Are Honda Automobiles Safe & Reliable?
Igniter/Distributor Failures on Early
1990's Honda Accords & Civics

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My Experience

On the morning of 2/9/01 while driving on the freeway at normal highway speeds, the engine of my 1993 Accord (99K miles) completely stalled (no power). Fortunately I was in the right hand lane and quickly pulled onto the side of the road. I called the California Highway Patrol who in turn called a towing company to tow my car to the nearest repair garage. After less than 5 minutes of troubleshooting, the car repair facility determined that the igniter had failed and replaced it. The garage indicated that this is a common problem/failure with Accords. After the igniter replacement the car started and now appears to be running normally.


Analysis

The car has been maintained in excellent condition.  

With no warning the igniter failed while I was driving at highway speeds and caused the engine to completely shut off. If there were cars close behind me or if I was not close to the side of the road (highway) there would have been a high probability of serious injury. One wonders how many such failures have claimed silent victims- those who never survived the ensuing accident.

Apparently this type of failure is not uncommon with early 1990's Accords and Civics, for example, see the following URLs: 

http://carpoint.msn.com/Vip/UsedSingleYear/Honda/Accord/1993.asp. MSN CarPoint rates this engine related problem as significant. Quoting the MSN article:

"A common problem on this vehicle [91-93 Accords and Civics] is failure of the Distributor, and occasional problems are failures of the Igniter and the Intake Manifold. Failure of the Igniter or the Distributor may prevent the vehicle from starting." 

However, driver experience indicates the distributor and/or igniter problem can also cause the car to stop in its tracks. See also: http://www.realbig.com/miata/miata/1994-01/302.html

The igniter on the 93 Accord is a solid-state (non-mechanical) part whose failure while the car is moving can be catastrophic to the car's passengers. It is also apparently a common failure for this model and year, with no recall ever having been issued by Honda (see below). These three considerations, taken together, are unacceptable in my view and has damaged my confidence in Honda and the vehicle's overall reliability and dependability.

As a result of the above I submitted a complaint to the NHTSA

Out of 274 Complaints in the NHTSA database for the 1993 Accord, there were eleven igniter/distributor related complaints. There were also numerous reports of air bags failing to deploy. Below is a listing of complaints related to igniter/distributor failures. In at least seven cases these failures caused the car to stall while in motion. Note, that while mileage information was generally not available, failures were reported within 1-6 years of vehicle operation. This suggests the problem is not confined to high mileage/older Accords of that make/model/year. The following is the only ignition related TSB (Technical Service Bulletin) for the 1993 Accord.

Service Bulletin Number: 95049
Bulletin Sequence Number: 36
Date of Bulletin: 9607
NHTSA Item Number: SB049031
Make: HONDA
Model: ACCORD
Year: 1993
Component: ELECTRICAL SYSTEM: IGNITION: DISTRIBUTOR
Summary: DISTRIBUTOR BEARING MAY DEVELOP EXCESSIVE CLEARANCE.

There are no TSBs related to igniter failures. There are no distributor or igniter related recalls for this make/model/year, yet this is a commonly acknowledged problem with early 90's Honda Accords and Civics. While no automaker can be expected to make a perfect car, it is their ethical and legal obligation to rectify serious mistakes that affect the safety of their customers, regardless of monetary cost. How much is a human life worth?

Another Honda owner related the following experience:

At 66,000 miles (in Feb. 1999), I had my 1993 Honda Accord EX into the local Honda dealer for a major service and checkup. At that time they didn't inform me of the distributor recall. I was under the impression that when a manufacturer has a recall, they send out cards to all the owners informing them of the problem (which I never received).  The recall "expired" (never heard of that before....  if a part is defective and a safety hazard, how can a recall expire?) in 1999 and at 75000.  

