By on June 15, 2009

TTAC commentator SpeedJebus writes:

This issue has boggled me from Day 1. I own a 2007 Honda Civic EX Sedan, with the 1.8 litre 4-cylinder, and the oh-so-wonderful Drive-By-Wire throttle system.

My issue is that it is LAZY. Lazy to rev that is. Also, at some points it appears to lose power for just a split second in the middle of a gear. Now at first I thought this was the result of an A/C compressor kicking on (I picked the car up in June 2007). But it has demonstrated this year round.

It doesn’t happen every time though. But it’s enough of an annoyance for me to bring it to the dealership. So my lovely Civic has been there a few times. They can’t figure it out. They’ve reflashed, and cleared the ECU, so that it will learn my driving habits all over again, etc however, it still happens. Can you, or anyone else explain to me how Honda can get this so wrong (And by comparison, a VW GTI with a DBW system can get it oh-so-right)? Can anyone suggest how I can get this remedied? It’s getting more and more of an annoyance. Especially since it IS (was) a new car. I’m not looking to replace the car, since I do plan on keeping it, so that is out of the question.

Sajeev answers:

The first thing is to level the playing field between your used Civic and a new one. Which means a tune up is in order. In some form: depending on mileage, new spark plugs, wires, PCV valve (if applicable, not here) and most importantly, a new fuel filter are in order.

If that fails, have a mechanic test fuel pressure while duplicating (driving) this problem. Have all four coil packs tested too. If that fails and it passes emissions and gets great fuel economy, I have one last idea: Hondata.

Maybe getting an aftermarket tune on a dyno will fix your problem. At the same time, a good tuner will also speed up your transmission shifting, optimizing fuel and timing curves for more power, and a host of other goodies (like electronic throttle mapping) specific to your application. So finding someone who uses Hondata, and verifying their street cred, might be your only way out.

[Send your technical queries to mehta@ttac.com]

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19 Comments on “Piston Slap: The Annoying, Lazy Civic...”


  • avatar
    commando1

    Sajeev: Is there a programmer or chip that he can buy so he can do it himself?
    Sorry, I don’t know Honda shtuff.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    What I usually do in these circumstances is try to find another same year car with the same engine/tranny and model designation and take it for a test drive. Your local Honda dealer should have some of these off lease or rental buybacks so finding another car like yours shouldn’t be hard. Test drive alone if possible for a good hour and see if the issue you are having is duplicated. My guess is that it won’t be as Honda usually has pretty solid drivetrains in general and that your problem is specific to your car but it’s always a good idea to conform that. If it is specific to your car find a modern high tech repair shop that can hook your car up to a good scanner that reads all data such as coolant temp, baro voltage, O2 voltage, trans shift points, torque converter lockup and a plethera of information. With this scanner it could even be determined if your drive-by-wire unit is faulty which is a strong possibility. I have seen where they appear to operate fine and don’t throw off any codes but there is a distinct flat spot/hesitation when the throttle is depressed a certain amount. That scanner will pick this up as an incorrect voltage on the DBW unit which is just a glorified variable potentiometer. If there is anything wrong with that unit no matter how slight it will show up as a hesitation or throttle lag at a given point.

  • avatar
    mocktard

    Would a product like this help?

    http://www.buddyclub.us/buddyclub/e_Throttle_Booster_HAC/e_Throttle_Booster.html

    Price range for this and similar seems to be in the ~$400 range.

  • avatar
    Negative Camber

    Unfortunately my ’09 LX 5spd manual has the same issue.

    It’s particularly vexing when trying to blip the throttle to match revs in spirited driving. But it also happens when I simply give it the beans suddenly in lower gears. There’s a hesitation, then the computer catches up with my command and charges ahead.

    My guess is that they’ve tuned throttle response for the benefit of fuel economy, similar to the ‘eco’ mode in a recent Prius review on this site. I’ll never see the problem with ‘lazy’ response when simply motoring around town.

