Bad plug causing the distributor to fail?

christineFebruary 23, 2010

Please help me!

DHs car would not start last night. It is very damp where we are and I have had distributor moisture issues with this car before. We used a heat gun on the dist cap for several minutes with no luck. He had it towed (thank you AAA) to a place by his work that others have used in the past. The estimate came back at $650. I was shocked to say the least.

They said that a spark plug with too large a gap caused arcing in the wires which went back to the distributor and burned it out. We now have to replace the distributor assembly, distributor cap, rotor, wires, and plugs and we also need an oil change because all the trying to start the car has caused fuel to get in the oil.

Is this remotely possible or are we being taken for a ride? The prices of everything arenÂt terrible (except $40 for plugs!), standard markup over retail and labor isnÂt terrible for what is being doneÂmy question is, could a bad plug cause all this damage? DH asked what was the minimum to get the car running and they said everything listed needed to be done.

I understand how all the parts work, I just never heard of such a problem before. The car is a 94 Honda Civic EX. I have replaced wires once, dist cap twice, plugs a few times. Never done the actual distributor. The car was having absolutely no firing issues of any sort prior to this.

Thoughts? Opinions?

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john_g

Can excessive secondary voltage demand (too wide of a plug gap) cause damage inside of the distributor? In fact it can. Although my own impression is that the coil has failed causing the no-start. I suspect this is the one inside the distributor cap, and knowing how prone to failure the distributor assemblies on these are its a good idea to replace the assembly instead of just the coil inside it.

BTW $40 for the set of plugs? We have some today that are $28.00 each, and one engine I can think of off-hand that has two of them per cylinder. (8)

    Bookmark   February 23, 2010 at 9:31PM
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christine

John - thanks for the information! It turns out I had the info wrong - I was going on DH's info when I posted and then I called the repair place myself. I guess the wires were arcing which is what caused the coil and the module in the distributor to fail. The bolts from the cap were stuck in the dist. so they had to cut the cap off, which they used as a 'motivator' to get us to buy the dist. since the cost of drilling out the bolts was allegedly more than the dist. itself even tho we had no idea they were slicing the bolts and never told us the cost of replacing just the dist parts that were bad. The starting of the car caused flooding and gas to get in the oil and dirty the plugs. This is what they said.

They were rude to me - at one point the sales manager put the phone down and said, "I'm giving an automotive lesson here on the phone!" That irked me. This morning when I called and spoke with the owner he had the same stand offish attitude. He told me he had a reputation to uphold and that he could not warranty any of the work unless he did all the work and that no cheaper/reman parts were an option.

This is a 16 year old car with 4 cyls. I don't think I need $10 plugs and certainly not $28 plugs...I have been using Bosch Platinum for $2 each for the life of the car...would have been happy with that but I guess we would have been out a warranty.

I ultimately let them do it because it was less than 2 car payments on a new car and it was not worth the shopping around time and fighting with my DH. But they were rude and we will never go back. When I called in to approve the work I was told, "good choice!" I don't need my mechanic to be a cheerleader, I need him to be honest with me and give me affordable options.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2010 at 1:45AM
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john_g

"at one point the sales manager put the phone down and said, "I'm giving an automotive lesson here on the phone! That irked me."

Before you spend too much time thanking me for information, you need to understand that my perspective is identical to the sales manager's. I suspect you tried to back him into a corner and he felt he had to fight his way back out by teaching you more about the technical details of the repair than he was comfortable with, and that was really necessary.

Now combine that from his perception of your initial conversation here, which started with distorted details. You probably don't want to, but you need to imagine how many times he has to deal with someone who got onto the the internet and was in fact not given accurate information who then feels they are informed enough to challenge the training and experience of the shop and it's technicians. I gave you as accurate of information as I could without seeing the car and diagnosing the issue myself. I'll bet he has to handle a dozen calls a week where the person only got the opinions from people who don't have first hand experience repairing a number of vehicles that have been presented with a similar issue. BTW, the seized screw thing in the distributor body is not uncommon at all for this vehicle, but having not seen one for a few years it isn't something that came to mind when I wrote my first response. In essence, imagine walking up to a complete stranger, slap him/her in the face and then try and ask them to help you. That's what those calls are like to us, so it only makes sense that they are not as helpful as you might want them to be.

