So much regret.
March 4, 2013 6:51 PM   Subscribe

Is it my transmission, my clutch, or something else? Shifting into 2nd gear from 1st, constant acceleration (gas pedal) but the car stutters (surges forward, almost stalls, surges forward, almost stalls with concomitant spiking of RPM).

Background; I needed a commuter car but because of post-PhD crazy or early (but indigent) midlife, I got a 1995 Honda Del Sol that had been modified quite a bit. I cheeped out and had the muffler cut off and replaced with a stock, but left the intake and expanded manifold intact.

Last week, bottomed out, sheared off a chunk of the exhaust manifold and screwed up the headers. Got that fixed; much much quieter now.

Driving back home from work today, when shifting from 1st to 2nd (at 2.5k to 3k RPM) the car starts stuttering (surges forward, almost stalls, surges forward, almost stalls) until I goose the accelerator and get the RPM up to 4k and shift to 3rd, and it's mostly fine.

Doesn't happen all the time, but it got worse the closer I got home. It also almost/maybe feels like there's less torque at any gear/RPM.

Is my transmission going to fall out of my car or do I need to just replace my clutch? Or is the (still present) expanded intake not playing nice with the stock manifold/muffler?

Also, sometimes the shifter "sticks" when trying to go into 1st. It's usually better if, say, I'm on 5th, I work it down to 4, 3, 2, then 1 instead, but not always. Other times, it slides right in without a catch.

There's a transmission place a couple of blocks away, but my commute turns from 25 minutes each way into 1+ and 1.5+ hours by transit. Is there a safe way to drive my car for at least a couple of days (end of the week), or take it to the shop ASAP?

Grr. If it's the transmission, I'll probably have to just scrap the car.
posted by porpoise to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total)
 
I know very little about cars, and this comes from my experiences with a very old Volvo (still running!), but I had similar problems with the stuttering. It was the fuel pump and fuel pump relay. Replaced both, no problems. I don't know if your car has these things... (told you I don't know much) but that might help.
posted by ArgyleGargoyle at 7:00 PM on March 4, 2013


Sorry to say it sounds kinda like the transmission is failing. This sounds like what happened to me with a 2004 accord, it got progressively worse over the course of two or three days. By the time I got it to the shop they said they almost didn't make it back when driving around to test it.
posted by TwoWordReview at 7:01 PM on March 4, 2013


If you're looking for a temporary fix, check your transmission fluid level, maybe you have a leak. Fill that bitch up.

And while you're at it, look for stains in your driveway.
posted by phaedon at 7:05 PM on March 4, 2013


shifting from 1st to 2nd (at 2.5k to 3k RPM) the car starts stuttering (surges forward, almost stalls, surges forward, almost stalls) until I goose the accelerator and get the RPM up to 4k and shift to 3rd, and it's mostly fine.

This is not a transmission issue if it is being described correctly. A manual (which I am assuming it is) transmission cannot make an engine do that kind of thing. Fluid level (while important) is not meaningful here.

I'm inclined to think it is fuel supply also. Perhaps blocked filter, weak fuel pump that kind of thing. The car can't cope with the additional load required after the gear change with the fuel supply it has.

Is there a safe way to drive my car for at least a couple of days (end of the week), or take it to the shop ASAP?

It is quite likely to stop running, if it is a fuel supply issue. It is probably wise to get this fixed as it is likely to leave you stranded.

is the (still present) expanded intake not playing nice with the stock manifold/muffler?

This makes no sense to me. Can you expand?
posted by Brockles at 7:22 PM on March 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


I agree with Brockles - sounds like a fuel delivery problem - and I'd start there.

Getting into first is not an uncommon problem - the transmission on my Tacoma is similar - it's that the gears aren't meshed perfectly. Moving into another gear or two rotates them the small amount needed to slide in. I just make it a habit to go from neutral to second and then into first.

Sometimes, this can be evidence of a failing synchro - but first gear is often unsynchronized and that usually shows up in the higher gears anyway.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:45 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: I've kept an eye out for leakage since I bought the thing in January. My parking spot is spotless, but yes, I haven't checked my fluid levels.

...is the (still present) expanded intake not playing nice with the stock manifold/muffler?
This makes no sense to me. Can you expand?


The air intake, was replaced with an aftermarket part (bigger diameter intake), as were the exhaust manifold and the muffler (the pipe that goes from the engine to the rear was twice the diameter of the stock part). First only the muffler was replaced, but now the manifold and headers has as well, leaving an aftermarket intake. I'm pretty sure this isn't a problem.

A friend suggested that I had been putting cheap gas into the car and it needs something with a higher octane; but this would contribute to knocking, not the symptoms that I've been experiencing.

A manual (which I am assuming it is) transmission cannot make an engine do that kind of thing.