In July 2001, at 94000 miles, the distributor failed with all the symptoms of the recall. Honda refused to budge and fix it.  The "screeching" noise was fairly loud above the engine noise.  I drove the car with the noise for another 350 miles or so until I got it into my local (and trustworthy) non-Honda mechanic who told me this was common for Hondas from 1993.  He said he could either replace the distributor, or try to clean it and lubricate it.  I said sure try it. (especially after he told me the distributor goes for $350).  Well, it was fine for about a week, and then with my wife driving with our baby in the car, the emissions control light came on and then the car stalled.  Luckily she made it back to the house (it was 103 degrees F that day).

I called the dealer, with the information of the recall.  He told me about the expiration of the recall and suggested I call Customer Service at Honda. I spoke to the representative, who promised that a supervisor would call me back that day, even though it normally takes 48 hours.  Well, at about the end of the day, no phone call.  I call the number again, this time another customer service office answered with NO RECORD of my previous call.  Oh, and anyway, that recall has expired...  So, now I wait again for a supervisor to call who no doubt will do nothing.

I personally feel that something needs to be done to get back at this company.  (I was considering to buy one of those new spiffy CRVs, but now will definitely not).  Of course, I filed a complaint with the NHTSA online board.  I'm considering suing the dealer and Honda in small claims court. Maybe if enough of us do that, or get together and file a class action lawsuit, we might get their attention.

OH, one more thing, in Oct 1999, the day our baby was born, when I returned to the house to get some sleep, the oil seal broke, and dumped oil all over the garage.  Again, I found out later that this problem was common for this car because of a defective part.  It was quite an expensive fix too because of the labor costs involved.  So, if it has not happened to you yet, beware!

This driver's experience with Honda's customer support was similar to my own, except that it took Honda 3 months to get back to me after I submitted the repair documentation they requested. When Honda did reply, the customer service representative indicated that I was fortunate that the igniter was only the second major failure on my vehicle. Honda refused to pay for the repair and refused to offer me an appeal option. The service representative alluded to others with transmission failures (late model Accord V6's) and the front engine oil seal problem (that the above driver referred to). 

Update: 5/24/2002: Quoting from an Auto.com article by Alison Fitzgerald, entitled "Honda recalls 1.3 million vehicles to Fix Ignition:"

"Honda Motor Co. is recalling 1.3 million Honda and Acura vehicles to replace an ignition switch that can cause the vehicle to stall.

The company is recalling certain 1997 to 2000 models of the Honda Accord, Civic and Prelude cars, the CR-V sport-utility vehicle and the Odyssey minivan. It's also recalling some 1999 Acura TL sedans and certain 1997 to 1999 CL coupes, spokesman Mike Spencer said.

No accidents or injuries have occurred because of the problem, Spencer said. Owners of affected vehicles will be contacted by Honda and asked to take their car or truck to a dealership for repair. There is potential for the engine to stall while the vehicle is moving, which prompted a safety recall, Spencer said." See also: Honda Service Bulletin: Faulty Ignition Switches.


Update: 3/16/01:
Honda is not the only auto manufacturer with safety related ignition problems. Ford was ordered by a state judge to recall 1.7 million vehicles sold between 1983 and 1995. Quoting a 3/16/01 AP ABC News article:

"It was the first time a judge in the United States had ordered a car recall.
The Alameda County judge said Ford knew the vehicles were prone to stalling, especially when the engine was hot, but failed to alert consumers. Superior Court Judge Michael E. Ballachey had issued a tentative ruling in August hinting he would order the recall and accusing Ford of knowing for nearly two decades that the ignition modules were “flawed from the outset. Ballachey gave Ford attorneys a chance to change his mind, but his ruling today showed they had failed to sway him."
“This case was about concealment of a dangerous condition,” Ballachey read from the bench." 

If I was the CEO of Honda I would take heed...an embarrassing, involuntary and costly one billion dollar repair bill may be forthcoming. According to an August 14, 2001 article by Norihiko Shirouzu in the Wall Street Journal regarding a potential Ford settlement in the Alameda County case:

"Lawyers for plaintiffs in the ignition case put the cost of the settlement as high as $750 million to $1 billion. Ford spokeswoman Kathleen Vokes said those estimates are "substantially overstated," though she declined to provide a figure...

