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Old 03-17-06, 12:31 PM   #1
diddidit
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Hey, car-smart people...

I've got an urgent need to keep my Civic running (starting, actually - it runs great) for literally just a few more days until our new car arrives and I can take over the wifemobile for my daily commute.

The Civic, a 1989 with 221k miles, has what was a quirk but has become a real problem. When it's cool and wet, sometimes I'll get in, turn the key, and *click* everything goes dead, clock resets, radio loses presets, etc. Well, I discovered that tapping the positive battery cable terminal, I could restore electrical power and it would then start just fine. The last couple of days, though, it's taken a lot of tries to get it to hold the connection. Today, I had to brake hard (stupid deer), and that was enough to cut electrical power.

A few years ago, I had a lot of corrosion on that battery terminal. I've since replaced that battery and put on a new cable terminal, but the wire itself looks pretty corroded, and I wonder if there's something in there that can handle the current required to run the car but not the starter draw.

Anyone got any ideas? Whatever it is, I've got to be able to do it with my limited automotive ability, this weekend, assuming I can make it home in the beast tonight.

Our newmobile is literally on a truck on it's way to the dealer. Cuttin' it close, eh? And, no, I can't ride my bike to work, much as I'd like to - it's 30 miles each way, and I ain't got an extra four hours a day to spend travelling! And, being Michigan in March, I'm fat and out of shape!

Thanks in advance,

did
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Old 03-17-06, 01:39 PM   #2
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Did.. It soundsa like the Positive (red) main that runs from the battery to the starter solenoid is having issues.

For a positive fix replacement is suggested.

How to:

A: Disconnect the Negative battery cable (black) from the battery and secure the terminal well away from the battery

B: Disconnect the Positive battery cable from the battery.

C: Trace the route of the Positive cable to the starter solenoid and disconnect it at its terminus. (There might be smaller 'branch' cables that are attached at the battery terminal as well. Make note of where/what they connect to and disconnect them as well.

D: With the freed cable in hand. Set about aquiring a new one. If it's a complicated affair with multiple branches, chances are good that it's a dealer only item. If you're lucky and all you have is just one cable that goes from the battery to the starter you should be able to find a suitable generic replacement at the local auto parts store. If Bad comes to worse you could always fabricate a cable, or even just get a replacement end that would clamp to the battery terminal.

E: Installation is reverse of removal

Of course you'll want to observe prudent caution when working under the hood of an automobile.

Keep us posted.
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Old 03-17-06, 02:10 PM   #3
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Old 03-17-06, 02:19 PM   #4
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yeah, sounds like your positive-cable at the battery could be the culprit. If you've already replaced the terminal, you've got one of those crimp-on ones. These aren't as good as the molded ones factory ones, but it'll work. You can unbolt the terminal and chop off about 1" from the end to expose some new cable. Bolt on the terminal really tight. Then apply some soldering-flux, heat with small propane torch and apply liberal amounts of solder to get a solid connection between the cable and terminal.

The other clue is the resetting clock and radio. This indicates a voltage-drop below the minimum needed to keep those devices alive. This would actually indicate a different problem, high current-drain. This would be the case if you've got a starter that's not rotating smoothly, like the bearings are shot. This would suck up A LOT of current to get it moving and this high-current causes a large voltage-drop at the battery, thus killing everything. This may also show why you have to turn it off and try again. The first >click< unlocks the starter somewhat and the second one gets it spinning. If it clicks without the voltage-drop, then it might be just the solenoid's bad.

My bet's on the starter. Usually not much you can without taking it apart and replacing the bearings. It's only about $20 in parts, but many hours and might require a hydraulic-press, depending upon the type of starter. Usually just better to get a rebuilt-starter for $50 and turn in your old one for a core.
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Old 03-17-06, 06:23 PM   #5
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EF Civics have a really craptacular wiring to the positive side of the battery. heck, they have really craptacular wiring in general.

issue may be in the wiring to the positive terminal, particularly if it's been futzed with. the factory cable end is one of those [sarcasm]wonderful[/sarcasm] stamped, plated copper types. to make matters worse, they usually have the fuses for the automatic belts built into a fuse holder on the cable end. lots and lots of places for corrosion to do bad things.

that said, DannoXYZ is probably correct in the assumption the issue may be in the starter. it's directly to the right of the battery and straight down under the intake hose. really easy to reach and remove from above. last one i bought was less than twenty bucks.

could also be a main relay problem - unlikely, but possible. i'd try the starter first. another issue with EF's is the s****y ignition switch - they like to short out across the internal terminals. if it's that, they can be repaired, but it's usually easier to just replace the electrical portion of the switch than open it up and fix it.
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Old 03-17-06, 06:26 PM   #6
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Sorry, no good advice for you. But I'll keep my fingers crossed for your Civic to serve out its last few days in your service.
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Old 03-17-06, 07:11 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by DannoXYZ
yeah, sounds like your positive-cable at the battery could be the culprit. If you've already replaced the terminal, you've got one of those crimp-on ones. These aren't as good as the molded ones factory ones, but it'll work. You can unbolt the terminal and chop off about 1" from the end to expose some new cable. Bolt on the terminal really tight. Then apply some soldering-flux, heat with small propane torch and apply liberal amounts of solder to get a solid connection between the cable and terminal.

This is probably the second thing I'd do, right after getting a wire brush and cleaning off the terminals. I don't know whether you plan on keeping the car much longer, if not, I bet you could get away with jerry rigging something up with some jumper cables or extra wire laying around, if its the wire giving you the problem.

In my old car (87 plymouth sundance), something between the ignition switch and the starter solinoid wasn't working, so for about a week I had to 'jump start' it by using some extra wire from the battery to the starter solinoid. Eventually ran fused link inside to two push buttons and started it that way... ah, those were the days...
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Old 03-17-06, 09:11 PM   #8
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Thanks for the info, all. Naturally, it started right up for the trip home, after sitting in the sun all day. It seems to be cold and moisture that exacerbates the issue. I wondered about the starter, but I don't think that's it - whacking the positive battery terminal always works. The original, crappy, stamped-brass one actually corroded through a couple of years ago, and I think I didn't do enough to get the cable end cleaned off before putting on a new terminal, so I'll try to clean it as best as I can and reconnect the wire. The connection to the battery itself is new; I replaced the battery a couple of months ago, and scoured everything out with a little wire brush before bolting on the terminals; that's a good lead-to-lead connection.

I tell ya, that's been a truly extraordinary car. It's my first car - my parents bought it for me before my second year in college, in the fall of 1991. There have been only two occasions when I've had to have it towed to a shop - once for a weak ignitor, which was replaced under a recall, and once because it fouled up really badly. I learned then that it needed to warm up completely any time I started it - stopping it when it wasn't warmed up lead to carbon buildup. It goes 60 miles every day, happily cruises at 78, and once dropped a muffler in front of an aggressive tailgater. It was beautiful - the muffler dropped off and was dragging behind me, hanging from a single rubber hanger, sparks everywhere. I've never seen a tailgater back off that fast!

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