, so you have to order in new parts…

Main agent claimed that no faults could be found via diagnostic equipment…

My gut instinct says it’s something simple - but unobvious - at fault here, that no-one in the garages has thought of…

It’ll be sad to see the car go for peanuts when it’s been so good for all these years… I wasn’t impressed with the tone of the main agent either; “this car’s come to the end of its life I’m afraid…” – 100K on a Honda is not a problem in my experience, especially if the car’s got a FSH with regular cam-belts etc.

Anyway, I’m sincerely grateful to all that have assisted in this thread; as I remarked before, I’ve learnt a thing or two that could come in handy another time.

Civic ESI SOHC Vtec - RIP – 1995-2007

9th Jan 2007, 23:43
You don't mean...... you're going to take it to the man who...... :} :E .... surely not? Will you wear the black hat? :{

10th Jan 2007, 11:59
There was a time when I broke wind, my backside said “Honda”

My doctor advised me to see a specialist in Tokyo.

When I visited the specialist, he asked me to demonstrate the problem.

Without a moment’s hesitation, and with no examination, he told me I had an abscess.

“That’s ridiculous”, I said, “How can you tell that without an examination?”

He replied, “Abscess makes the fart go Honda”

I’ll get me coat…

Out Of Trim
10th Jan 2007, 13:16
WG774 - Surely you're not going to just give up now?

If it's not the Ignition; and not the Timing - it probably is Fuelling that is wrong. For the sake of £30 worth of fuel filters I think I would give it one last try.. you might get another 100K miles out of it yet!

I did mention fuel filters back in post #55 ;) - £30 plus fitting I guess would be a cheap fix if it is indeed the answer - No?

I recently disposed of an old Audi Coupe (1984) that once had similar sudden loss of performance. It wouldn't manage more than about 40mph for a few miles and then the engine would just die. 2 minutes later it would restart OK and let you slowly drive a few more hundred yards and die again! This car had done about 190,000 miles then. I had a new fuel pump and filters fitted and the car ran for another 2 years just fine!

Eventually failed the MOT on corrosion. with 218,000 miles on the original engine. :{

I apologise now for calling you Surely!

10th Jan 2007, 15:52
Just had what is probably a truly cringeworthy thought - it couldn't be that the airway on your fuel filler cap is fully/partially blocked and the engine gets a tiny amount of fuel, then gets starved, then the vacuum is slowly filled and it gets a bit more fuel, and so on.........?

I did come across this once.

10th Jan 2007, 16:01
One that I had (on a Maxi - OK don't all laugh, it was otherwise a good car) was that with anything less than half a tank of fuel it would cut out after a few minutes 'flat out', whereupon I would coast onto the hard shoulder, wait a few seconds and it would restart as normal and repeat the 'fault'.
It turned out to be a flake of paint floating in the fuel which was getting sucked onto the outlet pipe (and yes, it took a lot of analysis and removal of the fuel tank to find the cause).

10th Jan 2007, 16:51
I well remember a very late night working on a De Havilland Heron with an appalling misfire. We all developed tunnel vision and were convinced it was some obscure ignition fault. Magnetos contact points cleaned and gapped, timing set up two or three times, new plugs even though the old ones tested fine, meggered HT leads, mag switches bench checked. Turned out to be a dirty air cleaner. Fixed in five minutes. Don't give up yet, WG - have Honda got an owners website? Perhaps you might find an answer in the tech forum. Sometimes enthusiasts or Sunday morning mechanics can hit the nail right on the head.

10th Jan 2007, 19:34
Flaking paint in the fuel tank?
My Hillman Hunter also used to have that problem and it almost caused me to "do myself in" by my own stupidity! In the short term I carried a tyre pump with me and used to disconnect the fuel pipe from the lift pump and blow it all back into the tank, whereupon it would run for another day or so when I would repeat the process.

