weird distributor cap-eating thing, 85 Civic hatchback

Discussion in 'Civic' started by Mark Edgley, Aug 20, 2004.

  1. Mark Edgley

    Mark Edgley Guest

    So I have this Honda, US car, 352K miles, 1300cc engine, and for the
    last few years the thing has been eating a distributor cap and rotor
    once a year or so. The symptoms are very odd. The inside of the cap
    is always kind of oily damp with a really sharp acid smell, the
    aluminum contacts inside the cap are always really corroded with a
    fluffy white oxide, and the carbon contact button that connects the
    coil wire to the center of the rotor is eaten away nearly flat and
    fused with the cap. The metal bits of the part that holds the
    magnetic pickup are very rusty. And yet the thing starts and runs
    amazingly well. Every so often I get in there and clean the cap,
    scrape the contacts clean, etc. Eventually it will get to where it
    runs to rough that I have to replace the cap and rotor, and then we
    start all over.

    Anybody have any idea what's going on here? The only thing that
    occurs to me is that I recently had to have the head gasket replaced.
    Is it possible that when the old gasket went bad, it was leaking steam
    past seals or something and into the distributor housing from below?
    If not that, then what the heck?

    I'm hoping to make half a million miles on this beast, if it will

    Thanks quite a lot -

    Mark Edgley, Aug 20, 2004
  2. Mark Edgley

    Eric Guest

    I don't have a direct answer to your question but here are some things to

    There should be a rubber gasket that goes between the distributor cap and
    the distributor body. If this gasket is missing, broken, or dried up and
    brittle then moisture can get into the distributor and could be causing some
    of the corrosion symptoms you're experiencing.

    The "oily damp" symptom could be caused by a bad oil seal in the
    distributor. If this is the case, then you may be best off going with a
    used distributor as, to the best of my knowledge, the seals aren't available
    from either the dealer or the aftermarket.

    Check the vacuum advance. This should hold vacuum. If not, then your car's
    timing will not be correct.

    Check the advance plate. When you pull vacuum on the vacuum advance (as
    long as it's not leaking) you should see the advance plate turn a given
    amount (I don't have exact specs for this but it's roughly 10° or so). With
    as much corrosion as you're describing, I would be willing to bet that your
    advance plate may be frozen. Even if it's not frozen, the bearing retainer
    in the advance plate often breaks. This causes the advance plate to sit
    crooked resulting in unequal or nonexistent air gaps with the reluctor.
    Sometimes you can find the steel bearings stuck to the magnet when the
    advance plate goes south.

    Check the magnet. You'll need a small mirror and a flashlight for this
    one. If it's cracked or broken then it needs to be replaced.

    It's also important to check the mechanical advance. You should be able to
    turn the distributor rotor 10° or so and then have it spring back. If this
    doesn't happen, then the distributor will need to be disassembled so that
    the mechanical advance can be cleaned and lubed. Note that the top shaft in
    the distributor can go on in either of two orientations however only one is
    correct. Make some hash marks on it with a carbide scribe indicating it's
    orientation such that you can get it back together correctly. If you get it
    wrong, you won't be able to time the car and will need to take things back

    This diagram should help to give you some idea of how all the components are
    stacked together, It's for an Hitachi distributor
    from an '85 1300 49 state 5spd. The other possibility is that you could
    have a Tek distributor. If that's the case or the diagram is not correct,
    then put the correct info for your car into this page

    Eric, Aug 20, 2004
  3. Mark Edgley

    Mark Edgley Guest

    Thanks, Eric. I will check some of these things. I'm sure there's no
    rubber gasket between cap and body. I'm also sure the vacuum advance
    is broken - I live in Canada and the mechanics here don't have access
    to proper manuals, so when it had to pass the air pollution tests a
    few years ago they just did their best and it worked. At the time,
    they noted that the vacuum advance was broken so they just
    disconnected it. (Except for roughness due, I think, to the corrosion
    inside the cap, this thing runs VERY well - good acceleration, 40 mpg
    in nice weather, starts on the first crank always.) But still, it
    sounds to me like I may have multiple problems.

    What are the good sources for used distributors? I'm pretty sure this
    is a Hitachi unit - the cap is the kind where the cylinder wire
    connectors come off the cap perpendicular to the axis of the
    distributor shaft and not in line with it.

    Thanks again!

    Mark Edgley, Aug 21, 2004
  4. Lol....

    Steve Bigelow, Aug 21, 2004
  5. Mark Edgley

    Caroline Guest

    The following site (= Majestic online) indicates, at least for a 2-door, that it
    is a Hitachi with perpendicular wire connections: (Check both auto
    and manual. The site seems a little messed up for auto, but the part numbers
    appear to be the same, as one would expect.

    Have you considered online salvage sites? It seems most have online, free
    searchable inventories. I had really good experience several weeks ago with one.

    I just tried looking for your 1985 Hatchback's distributor at .

    For an auto transmission, three 85 Civic Hatch distributors came up, ranging in
    price from about $55 to $138.

    For manual, four 85 Civic Hatch distributors came up, ranging from about $55 to

    Warranties are often offered on such parts.

    Google for {auto salvage import search inventory}, and more searchable sites
    come up.

    Ebay often sells distributors but I saw nothing for a 1985 Civic today.

    Updates welcome.
    Caroline, Aug 21, 2004
  6. Mark Edgley

    Eric Guest

    Yes, then that could be one possible source for moisture and corrosion in
    the distributor.
    At first glance the vacuum advance units might seem expensive, Majestic
    Honda lists them at $40. However, consider that if the engine's timing is
    incorrect and the engine is pinging that the piston ring lands could be
    destroyed thereby requiring an engine rebuild. All of a sudden, a little
    money spent on the distributor seems very reasonable.
    The online sources that Caroline mentioned are a good place to start.
    However, don't forget to check your local newspapers, little nickel, etc.
    You may be able to find someone parting out a car with your distributor. In
    that case, you may be able to pick it up for $10-25 or so.

    Eric, Aug 21, 2004
  7. Mark Edgley

    Mark Edgley Guest

    Thanks everybody! All your efforts are appreciated.

    Steve, I'm not exactly sure what your point is, but I'm just quoting
    the actual mechanics who worked on it - they couldn't get the proper
    manuals for this car. Nor could the dealers get the proper
    distributor cap for this car. Perhaps Ottawa is a different universe
    in this regard.

    Mark Edgley, Aug 23, 2004
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