    But on the positive side, and perhaps the intent of the engineers in mapping throttle response, I’ve averaged 32mpg over its 4,000 in mostly urban driving.

    Scott

  • avatar
    Porsche986

    I have to be honest, my dad’s 2006 Civic EX coupe (5-sp auto) also does this, though it is not dramatic. I believe it is throttle mapping for fuel economy.

  • avatar
    sportwagon

    Take a look at the dyno trace.

    http://image.automobilemag.com/f/6710865+w750+st0/0610_z+2007_honda_civic_si_sedan+dyno_chart.jpg

    Civics all have anemic torque curves and a stutter in the middle revs. Not mentioned whether the car in question is a manual or automatic. Both will experience this power hic-up. The automatic is also geared and programmed for economy. You need to rev the snot out of any Honda engine for power, and the automatic only exacerbates the problem.

    IMHO Honda could do the world a favor by only selling Civics with a 5-speed. They’d get better mileage, last longer, and be less boring to drive.

  • avatar
    niky

    Close. It’s mostly for emissions.

    Amongst e-throttles, Hondas are better than most, but they have some irritating behaviors due to emissions controls… most e-throttles, including Hondas, will not give you full throttle when you stomp on the gas pedal… instant full throttle from low loads will give you a momentary lean condition, which means extra NOx, which is not good… thus they take their time opening.

    Another quirk is throttle hanging… when you let off the gas suddenly, the throttle stays open… preventing a sudden rich condition that would increase hydrocarbon emissions. The Civic is particularly notorious for this. Makes rev-matching shifts more difficult than it needs to be.

    -

    E-throttle boosters work by fooling your ECU into thinking you’re ordering more gas than you actually are… effectively removing the tip-in delay. But if the problem is erratic, this will just cover it up partially but not remove it.

    -

    It’s possible the ECU is seeing something it doesn’t like, or there might be some EGR issue at work here (though I’m not really sure how sensitive the new internally routed EGR on the R-engine is)… or maybe something in your local gas that doesn’t agree with your car?

    -

    EDIT: That dyno is the Si. K-block… the R-engine has a more linear torque curve… so linear, in fact, that it doesn’t feel like it has VTEC.

    Very strange dyno, at that… the newer K’s also have a more linear power curve than previous VTECs… that actually looks like a dyno trace from the older, non-E-throttle K20.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    My 02 Passat V6 was terribly sluggish due to the drive-by-wire; I hated it. You’d think a 190-hp engine could provide a little jump off the line – nope. VW could never fix it.

  • avatar

    commando1 : Sajeev: Is there a programmer or chip that he can buy so he can do it himself? Sorry, I don’t know Honda stuff.

    Nor do I. Actually JET makes something for the newer Civics but I have yet to see a happy customer with a JET module in American cars. But a good tuner with Hondata can work magic on a Honda, so its a safer bet.

    The way I see it, if this is a big problem for readers of this site, they need to get Big Brother out of their car and get a performance tune. We use the Pistonhead moniker for good reason, ya know.

  • avatar
    MBella

    FYI, it could be the AC compressor kicking on, if you have the blower on, and the air set to defog. In defog, cars kick on the AC to make defogging faster. Try disconnecting a pressure switch on the AC, and see if it goes away.

    Like the others have said, the tune is for emissions, and you might not always like the way it works. Most VWs with throttle by wire are just as bad. The only exception is the 1.8T Jetta GLi. All the others were annoying, and I drove many of them when I worked at the dealership.

  • avatar

    MBella : FYI, it could be the AC compressor kicking on, if you have the blower on, and the air set to defog. In defog, cars kick on the AC to make defogging faster. Try disconnecting a pressure switch on the AC, and see if it goes away.

    No need for that, just drive with the HVAC turned off and see what happens. Since Honda systems are easy to use, you can also set it to vent and make sure either the A/C or MAX A/C buttons aren’t illuminated.

    ————————-

    mocktard : Would a product like this help?

    http://www.buddyclub.us/buddyclub/e_Throttle_Booster_HAC/e_Throttle_Booster.html

    Price range for this and similar seems to be in the ~$400 range.

