Wednesday night, October 30, 2019
1993 Honda Distributor Failure - it quit after getting me home from a 2000 mile trip

This entry is more for the story than the photos.

I have a long history with two Honda Accord Station wagons. These cars suit my needs well and they treat me well.

The first was with me for ten years and 240,679 miles. This second is, so far, almost fifteen years and 271,011 miles with an odomter reading of 309,000. The first car left me at the side of the road only once - a couple miles from home (if I recall, it was an ignition coil wire). This car, while it let me down, did not leave me at the side of the road. It said "no more" in front of my garage. While that's wonderful in itself, the story leading up is the curious bit.

Perhaps a couple winters back the car would make a loud squealing noise when it was started the first time for the day - but only in unusually cold weather and only for a short time would the noise happen. If I kept the car in the garage, it would not make the noise. I started to leave it outside at night so the first start in the morning I might hear the noise to hopefully figure out what was making the noise. Overall, my diagnosis was inconclusive. I could not pin down what was causing it though the noise did sound "up high" on the engine and not down inside.

The driver's side of the engine has the accessory devices - alternator, power steering pump, air conditioning compressor. The passenger side has the distributor.

With the miles on the car I figured, why not preventatively replace a likely item - the alternator. I replaced it 02/2018. The squeal returned. It wasn't the alternator. Next up - the power steering pump. I purchased a replacement pump in May of 2018 and after looking at the process to install it I asked Luke and Paul to tend the replacement on my next Illinois visit. They did the install in June of 2018. Now to wait for cold weather for the test. The squeal was still at hand. On the driver's side of the engine, this left the air conditioning compressor clutch bearing. I purchased an alternator belt for a car without A/C and this removed the A/C compressor from consideration. I don't recall having the squeal happen again for the remainder of the 2018/2019 winter. In the spring of 2019 I went back to the proper belt so that I could have air conditioning for the 2019 summer.

Now, we're rolling into the 2019/2020 winter.  I have not heard the squeal but we haven't been too cold yet. The distributor is not on my radar as a part that would fail. The squeal issue is on my mind - what could be the cause?

My fall trip to Illinois is set to spend time with family. I headed out Wednesday afternoon the 23rd to reach Princeton on Thursday. The car acted as typical - reliable and of no issue the trip east and all of the trips while in Illinois. The return trip would find me hauling a carload of packages for a friend. As I'm hauling items that aren't mine I plan to tend the trek in one day so I'd not have their items sitting in the car overnight at some hotel or me bringing the items into the hotel. Fuel stop / start in eastern Iowa, western Iowa and North Platte NE. From North Platte to home I won't need to stop.

Somewhere in eastern Wyoming, with sun in my eyes, I decided to get off I-80 and travel US-30 in the valley - making a stop at some small town to break up the day as the sun dips below the horizon. I waited at a crossing for a train at some four block long town and heard an odd growling noise from the engine. I was not happy to hear it as I'm an hour east of Cheyenne WY with scant few areas of services nearby. Circling the block in the town I rolled down the windows and had a good listen to the growl. It sounds like a bad bearing - but which one and how long will it hold out. Let's see if the car will get me home.  (Hey Ken - have memories of me riding the motorcycle 1000 miles home with the failed / clanking camshaft...)

Back out to I-80 my goal was HOME. I was very gentle with the gas pedal. I don't want the engine jumping in RPM's. The 80 MPH stretch of eastern Wyoming found me at the unusual pace of 65. The car was rolling and getting me closer to home.

In Cheyenne there's a stretch of fresh, smooth asphalt from this summer. I was enjoying the smoothness until the engine gave me a jolt. The engine acted as if I had turned the ignition off and on as fast as I could. Now, Cheyenne's a large enough city to have services, but home is only 50 miles away. Please just get me home. I've been on the road for 13 hours and have only one more to go.

Slow down for the I-80 to I-25 ramp. Fortunately nobody was around wanting me to get up and go as I didn't want to push the engine - steady does it. The rest of the run down I-25 to home was uneventful, with loaded semi's passing me.

I backed the car to the garage and shut it off to unload. I was home. It got me there. I still don't have an idea as to what the noise is but that's for another day. The trip was 14 hours behind the wheel. Car unloaded, I went to start it to pull it into the garage - it said I got you here and this is where I'm calling it done. You're welcome. I said - thank you.

It would crank but wouldn't run.

It sat out that first night. Thursday and Friday were busy work days but I made certain to get the car pushed uphill into the garage (the jeep, with a simple 2x4 attached to the front bumper would readily get the car pushed in). I drove the jeep where needed and Saturday afternoon found me digging into the issue. I decided to look into the distributor and once I removed the distributor see bits of metal that shouldn't be there, the cause and solution were evident.

So, with the 2000 mile trip out and back I'm thankful the car treated me well and didn't leave me at the side of the road. I'm certain Dad had his hand at work (Thanks Dad). Carolina's Saint Christopher medal is right in line as well.

With the car, I believe, to now be more reliable, I'll keep trying to help others stuck at the roadside.

The replacement distributor mounted on the engine.

Step one - remove the distributor cap. Hmmm - there are little bars of metal floating around in here - and they should not be there. Where'd they come from? Pull out a magnet - they stick to the magnet - they're ferrous. Additionally, there's an orange-ish coating on the inside surface of the cap (I'll learn to be ground up bearing metal).

Two electrical connectors and three bolts and it's off of the motor. None of the fasteners were frozen or otherwise difficult to remove. I believe this is the first time they've been touched since installation at the factory 26 years ago.

With the distributor removed from the motor. I CAN NOT rotate the shaft (where it should freely rotate).

A closer look inside - anything circled in red is bad. Green is the one item that should be as it is (mostly - it does show signs of contact but that one item didn't break). On that reluctor wheel there are 24 "posts" and 23 of them were broken. All of those "little bars" are what snapped off.

The single node that didn't break - but does show signs of contact.

The cause of the fail - the ball bearing failed (long ago) which caused the shaft to not be centered. With the shaft off-center, the posts on one of the reluctor wheels were able to contact the sensor in the body of the distributor, snapping the reluctor posts. With the posts broken, the car's computer could not detect the position of the crankshaft/piston to properly fire the spark plugs. How the car kept running but would not start is beyond me. The jolt near Cheyenne is perhaps where more contact and breakage happened.

Two reluctor wheels.

The distributor, in addition to distributing the ignition spark to the proper spark plug, senses Top Dead Center, Crank Position, and Cylinder location so that the computer knows when to fire the spark.

A quite non-concentric bearing assembly.

The bearing - what a wreck

What the bearing should look like

Carolina's St. Christopher metal that rode with me on the motorcycle since 2005 and now on the dashboard in the car.

Thanks Carolina!