One afternoon I decided to clean out the tank. I drained out as much fuel as possible. I next intended to remove the tank. However after lifting the rubber matting and hoovering out the dust and muck from the row of bolt heads inside the boot, I decided to remove the plate housing the contents unit to see if I could remove any more fuel. Having done that, I saw that only an very small amount of fuel remained and on a silly whim I suddenly realised I could remove the paint flakes and muck from inside the tank using the hoover nozzle (a lot easier than removing the tank, thought I :cool: ).

So there I was: in the boot, face over the open tank, with the hoover right next to me, about to switch on the motor and suck an explosive mixture of petrol and air into a sparking electric motor housing..... :confused: :D :=

Suddenly, feeling foolish but very relieved, I moved my hand away from the "on" switch, reversed my body out of the boot and kicked myself up the backside hard.... numpty! :p

10th Jan 2007, 19:41
A colleague, in the 60s, was restoring and old MG which had a leaking fuel tank. He removed the tank and knew that the remaining fuel vapour might ignite when he started welding, so he borrowed his mother's Electrolux cylinder vacuum cleaner and gaily stuck the nozzle into the tank via the filler, aiming to suck out the remaining vapour. When the vapour reached the motor brushes at the back of the cylinder cleaner, mother's shiney Electrolux became jet=propelled!
It was never the same again . . .

10th Jan 2007, 20:28
I gave the car a bit of welly on the way back from running in the park this evening. Whereas I noticed the metallic grating sound at high-ish revs before, this time I heard it around 3K rpm… Would a fuel pump bearing make a noise?

It seemed to be the loading that provoked the noise, not a centrifugally-induced noise from speed.

If the fuel filter were blocked, could it cause a noise?

The noise was a bit like something you’d hear in a sawmill; a kind of zzzz; thankfully, it didn’t seem too deep or heavy, a bit like the tips of a fan slightly fouling against a piece of metal.

(I hope you’ve forgiven my dreadful pun… I heard some bad news today regarding a couple of friends and it made me realise that a written-off motor is the least of ones worries…)

A jet-propelled Electrolux... :ooh:

Thanks again.

Impress to inflate
10th Jan 2007, 22:25
For twenty years I've done my own servise and used the same local MOT garage. He's a star, if some "work" needs doing he says whats wrong and he hasnt issued a fail ticket, "just bring it back when the jobs done and i'll give you the MOT paperwork" . When I have been lucky enough to own a new car I've been tipped off of some of the scams used. The one that the main dealer used was to charge me £2.50 for washer fluid when the bottle was full. I pointed out to the servise manager that I had filled the washer bottle to the brim the night before and that if the £2.50 plus VAT was not removed NOW I would sue them for fraud. This is a big money earner for these animals. Ask around crew room or mates for a good garage.

10th Jan 2007, 22:37
And charging for a whole can of brake fluid when the level needs to be topped-up as the pads wear (and the caliper pistons move closer to the disc).
I challenged this asking "If the brake system required a WHOLE can of brake fluid then there must be a major leakage problem."

10th Jan 2007, 23:56
A very very quick guess without setting my mind to it to think of any reasons why I could be wrong... but if the piston rings are all still intact, which is most likely, since if you'd lost a compression or oil-control ring I suspect the engine would be a lot sicker or smokier than reported, the next most likely thing which springs directly to mind which may give a high speed buzz would be a broken valve spring. It could result in the spring having enough strength to close the valve and allow the engine to start and run well enough at low revs, but not enough to stop valve bounce at higher rpm leading to light valve/piston contact as the valve is no longer properly controlled and a consequent loss of good running.

As I say, just a thought that came to mind in a moment. Fractured valve springs are very uncommon, but you have a mechanical noise, and it's what first came to mind as envisaged the mechanical goings on of the circumstances you described. I'll give some thought as to why I must be wrong between now and the morning.

Ah, I just realised that you said it seemed to depend on load not speed. Load won't have any effect on the mechanical noise generated by a bouncing valve, only speed will. Oh well, back to the drawing-board sooner than expected. :hmm:

11th Jan 2007, 12:02
It seemed to be the loading that provoked the noise, not a centrifugally-induced noise from speed. Could be a bearing? Or something in the valve/cam-train.