Any Hope for a 1991 Honda Civic Wagon?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Dec 29, 2015

Dear Car Talk:

I have a 1991 Honda Civic Wagon with almost 180,000 miles. It runs fine, except that it has an intermittent hesitation problem that is happening more frequently. It happens only at low speeds or after stopping at a light. Sometimes I will notice some sputtering while I am stopped, and then when I step on the gas to go, the accelerator will not respond unless I push it halfway down, and then it takes a few seconds to respond before it jumps to life.

It sometimes is accompanied by a low groaning sound when I press down hard on the accelerator. I've asked my mechanic, but he said it is hard to diagnose unless it is doing it all the time. Do you have any ideas?

-- Lynnette

Well, the sound could be the groans of your embarrassed kids, Lynnette.

I assume your check engine light has not come on. Otherwise, your mechanic would have checked for a fault code, and you wouldn't be suffering the indignity of writing to us today.

But you might want to make sure the check engine light still works. When you turn your key to the "run" position, just before you start the car, all of your dashboard warning lights should light up, to confirm that they're functioning. If you don't see the little orange engine icon, start by getting a new bulb for that baby.

The hesitation could be caused by a lot of things, Lynnette, but I'd start with the most likely and least expensive. Start by asking your mechanic to change your fuel filter -- especially if it hasn't been changed since, say, the Bush administration. A dirty fuel filter could easily cause stumbling and hesitation when you start off.

A weak fuel pump or really dirty injectors also could make that happen. So your mechanic can test your fuel-pump pressure to see if it's up to spec.

And if he suspects that the injectors are dirty, he can try adding a can of fuel-system cleaner, like Chevron Techron, to a tank of gas. If you notice some improvement after he does that, try another can!

You also could have a misfire. If one of your four cylinders is not firing regularly, that could cause this type of behavior, too. The first steps you'd take to correct a misfire would be to check the distributor cap for cracks and replace any ancient secondary ignition components, like the cap, the rotor and the spark plugs and wires.

There are other possibilities, like a bad throttle-position switch, a failing transmission or abduction by aliens. But ask your mechanic to start with the simple things, and see if your Honda can get its groove back, Lynnette. Good luck.


Get the Car Talk Newsletter