    I’d much rather have a custom Hondata dyno tune for about $100 more and optimize a whole lot more than electronic throttle mapping.

  • avatar
    oldguy

    I’m with MBella; If you have the HVAC controls set to direct air to the floor and the windshield, the A/C compressor cycles. Even if you switch from the above, and direct to the floor only, the A/C continues to cycle. If you want to turn the cycling off, you must press the A/C button twice! Page 111 of my ’08 owners manual. A lot of people are driving with their AC on and don’t know it. The only way to shut everything off is to turn the fan speed control all the way to the left.

  • avatar
    dolo54

    If you can possibly test drive another one of the same model, that would really help to know if this is an actual problem, or just a symptom of honda’s less than performance tuned programming.

    Since it is a used car, whether you have a problem or not, you should change the PCV valve and thermostat, cheap to do and should be changed on any used car regardless of running correct or not. Then do the tuneup: distributor cap, wires, plugs (as it is money well spent even if that’s not the problem). If that doesn’t take care of it you might want to get a leak down test done to see if you have a vacuum leak anywhere. A small vacuum leak can cause weird problems like that.

    Actually now that I think of it, I’ve driven this exact model car. It was an automatic, but it didn’t have any problem like what you describe. Wasn’t exactly fast, but didn’t feel sluggish ever.

  • avatar
    blautens

    This has been a not uncommon complaint about at least two different Honda DBW systems…especially with the Civic tuner crowd (CRV owners aren’t quite as…”throttle aware”?).

    I’m guessing someone somewhere may come up with a custom tune to address this, but a stock Civic – anyone who’s a real piston head would probably notice.

    It could be one of those things you have to learn to live with. Or one of those things that makes you dump the car.

  • avatar
    qbn

    HONDATA is not available for the LX/DX/EX Civics

  • avatar

    Well, crap. Trade the car in for a real sport-compact, I guess!

  • avatar
    niky

    No real need…

    it’s a good car, with a good engine. In good tune, and if you don’t particularly care about roasting the tires or clutch with a catastrophic drop-clutch launch, you can get the 1.8 MT to 60 mph in under 8 seconds… which is much better than most 1.8s… or even 2.0s. Not incredibly fast, but quick enough to be fun.

    But in this case, the truth is that there are so many interacting electronic systems controlling air-fuel ratios, ignition timing, throttle angle, EGR and PCV function… AND VTEC, that you could spend months diagnosing it, unless you’re handy with a multimeter and an OBDII scanner and can elicit it on the road while you test the voltages and function of every electronic item in the engine bay.

    -

    I’d go Hondata before e-booster, too… but most drivers who don’t care about performance seem quite happy with throttle-boosters on their DBW cars.

  • avatar
    SpeedJebus

    Ponchoman49: Apparently they did this at the dealership. No faults.

    Also: I forgot to mention in my original message to Sajeev, it’s a manual transmission.

    I was reading another article somewhere, and the author had mentioned a fuel pump problem causing the car to temporarily lose power. This almost exactly sums up the feeling.

    Is this something I can diagnose on my own? I’m not mechanically inept, just a bit superstitious about messing with the warranty.

  • avatar
    SpeedJebus

    Satisfaction!

    The culprit was a bad 1st O2 sensor. I had taken the vehicle in last week for it’s scheduled service, and this time made the decision to follow this through and get a resolution.

    The dealership:
    A) Advised me that others have complained about the same problem.
    B) Drove my car back to back with an 09, and easily replicated my issue.

    They contact the Honda techs, and found out what (if any) hardware changes occurred between the 2007 and 2009 model. They started swapping sensors, driving the car, and so on.

    Bottom line, they replaced the O2 sensor, which was throwing readings all over the place. They also reset the engine computer. It’s been 5 days now, and I have not yet experienced any of the issues that I had been complaining about.

    SO: I’m a happy guy. :)


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