Ford used the ignition system on nearly all of its vehicles from 1983 to 1988 and on some models as recently as 1995. Plaintiffs allege the system is mounted too close to the engine and is prone to overheat, causing the engine to stall.".
 

1993 Honda Igniter/Distributor Related Complaints

  1. Mileage: 67,000
    Occurrences: 1
    Failure caused property damage: Yes
    Failure caused loss of control: Yes
    ODI ID:
    717918
    Make: HONDA
    Model: ACCORD
    Year: 1993
    Date of Failure: Monday, December 06, 1999
    Incident: No
    Fire: No
    Number of Injuries: 0
    Component: ELECTRICAL SYSTEM: IGNITION
    Summary: FAILURE CAUSES CAR TO STALL. MANUFACTURE AWARE OF PROBLEM HOWEVER WOULD ONLY FIX THE PROBLEM IF IT BROKE. *AK
  2. ODI ID: 552013
    Make: HONDA
    Model: ACCORD
    Year: 1993
    Date of Failure:
    Incident: No
    Fire: No
    Number of Injuries:
    Component: ELECTRICAL SYSTEM:IGNITION:DISTRIBUTOR
    Summary: DEFECTIVE DISTRIBUTOR FAILED WHILE DRIVING. YH
  3. ODI ID: 509797
    Make: HONDA
    Model: ACCORD
    Year: 1993
    Date of Failure: Saturday, September 28, 1996
    Incident: No
    Fire: No
    Number of Injuries: 0
    Component: ELECTRICAL SYSTEM: IGNITION: DISTRIBUTOR
    Summary: IGNITER FAILED, CAUSING VEHICLE TO STALL. *AK
  4. ODI ID: 483548
    Make: HONDA
    Model: ACCORD
    Year: 1993
    Date of Failure: Wednesday, August 23, 1995
    Incident: No
    Fire: No
    Number of Injuries: 0
    Component: ELECTRICAL SYSTEM: IGNITION
    Summary: INTERMITTENT STALLING. *AK
  5. ODI ID: 943567
    Make: HONDA
    Model: ACCORD
    Year: 1993
    Date of Failure: Monday, November 29, 1993
    Incident: No
    Fire: No
    Number of Injuries: 0
    Component: ELECTRICAL SYSTEM: IGNITION
    Summary: VEHICLE SHIMMIES OR SHAKES WHEN DRIVING OVER 50MPH. VEHICLE SHUTS DOWN WHEN DRIVING AT 50-60MPH. PLEASE DESCRIBE EACH DETAIL. TT
  6. ODI ID: 456607
    Make: HONDA
    Model: ACCORD
    Year: 1993
    Date of Failure: Wednesday, November 10, 1993
    Incident: No
    Fire: No
    Number of Injuries: 0
    Component: ELECTRICAL SYSTEM: IGNITION: SWITCH
    Summary: IGNITION SWITCH FAILED. *AJ
  7. ODI ID: 866387
    Make: HONDA
    Model: ACCORD
    Year: 1993
    Date of Failure:
    Incident: No
    Fire: No
    Number of Injuries:
    Component: ELECTRICAL SYSTEM: IGNITION: SWITCH
    Summary: WHILE DRIVING 55 MPH AND WITHOUT WARNING VEHICLE COMPLETELY SHUTDOWN DUE TO A MALFUNCTION WITHIN THE IGNITION WARNING KIT UNIT AND SWITCH. PLEASE GIVE ANY FUR
  8. ODI ID: 527693
    Make: HONDA
    Model: ACCORD
    Year: 1993
    Date of Failure: Saturday, December 20, 1997
    Incident: No
    Fire: No
    Number of Injuries:
    Component: FUEL: FUEL INJECTION: UNKNOWN TYPE: DISTRIBUTOR
    Summary: DISTRIBUTOR PROBLEMS
  9. ODI ID: 874312
    Make: HONDA
    Model: ACCORD
    Year: 1993
    Date of Failure:
    Incident: No
    Fire: No
    Number of Injuries:
    Component: ELECTRICAL SYSTEM: IGNITION: DISTRIBUTOR
    Summary: VEHICLE STALLED WHILE DRIVING DUE TO A FAULTY DISTRIBUTOR. PRIOR TO STALLING CONSUMER HEARD LOUD SQUEALING NOISE, AND THEN MALFUNCTION INDICATOR LAMP CAME ON.
  10. ODI ID: 841114
    Make: HONDA
    Model: ACCORD
    Year: 1993
    Date of Failure: Thursday, April 01, 1999
    Incident: No
    Fire: No
    Number of Injuries:
    Component: ELECTRICAL SYSTEM: IGNITION: DISTRIBUTOR
    Summary: DRIVING VEHICLE & HEARD FUNNY NOISES. TOOK TO DEALER. MECHANIC NOTICED BEARINGS & DISTRIBUTOR HAD GONE BAD. MECHANIC THOUGHT THERE WAS A RECALL. 
  11. ODI ID: 877094
    Make: HONDA
    Model: ACCORD
    Year: 1993
    Date of Failure: Monday, November 27, 2000
    Incident: No
    Fire: No
    Number of Injuries:
    Component: ELECTRICAL SYSTEM: IGNITION: DISTRIBUTOR
    Summary: VEHICLE EXPERIENCING ONGOING PROBLEM WITH DISTRIBUTOR FAILURE. DEALER NOTIFIED, AND INFORMED CONSUMER THAT EXTENDED WARRANTY ON THE DISTRIBUTOR AT 73,000 MILES

