You Say Your Civic Has a Cracked Cylinder Liner? Sawzall, Meet Rocker Arms!

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

What does it take to win the Heroic Fix trophy at the heroism-heavy Southern Discomfort 24 Hours of LeMons? Frantic engine swaps are a dime a dozen in LeMons racing, but what happens when the replacement engine goes bad?

The Terminally Confused team got sweated pretty hard at the last race, what with the newness of their ’95 Civic (your car’s alleged sub-$500 price tag isn’t so convincing when the LeMons Supreme Court Judge paid $1200 for his beater ’92 Civic), and so they decided they’d better get with the program and theme up their Honda. Look, it’s a bumblebee now! Things went much better for them at the BS Inspection this time around.

The team was kind enough to rig up a bracket for one of my timelapse BumperCams; you can just see it on the very end of the “bee abdomen” in this photo. StingerCam!

The StingerCam was working great and snapping nice on-track shots like the one above, the car was running well and knocking out some non-shabby lap times, and all looked well for Team Terminally Confused. At first.

You’d think that the Civic, so bulletproof on the street, would be one of the more reliable 24 Hours of LeMons cars, but such is not the case. In fact, Honda B and D engines are among the least reliable in this type of racing, up there with the small-block Chevy and Mitsubishi Astron when it comes to rod-hurling, head-gasket-blowing misery from engines that you’d think should be able to take it. Not long into Saturday’s race session, engine troubles developed for the Terminally Confused Civic.

So it’s overheating! So it’s making a little noise! What could possibly go wrong? Suddenly the noise and smoke got a lot worse, and a connecting rod made a break for freedom.

Let’s take a closer look at the carnage beneath cylinder #1. Ever seen a hole eaten in a crankshaft like that? Ouch! No doubt that this engine is finished… but Terminally Confused didn’t give up.

See, they’d been around LeMons racing— and Hondas— long enough to know that you bring a spare engine to the race, so you don’t have to go dashing around rural South Carolina at 4:15 PM on a Saturday afternoon in an attempt to find a replacement (you could do what a certain Fox Mustang team did, which was throw in the towel after frying part of the wiring harness, even after several teams offered to rewire the car for them, but Terminally Confused wouldn’t hear of such a thing). Unfortunately, their extra engine had been hammered together out of random parts they found lying around the shop, and it sported a set of mismatched and unbalanced pistons. The good news: it’s a VTEC, yo!

So the team thrashed for a couple hours and got the “new” engine in the car.

Upon firing it up for the first time, a slight problem became apparent. What’s that horrible noise? Why all the exhaust smoke? After pulling the valve cover, they discovered that they’d neglected to tighten down one of the valve-adjustment nuts when assembling the engine. Problem solved! Terminally Confused would be back in action when the green flag waved on Sunday morning!

The car ran well at first, but then the power started dropping and alarming clouds of smoke belched from the tailpipe. What gives?

Rats, cracked cylinder liner! Water in the oil, oil in the water, all of it getting into the combustion chambers. The team tried pulling the fuel injector connector from the bad cylinder and running on three, but they kept getting black-flagged for excessive smoking.

While all this was going on, Terminally Confused member Vern decided he’d fire up his extremely sensible pit transportation: a cart with jet turbine and hydrostatic drive system.

Let’s check out this fine vehicle in action!

My ears are still ringing after a single circuit around the paddock. The Turbine Cart made a great pace car after the county-mandated late-morning quiet hour, other than a stall caused by a water-in-fuel problem.

Thing were looking bad for the Civic, with no spare engines left and no way to find one on a Sunday afternoon. LeMons Supreme Court Judge Mike (aka Mechimike of Tunachuckers Volvo Amazon fame, suggested that maybe the oil burning wouldn’t be so bad if the valves on the bad cylinder could be kept closed. What’s the quickest way to keep the valves closed? Cut the rocker arms, of course! On a cylinder with any compression, this would result in a Jake Brake-like effect, but in this case it would just keep liquid from getting forced into the other cylinders.

Blow off as much of the aluminum shavings as possible, put the valve cover back on, and go!

Amazingly, it worked! The car was way down on power and sounded terrible, but it kept making laps. Of course, the oil was still getting mixed with water, so the Terminally Confused crew had to pit every few laps and drain out the emulsified goop, but that’s a small price to pay to stay in the race. Heroic Fix!

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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2 of 7 comments
  • Rpn453 Rpn453 on Feb 23, 2011

    This idea could possibly help my buddy's Acura Civic. He has a dead cylinder with no compression. We did a roadside injector disconnect on that cylinder when it happened a couple hours into a long road trip. It made it through the next twelve hours of driving and has even been on a five-hour emergency road trip since then, but it consumes a lot of oil and pumping all that air can't be good for fuel economy. The last trip averaged 13L/100km. He bought a new S4 last fall, but the Blacura is still in his driveway awaiting some attention.

  • Mzs Mzs on Feb 25, 2011

    Poor block was just longing for home in it's testing time before a fateful end. The hole in the crankcase looks like the outline of Suzuka, Mie, Japan - land of it's birth.

  • Lynchenstein @EBFlex - All ICEs are zero-emission until you start them up. Except my mom's old 95 Accord, that used to emit oil onto the ground quite a lot.
  • Charles The UAW makes me the opposite of patriotic
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  • El scotto So now would be a good time to buy an EV as a commuter car?
  • ToolGuy $1 billion / 333.3 million = $3 per U.S. person ¶ And what do I get for my 3 bucks -- cleaner air and lower fuel prices? I might be ok with this 🙂🙂