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REAL CONUNDRUM- 1990 Accord won't start

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Old 11-03-2015, 02:39 PM   #1
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Icon5 REAL CONUNDRUM- 1990 Accord won't start

I have a 1990 Honda Accord DX. Had it for about 5 years now, never had too much trouble with it. When I first bought it, I was caught in a big rain storm where water ended up leaking into the cab area. Went down a hill and the car stalled out, figured water got onto the computer and screwed something up. I let it sit for a number of days before going back to it, even with water still in the cab, the car started right back up. I took the seats out, ripped out the carpet, added some drain holes to the floor and never had a flooding issue ever again. Car always started right up without any problems. Fast forward to about a month or so ago, I started leaking coolant from near the water pump. In changing the water pump, timing belt, balance shaft belt and tesioners, I found the original balance shaft belt was already busted when I went to take it all apart. Also, since I was doing that, I took apart the engine head, had it resurfaced, changed the head gasket, manifold gaskets, various o rings and seals and whatnot. When I did that, I noticed the distributor had oil leaking into it . Put everything back together, kept the same distributor, turned the car on and it fired right up. Engine sounded beautiful, no misfires, no sputtering, no dinging or knocking, nothing, just plain engine. Everything was perfect. This is where it starts to get difficult. When I was putting it back together, the oring for the thermostat housing that goes into the feed pipe behind the engine was shot, I didn't have a new one so I tried to keep the old on one. When I went to put more coolant in, it was leaking right out of that line and the engine wasn't even running. I went to turn the car back on and it would turn on but immediatly kept stalling most times. I had the car sent to a shop down the road. When I was getting it towed, I turned the key to on in order to unlock the steering wheel to turn it onto the flatbed. I'm afraid I forgot to turn the key back off. The next morning, I got a call from the shop, they couldnt start the car at all. I went down there, put my key in and the car started right up. They heard the engine and it still sounded beautiful. They suggested first maybe it was a bad key I gave them so I turned the car off, tried using the key I gave them and the same thing as before, the car would start but stall out right away. After a while and a few tries, the car stopped turning on at all and would just turn over, but wouldn't even start. They suggested the distributor because I told them about the oil in it, so I changed the distributor with a brand new one and the same problem, not getting any spark at all while the engine does turn over. Brought the car to a dealership and after whatever tests they did they are saying they are leaning greatly towards the ecu. I do know the ground for the ecu is located on the bottom part of the thermostat housing so I thought perhaps it was getting a bad ground but they said that all the grounds are perfectly fine. I don't understand how the car would start at first but all of a sudden now the computer is bad when no other changes were made, does this make sense to you? what are your thoughts? Sorry it's so long; this really is a big conundrum to me.
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Old 11-03-2015, 04:44 PM   #2
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Default Re: REAL CONUNDRUM- 1990 Accord won't start

I would check all grounds myself forget the shop. I bought a 90 ACCORD EX a few weeks ago. Had same problem engine runs great only 118k miles starts right up then would die. Sometimes I could get it to start. Then eventually I got sputtering while taking off from a stop then a no start no power.. Turns out the battery ground was coming looser and looser by time by new terminals not being correctly installed by the previous owner.

You live anywheres near NJ? If not find someone with a good ECU to test.

Most shops especially the dealer will try keep saying its this this and this without finding out the REAL problem and giving you a guaranteed fix that way they make more money especially shops that you don't know or trust. I know the dealer charges a diagnostic fee too. I would definitely try to find a ECU though to test before going any further.
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Old 11-03-2015, 08:52 PM   #3
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Default Re: REAL CONUNDRUM- 1990 Accord won't start

Ok, so it starts and runs fine with the one key and has trouble starting and running with the other key? It would then be a bad key or ignition switch... or both. As it is, I'm surprised your ignition switch has lasted this long, 25 years/eleventy billion starts is a long time.
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Old 11-03-2015, 09:56 PM   #4
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Default Re: REAL CONUNDRUM- 1990 Accord won't start

Yes forgot to mention because I was at work when I did my post. Check the ignition switch when it starts try wiggling the key to see if it stays running. Try this while the car is running if possible.
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Old 11-04-2015, 04:46 AM   #5
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Default Re: REAL CONUNDRUM- 1990 Accord won't start

Regardless of the key, the engine still cranks everytime. Using the wrong or defective key I wouldn't even be able to turn it. But yes, I think it is time for a new ignition switch either way, one key I have only does work when it's put it a certain way lol.

