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Old 07-04-2013   #1 (permalink)
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97 Civic Idle Problem

Hello everyone, I've got a 97 Civic LX that's just developed on odd idle problem within the last 3 days. When stopped the rpm fluctuates if I turn on the lights, turn the steering wheel, or turn the fan on. It seems that when under an electrical load the rpm drops to about 250-300. Also when engine is warm the power steering fluid in the reservoir bubbles, I don't think it's done that before. I took it to an auto parts store and they checked the alternator (this was my first guess) but it tested fine. They then tested the 4 year old battery and it tested bad. I'm not sure how a bad battery could cause a low idle problem...is it possible that this is my problem?

I checked for a vacuum leak but I couldn't find one. The first day this problem started I was turning the wheel while at a stop and heard two loud chirps (seemed like it was coming from power steering), I haven't been able to duplicate this. If my power steering pump was going out could it cause low idle when turning on head lights? I don't want to just throw parts at it, any help diagnosing this would be appreciated.

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Old 07-06-2013   #2 (permalink)
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Re: 97 Civic Idle Problem

I have been dealing with a bad idle problem of my own so I feel your pain.

Have you tried cleaning or replacing the IACV (idle air control valve)? Normally when idling if you add a load (e.g. turning the wheel with power steering, or turning the lights on) this would stress the engine and cause the rpms to drop. The IACV is intended to increase the airflow through the throttle body in these situations to bring the rpms back to normal. If it's malfunctioning there's no adjustment so the engine labors.

There are lots of tutorials online for how to find, replace, or clean this part.

Hope this helps.
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Old 07-06-2013   #3 (permalink)
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Re: 97 Civic Idle Problem

I'm going to try to clean my IACV today, just have to wait for my car to cool down. One thing that's odd is that the steering feels somewhat loose now. I'm still wondering if a bad battery could be the cause of these problems, after doing some reading I've found that some people believe it can cause idle problems, and some people don't. I'm going to need a new battery soon anyway, but I'm broke right now and just want to make sure I can get to work.
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Old 07-06-2013   #4 (permalink)
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Re: 97 Civic Idle Problem

I don't see how a bad battery could cause a low idle problem. Especially if the battery is still good enough to start your engine. When the car is running the alternator is supplying enough voltage to both top off the battery and run the ignition system. I think the PS is a red herring except that it causes a load that stresses the engine at idle. As for the looseness, sometimes when we start looking/listening closely for problems we notice for the first time things that were there before. Make sure the PS fluid is topped off, check the other parts of the steering system for leaks and if you find none I wouldn't worry too much about the PS unless it gets hard to steer. Good luck with the IACV.
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Old 07-06-2013   #5 (permalink)
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Re: 97 Civic Idle Problem

Cleaning the IACV didn't help, I also tried burping the coolant system. No help there either. The steering is definitely getting worse, it's not that there's more play in the steering, it's just getting looser. It's kind of hard to describe, that resistance you feel when turning a steering wheel is disappearing. The PS fluid is topped off, and still bubbling when engine is warm.

While the car was running, a few times I heard a quiet little chirp sound like a belt slipping. I couldn't determine which belt it was coming from. One more thing that was curious...I didn't have the AC on, but I noticed for a couple minutes clear water was dripping down from the car (in the same area it usually does when the AC has been on for a while). It wasn't coolant, it was clear water.

BTW there is no CEL. I'm considering my next move...maybe changing the fuel filter? Trying to find a cheap known good PS pump?
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Old 07-06-2013   #6 (permalink)
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Re: 97 Civic Idle Problem

Sounds like your PS is working better, not worse, which you might expect if it had air trapped in it that is now working its way out. You might try bleeding it to see if you can get any remaining air out. There are some (at times conflicting) descriptions of how to do this. Search for "bubbles in power steering fluid". I would be more curious as to how the air got in there.

I still don't know how the PS issue relates to the idle issue unless it is causing an abnormally high load on the engine for some reason.
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Old 07-06-2013   #7 (permalink)
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Re: 97 Civic Idle Problem

The power steering isn't getting better, I don't think I'm explaining the steering issue well. I'm not sure how air would get into the PS fluid as there is no leak and I've never done any work on the PS system.
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Old 07-07-2013   #8 (permalink)
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Re: 97 Civic Idle Problem

You said you are getting less resistance on the steering wheel than you did before. That usually indicates that the power steering is working better. That's what I would experience if my PS fluid was low and I just refilled it. Are the wheels not turning as they should any more? I don't understand how the steering is worse other than it being different than you are used to. Swapping the PS pump could solve it but if it's just air in the system then it might be a waste of time/money. If it's a problem somewhere else in the PS system (e.g. the rack) then it might not even solve the problem. I would go through the bleeding procedure first to see if that helps.