Same friend also suggested that the clutch has been really worn down and isn't catching into the 2nd gear at lower RPMs?

It's great that it probably isn't the transmission...
posted by porpoise at 7:48 PM on March 4, 2013


Is your drive home uphill with frequent stops? If so, it could very well be the master or slave cylinders on your clutch that needs replacing (they are not putting enough pressure on the clutch plate to shift properly in higher torque situations (such as shifting from first to second on an incline).
posted by cinemafiend at 8:02 PM on March 4, 2013


There may be a device attached to the throttle plate that prevents it closing suddenly, which was the countermeasure of the era to closed-throttle HC emissions - and if that is sticking, your car will do exactly what you say.

Hondas have a lot of gimcrackery but it is pretty reliable. I suspect there is a small throttle-control device attached to the linkage that reacts to vacuum - and this device has failed.
posted by jet_silver at 8:14 PM on March 4, 2013


i'm with brockles on this. i had this same stuttering issue exactly as you described, but my car is ancient and has a 3 speed automatic. i'd give it more gas in second going up hills or generally accelerating and it would stutter and hesitate like that. i too nursed it along by just flooring it until i gained enough rpms to shift to 3rd.

eventually, it stranded me near a friends house and everyone in the car had to jump out and shove it into a parking spot on the side of the road. i ended up having to change the fuel filters, a section of fuel line, and the fuel pump on the side of the road in freezing cold weather. good times.

i've never, ever had that problem again with that car.
posted by emptythought at 9:01 PM on March 4, 2013


The problem could also lie with your engine's electronics. Check your manifold air pressure sensor (on top of the throttle body), your ignition coil module (or your distributor, if so equipped), and your throttle position sensor. I'm not certain where the last two are, or which combination of what your model year will have, but in general, your situation's symptomatic of at least one of those things shitting the bed, in addition to the possibility of fuel issues mentioned above.

And your "sticking going into 1st" issue sounds to me like a syncro wearing out. But don't quote me on that.

If nothing else, maybe google after fuel delivery / sensor failures and see what else you turn up. Happy hunting!
posted by Chutzler at 9:59 PM on March 4, 2013


I would suspect ignition coil issues. I hesitate to agree with fuel supply issues because flooring it helps. If fuel were restricted, no amount of throttle would give it more gas. It would just make things worse- more air for the same amount of fuel.

As for the transmission, you could be having synchronizer issues. These are little clutches in the gearbox that get the gears going the same speed before they mesh. Try double clutching when this happens. (Step on clutch, move shifter to neutral, release clutch, step on clutch, move shifter to first, engage clutch.) If you are going into first while moving at a high rate of speed, stop doing this.
posted by gjc at 3:31 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Checking the clutch is easy, simply drive in first or second and hit the gas. Your engine should speed up, but the car will lag behind, because the power can't get from the engine to the wheels. This 'surging' does not sound like a transmission / clutch issue. See comments above for better diagnostic steps.
posted by defcom1 at 4:41 AM on March 5, 2013


This is probably way off base but my sister experienced the same -- stutters, surges, and stalls in 2nd a 3rd gear and while accelerating -- with her last car. It got so annoying that she sold the thing. Our BMW guy bought it from her, replaced the spark plugs, fixed 'er right up, and then sold it for a nice profit. My sister was mad at herself for a good couple weeks for that one.

Maybe check your spark plugs. Who knows, could be it.
posted by youandiandaflame at 5:04 AM on March 5, 2013


I'm pretty sure this isn't a problem.

If the actual important components are still standard (air flow sensor, throttle body, that kind of thing) then I also doubt it is related.

Same friend also suggested that the clutch has been really worn down and isn't catching into the 2nd gear at lower RPMs?

No. It'd be worst going into first and the biting point would be very near the top of the travel - if the clutch biting point is anywhere near mid point of the pedal travel you can pretty much discount this. Also, your symptoms are more engine related - I've often had cars that need you to go into second to align the shift mechanism in the gear box before it'd happily go into first. I don't think it is a big deal.

A friend suggested that I had been putting cheap gas into the car and it needs something with a higher octane; but this would contribute to knocking, not the symptoms that I've been experiencing.

Agreed. If it is a fuel supply problem, it may amplify the existing issue though. Possibly. Maybe.

I hesitate to agree with fuel supply issues because flooring it helps. If fuel were restricted, no amount of throttle would give it more gas.