Also, I was thinking it must be a bad ground somewhere. The dealership insists all the grounds are fine. We're all looking for another computer to put it in, I'm located in Connecticut. I'm hoping (but not really) that with another computer it still has the same problem. I'm not paying the shop for not fixing my car.
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Old 11-04-2015, 04:56 AM   #6
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Default Re: REAL CONUNDRUM- 1990 Accord won't start

Nationwide salvage listings: Car-Part.com--Used Auto Parts Market
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Old 11-04-2015, 05:05 AM   #7
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Default Re: REAL CONUNDRUM- 1990 Accord won't start

Also, if it was a bad ground, how would I check that? Where exactly are all of my grounds on my car? I have the schmatics and even a haynes book but even that doesn't point out exactly where all the grounds are and which ones are for what.
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Old 11-04-2015, 07:05 AM   #8
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Default Re: REAL CONUNDRUM- 1990 Accord won't start

What about the external coil? (The 93 has the coil separate from the dizzy - does the '90 as well?)

Also, for what it's worth, and as you probably already know (but for those who might not know) - Oil in the distributor doesn't automatically mean the distributor is bad - could just be the o-ring where it plugs into the shaft. (Did you save your old distributor?) Also - after much reading/research, that motor is particularly partial toward Honda OEM ignition parts (if an aftermarket dizzy was installed, it may present issues).

Have you checked the main relay?

The Ignition switch does sound plausible as well...

There are many grounding locations and you can find a service manual at Hondahookup.com - Honda / Acura Aftermarket Parts, Accessories, Forums, Photo Galleries, Racing, and more! for free
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Old 11-04-2015, 03:48 PM   #9
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Default Re: REAL CONUNDRUM- 1990 Accord won't start

The 90 has the coil inside the distributor. I have heard of bad new distributors but the same issue is happening with the new one as was the old one. For what it's worth though, I should mention that while I was poking around with my multimeter after the new distributor was installed, while everything was hooked up, the check engine light barely came on, it was very dim and almost flickered. When I tried pulling the codes, you could tell it was trying to blink but you couldn't tell what it was blinking. However, at one point I unplugged the ignition module which is inside the distributor to test that. When I did, my check engine light lit right up like a Christmas tree. I pulled the code and it gave me a code 15 which is the ignition module. Makes sense because I had it unplugged at the time. I'm not sure what this means but I feel like it's still not the computer but maybe a bad ground. I really don't know. I'm looking for another computer now anyway to see what happens. Hopefully that's it but I'm still not convinced.
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Old 11-05-2015, 06:24 PM   #10
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Default Re: REAL CONUNDRUM- 1990 Accord won't start

UPDATE: So I found another used computer from a junk yard. Couldn't test it on the original car as they had already sold the engine but I'm assuming it was in good condition. Dealership put the computer in, Car started right up, idle fine, no problems. Except for the Check Engine Light. CEL stays on but they are saying for some reason they cannot pull the codes on it. I'm thinking it's actually giving them a code 0 and they just haven't figured that out yet, but they're looking into it further to see. Another concern is the emissions standard on it. In Connecticut, all cars follow California standard emissions. The computer I got is supposedly for Federal standard emissions. The folks at the junk yard said that putting a federal emissions computer in a california vehicle, or vice-versa, the car won't even turn on. The dealership, however, said that it didn't really matter. Anyway, the computer is in and the car turned on. But why wouldn't they be able to check the CEL code?
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Old 11-05-2015, 06:44 PM   #11
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Default Re: REAL CONUNDRUM- 1990 Accord won't start

No code retrieval means a problem with the ECU... or none of them have worked on a vehicle this old in years and don't know how to read that there are no codes. They are dealer techs after all.
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Old 11-09-2015, 02:40 AM   #12
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Default Re: REAL CONUNDRUM- 1990 Accord won't start

Yeah I honestly deal with my local parts counter at the Honda near me often and because the cars are 25+ years old they weren't trained or don't remember much of them repair-maintenance wise. Even if they jump the connector-pin a solid CEL should come on when key is in ACC mode that means there are no codes available nothing wrong. Sounds like you got a good local Honda dealer mechanic though. I'd just hope they don't rape you straight up the can for labor.
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Old 11-09-2015, 02:52 AM   #13
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Default Re: REAL CONUNDRUM- 1990 Accord won't start

I was able to pull the code myself, using a paper clip. The dealership was stunned to say the least lol. Turns out it's a code 12- egr valve. I'm wondering if when I put the car together I just mixed up the vacuum hoses. I did a little research on it already and that's what I think. Does anybody have a good diagram of where the hoses are supposed to go. The fancy sticker picture is no longer under my hood.
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