1992 Honda Igniter/Distributor Related Complaints

  1. ODI ID: 803651
    Make: HONDA
    Model: ACCORD
    Year: 1992
    Date of Failure: Tuesday, October 15, 1996
    Incident: No
    Fire: No
    Number of Injuries: 0
    Component: ELECTRICAL SYSTEM: IGNITION: DISTRIBUTOR
    Summary: WHILE DRIVING THE VEHICLE ENGINE SHUTS DOWN, CAUSING THE VEHICLE TO STALL. *AK
  2. ODI ID: 967452
    Make: HONDA
    Model: ACCORD
    Year: 1992
    Date of Failure: Wednesday, June 14, 1995
    Incident: No
    Fire: No
    Number of Injuries: 0
    Component: ELECTRICAL SYSTEM: IGNITION: DISTRIBUTOR
    Summary: DISTRIBUTOR HOUSING MAKES LOUD NOISE; SHUTS OFF VEHICLE COMPLETELY; SPEED 40 TO 50 MPH
  3. ODI ID: 964529
    Make: HONDA
    Model: ACCORD
    Year: 1992
    Date of Failure: Wednesday, April 26, 1995
    Incident: No
    Fire: No
    Number of Injuries: 0
    Component: ELECTRICAL SYSTEM: IGNITION: DISTRIBUTOR
    Summary: REPLACE OF DISTRIBUTOR, VEHICLE WILL STALL WITHOUT WARNING WHILE DRIVING. TT
  4. ODI ID: 957558
    Make: HONDA
    Model: ACCORD
    Year: 1992
    Date of Failure: Sunday, November 27, 1994
    Incident: No
    Fire: No
    Number of Injuries: 0
    Component: ELECTRICAL SYSTEM: IGNITION: DISTRIBUTOR
    Summary: WHILE DRIVING VEHICLE STALLS OUT AT LOW SPEED, REPLACED DISTRIBUTOR. TT
  5. ODI ID: 950968
    Make: HONDA
    Model: ACCORD
    Year: 1992
    Date of Failure: Monday, June 20, 1994
    Incident: No
    Fire: No
    Number of Injuries: 0
    Component: ELECTRICAL SYSTEM: IGNITION
    Summary: CAR WILL NOT SHIFT INTO DRIVE, WARNING LIGHT COMES ON AND VEHICLE WILL NOT ACCELERATE.
 

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