Actually it would. The fact that it clears up like that is what makes me think it isn't electrical, actually. If the fuel flow is weak (filter restriction or weak pump) it will not atomise through the injector - say only 40% of it is atomised. You'll still get the right amount of fuel (quantity is not necessarily restricted, just pressure and delivery efficiency). Less atomisation will mean it is harder for the mixture to burn as it is too 'wet' so adding more air will allow a chance of a proper air mixture for at least some of the fuel in there. If you can get enough air into the cylinder to start to fire what is in there, the extra air will allow the rest to burn until the longer injection pulses make the atomisation issue less of a problem as the rpm goes up. So while you are essentially on the right track with 'not enough fuel will not get better with more air' because of the atomisation problem it isn't actually a fuel volume issue and the problem is actually reversed (for small pressure/supply issues). This is one of those weird symptoms of 'edge case supply problems'. If not enough fuel at all was getting in (as carb cars and worse injection supply issues would have) then you'd be perfectly correct. Make sense? One of those weird things that injection makes illogical at the start of the symptom.

replaced the spark plugs, fixed 'er right up,

While I guess you don't know precisely what else he did (replacing the fuel filter would likely cure it too if it is fuel supply) this issue could well be incomplete combustion through weak spark (plugs or coils) so I'm not saying it is definitely fuel. I just think that it is the most likely from the symptoms described. I'd replace fuel filter first, do a flow and pressure check on the pump and see what happens.

Also, OP: I'd do this soon. You may get away with the car acting like it is long enough to save some money doing a progressive diagnosis. If you leave it too long and it is a weakening fuel pump or a slowly strangling filter the car may die before you can rule anything out.
posted by Brockles at 5:17 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


OP, listen to brockles. He knows of what he speaks.
posted by bartonlong at 10:10 AM on March 5, 2013


I had a similar problem after installing a K&N cleanable permanent air filter in my Volvo 850 wagon - after much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments, it turned out that the oil that the air filter was (over)saturated with had fouled the mass air flow sensor, sending all sorts of goofy signals to the ECU, causing wacky idling, surges, etc at low rpms. Long shot, but TL;DR, check to make sure your sensors are clean...
posted by stenseng at 1:34 PM on March 5, 2013


Response by poster: Thank you everyone for your help! (and reassurances that the "sticking in 1st" thing isn't a symptom that the transmission is going to imminently fall out the bottom of the car).

Apparently not clutch/transmission and not fuel-supply related.

I figured it was better to get it looked at instead of getting stranded in Richmond, so I dropped the car off in the morning. Got a call shortly before noon saying that they've been futzing with the darned car for a couple of hours and couldn't even figure out which model of engine was installed (apparently some weird non-stock but-still-Honda enthusiast engine only sold in Japan?) and that they didn't want to waste any more time/my-money on it and that I should contact the previous owner to try to figure out what had been done to the car.

Got another call a couple of hours later saying that I can pick it up. At first I couldn't understand that they thought they had fixed the problem.

One of their techs had spent another couple of hours adjusting the timings (?) on the engine, and the symptoms have gone away. I only just got back home, and will have to wait until tomorrow morning to pick it up. Couldn't get too much information from the phone call, but once I figure out what they did and whether the problem has gone away, I'll post it here.
posted by porpoise at 7:06 PM on March 5, 2013


That's interesting. Maybe the person who mentioned the Honda fancy adjustable timing was on track- I wonder if they found something wrong with the way it adjusts the timing through the rev range?
posted by Brockles at 5:49 AM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: They changed the timing of spark firing and piston distance and tweaked it to a "conservative" setting. Also mentioned that the engine seems to want to run rich (and I guess I should put the expensive gas into it...).

Low gear at low RPM has sustained power and no more "I want to stall" stuttering. High RPM in low gear doesn't feel like the engine wants to barf all over itself and the "comfortable" laid-back RPM is now 3.5k to 4.5k instead of 2.5-3 and idle is closer to 1.1k than 0.8.

Acceleration at speed in high gear is kilometers better than it ever was, even before I ripped out the aftermarket exhaust. Feels absolutely effortless - I've never experienced that before as a driver.

Speaking of kilometers, the shop guys put almost 30km on the odometer "testing" their settings =) Only charged me an hour (~$100) and minor incidentals/tax.

They still have no idea what engine is in the car (not Civic, not Acura, and 1.8 or 2.0 liters) and I still have no idea why the problem suddenly cropped up - unless it has to do with replacing the exhaust manifold with a stock, or the guys who did it messed up my engine doing it.

Finally, maybe a bit of luck with this car. <knock wood>
posted by porpoise at 5:39 PM on March 6, 2013


Response by poster: ... and thanks for the shifting advice!

No problem shifting between high gears, just getting into 1st. Routinely going into 2nd while neutral makes shifting into 1st with the clutch down much more frequently easier. If I'm coasting clutch down to a stop or stopped and it's still being stubborn, 3rd to 2nd to 1st takes care of it.
posted by porpoise at 6:05 PM on March 6, 2013


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