Now, don't get defensive, nor attempt to erode that picture. Unless you were on the other side of the counter day in and day out you won't understand what the cumulative value of all of those slaps does to the people who are there to make a vehicle problem go away for you. I have seen many people try and claim they know all of the secrets to auto repair, and there are things that they claim to know, and imply we won't tell you. They would not be able to sell their articles or books if they told you the truth and laid it all out there like I am doing here.

"This morning when I called and spoke with the owner he had the same stand offish attitude."

There are people who will never come back into my shop because of these kinds of exchanges, and that is by my choice not theirs. As a person, before I am a technician, certain types of stress cause lapses in my ability to perform to my own expectations. I have learned that its just not worth fighting to make everyone else happy, because that makes it impossible for me to be happy, and then I have trouble taking care of anyone.

"He told me he had a reputation to uphold and that he could not warranty any of the work unless he did all the work and that no cheaper/reman parts were an option."

He is 100% correct.

"I don't need my mechanic to be a cheerleader, I need him to be honest with me and give me affordable options."

Everybody is different, while this is what you say here that is all you need, I'll disagree with you to some extent. First you need accuracy in the shops ability to analyze the vehicle failure. They did that. They need to be profitable so that they are first of all there on the day you need them in the future, that should go without mentioning, but they also have to continually re-invest in their technicians training, and the tools and equipment to support many different cars and it is no small undertaking. This single expense category, tools and training, has increased some 500 times over what shops used to have to spend just a decade ago.

The average person with an opinion about auto service that you will find on the net has no comprehension that this is taking place, nor how drastic of one it actually is.

"This is a 16 year old car with 4 cyls. I don't think I need $10 plugs and certainly not $28 plugs."

The price of the spark plugs reflect needed gross profit attributable to help cover the shops cost of doing business.

"..I have been using Bosch Platinum for $2 each for the life of the car.

I would not choose those for my customers, I get better longevity and quality repairs from other plugs. The quality of the repair ultimately affects the customers perception of my ability to service their car. If you ran a shop and used those, your customers eventually would not be happy with you. JMHO.

"would have been happy with that but I guess we would have been out a warranty."

Until the day came when one of them failed to live up to your expectations. Then would you blame the shop, or the spark plug?

Repeat ""I don't need my mechanic to be a cheerleader, I need him to be honest with me and give me affordable options."

There has been many things written about how "The customer is always right". Somewhere we lost the real picture that people at times stop being customers no matter how hard you try to make them happy. I said earlier some people will never be welcome back to my shop. Several have tried to come back when they found that they had specific vehicle issues that I was truly the only one in the area that was equipped, and trained to handle them. The high tech robotics in today's cars are on par with the most high tech inventions found in any field less than a decade ago. Yet we still have to deal with the perception that because some auto parts store will sell a cheap spark plug below their cost just to drag you in their front door that we are something less than honorable for not skimping on the quality that our trade demands.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2010 at 1:13PM
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john_g

Something to be known about cheap spark plugs...

http://www.curezone.org/forums/am.asp?i=1063782

    Bookmark   February 26, 2010 at 10:57AM
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exgm

There are different ways to handle situations like this, and fault can be assigned to either or both parties, depending upon whose point of view you want to side on. Unless the customer is completely out of control, and deserves to be thrown out of the building, then "Customer Service 101" goes along way in resolving this type of incident. By putting the cards on the table (and your ego aside) in a professional fashion, much more will generally be accomplished. (So you're busy - that discussion over a coffee will maybe make you busier, repeat business perhaps?). Any business in the year 2010 that doesn't understand how quickly customers can communicate both good and bad service immediately over the internet, isn't really thinking ahead.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2010 at 9:00AM
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