Are you still getting the drop in idle from other loads like lights or fan? If so, then it's probably not (just) the PS that's causing the idle problem. I've read that cleaning the IACV doesn't always solve the problem. It might be necessary to swap a new or known working part to rule that out.
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Old 07-07-2013   #9 (permalink)
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Re: 97 Civic Idle Problem

Check all of your electrical connections for corrosion, all of the ignition system, Your 3 engine grounds, Alternator, etc. Buy yourself a multimeter if you don't have one and learn to use it (Haynes and chiltons show you how). Make sure you know what is wrong before you start throwing parts at the problem. If the engine is loosing RPM's due to electrical issues the loss of vacuum at low RPM's could make the power steering harder to move. Does that sound like what is happening?
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Old 07-08-2013   #10 (permalink)
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Re: 97 Civic Idle Problem

Bad power loss while driving, seems to be getting worse. Randomly for a few seconds I'll get all my power back (when I say power I mean HP/torque), then it will be slow as crap again. It doesn't happen at any given rpm.


I rechecked the alt including the voltage regulator and all is good in that dept. The battery voltage is fine, but the cold cranking amps are too low, which is why it tested bad at the auto parts store. The tester didn't tell me how many amps it was off by, it just said bad. I'm hoping to borrow a multimeter as mine is kablewie.

A couple months ago I replaced a bad ignition coil with new OEM coil (also threw in new plugs). It was running fantastic after that, until a week ago. Today I replaced the cap and rotor (The rotor looked rough when I had the cap off a couple months ago). It didn't help but it was only $40.

I will check the grounds, and I'm probably going to replace the spark plug wires in the next few days. I don't think the plug wires are the problem but they're kind of old. I haven't noticed any arcing.

Besides checking grounds/connections what should I do next? I've pretty much replaced the entire ignition system except for ignitor and bottom part of distributor. I'm going to get a new battery maybe tomorrow if I can afford it, but I doubt that's what is causing my issues.

Last edited by thefinder808; 07-08-2013 at 06:43 PM.
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Old 07-08-2013   #11 (permalink)
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Re: 97 Civic Idle Problem

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Originally Posted by Mad Dog Tannen View Post
Check all of your electrical connections for corrosion, all of the ignition system, Your 3 engine grounds, Alternator, etc. Buy yourself a multimeter if you don't have one and learn to use it (Haynes and chiltons show you how). Make sure you know what is wrong before you start throwing parts at the problem. If the engine is loosing RPM's due to electrical issues the loss of vacuum at low RPM's could make the power steering harder to move. Does that sound like what is happening?

The change in the way the steering feels is hard to describe, the best way I can describe it is that the steering feels loose. I know that doesn't help much. Maybe cfahamilton is right and I have air in the line somewhere but I don't know how it could've gotten there. Can anyone with a 6th gen civic tell me if it's normal for your PS fluid to be bubbling and swishing around in the res when engine is at temp?
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Old 07-09-2013   #12 (permalink)
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Re: 97 Civic Idle Problem

It sounds like an electrical issue. Look for loose wires connectors or damaged wires first, a short could be causing this too.

Is the power loss instantaneous like a switch? or building up slower?
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Old 07-09-2013   #13 (permalink)
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Re: 97 Civic Idle Problem

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Originally Posted by Mad Dog Tannen View Post
It sounds like an electrical issue. Look for loose wires connectors or damaged wires first, a short could be causing this too.

Is the power loss instantaneous like a switch? or building up slower?
Thank you for responding again, the power loss is instantaneous. It goes from bad to severe when the AC is turned on. The AC has always bogged down my car quite a bit but I figure with only 90ish HP that's normal (I could be wrong). But now with the AC on it's just awful.

My gut is echoing your statement, that it's most likely an electrical issue. I'm going to try to get my hands on a multimeter tomorrow or Wednesday, but I have to ask if you've ever heard of a bad battery causing these issues? So far that's the only part I know for sure is failing.
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Old 07-09-2013   #14 (permalink)
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Re: 97 Civic Idle Problem

A/C pump failing? Check to see if it moves freely without the belt on.
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Old 07-09-2013   #15 (permalink)
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Re: 97 Civic Idle Problem

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A/C pump failing? Check to see if it moves freely without the belt on.
That could be it, the belt does give me a squeak or two when I first turn on the AC. I didn't know that could affect idle when AC wasn't on, this is my first Honda and I'm not very knowledgeable in the mechanical dept. I'll take the belts off and make sure everything can turn easily. Thank you.
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Old 07-09-2013   #16 (permalink)
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Re: 97 Civic Idle Problem

Just a quick update, went to Oreilly's to pick up some carb cleaner and ended up with a free known good battery. They traded me my bad one for a tested good one they were about to recycle. Didn't solve the problem though.
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Old 07-09-2013
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