By on November 24, 2015

1997 Honda Prelude

Nick writes:

Hello Sajeev,

(I really wanted to put the “n” in there.)

I have a ’97 Prelude that will sometimes cycle on and off its air conditioning when it’s unbearable hot outside (June-September here in Phoenix). Air will come out nice and cold, then it will get real warm suddenly for about 30 seconds before getting cold again. It only happens when it’s extremely hot outside and I’ve been driving for awhile. It works fine the majority of the time. What do you think?

Sajeev writes:

Your letter (Sanjeev aside) points to a mostly healthy HVAC system. No leaks, no lack/overabundance of refrigerant, just a problem with…wait for it…your A/C system freezing itself in the hottest weather. That freezing fire thang ain’t so moronic anymore, no?

I learned this as a college student taking the last fast sweeper (in 100+ degree weather) before reaching campus. With copious body roll (from a 1988 Cougar riding on blown Monroe shocks) came a dousing of ice cold water on my feet from the evaporator core: kinda terrible on those lazy days when I wore sandals to class!

I am so confident in this diagnosis, yet I cannot find a thermal cut-off switch (something like #6 on this link) for your specific application. I talked to my go-to Honda guru, TTAC commentator psychoboy, and the evaporator core has a thermostat in lieu of the switch, which accomplishes the same thing.

The evaporator thermostat is there to prevent icing. It’s set up to turn off the compressor clutch if the evap gets below 37° F. The test for the thermostat is really simple: looking at the plug with the clip at the top, put 12V to pin three (rightmost) and ground pin two (center). Hook a test light to pin one (left most) and pin three (the 12V).

Place thermostat in ice water. The light should go off at 36-39° F or lower, come on at temps higher. So, the light is on until you dunk it in the water and it adjusts to lower temp. Pull it back out and the light comes back on.

And there you have it.

Send your queries to [email protected]com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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56 Comments on “Piston Slap: So Hot, Yet So Cold!...”


  • avatar
    pbr

    30 sec is pretty quick to de-ice an evaporator?

    A hackaround we used in an e30 with no low-temp thermostat in the humid southeast was to run the fan at a higher speed than comfort would suggest, balancing by raising the temp setting as needed. That thing would ice up in 20 mins on minimum fan speed most summer days, practically never one fan speed higher.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I see how it is. This guy comes along with his Honda A/C question and gets a definitive answer.

    Not much else to say about this one. Other than I love that gen Prelude.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

      You and I both. Like the Toyota Tercel, I like the first and last Preludes, but none in between.

      (Actually, the last two gens of Tercel, since they were quite similar.)

      Id love to find a 5 speed 97+ ‘Lude for occasional “pleasure drives”. Trying to find a manual trans example that isnt “modded” to death is frustrating. Those stock examples with fair mileage and in decent shape are often pricey, and who could blame the owner? The more expensive it is, the less likely some pimple faced 17 year old will buy it and promptly destroy it chasing his fast and furious dreams.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        How do you feel about the Paseo coupe and convertible then?

        • 0 avatar
          JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

          They’re great! For their tachometer instrument cluster that I can put in a Tercel, lol

          Never cared for the Paseo’s styling, except when compared to the Echo and Yaris. The Tercel is just so honestly basic, that is what I find charming about it. It isnt trying to be anything but good, solid, honest transportation. Id especially rock a coupe with recessed headlights, vinyl interior and a 4 speed manual.

          Not much for the sedan versions, but I liked the JDM 3 door hatch a lot!

          I found a yellow 1980 Tercrel coupe 5 speed in Birmingham (Al) the other day. Low miles, looks mint inside and out. Theyre asking $1800. I liked the side profilr so much, I saved the picture to my phone lol. I cant afford it and dont need it, but its a neat little car. Edit: here it is http://bham.craigslist.org/cto/5317842024.html

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Oh, and stock 97 no rust v. clean manual! Has clutch issue. But it’s cheeeep.

        https://cincinnati.craigslist.org/cto/5326323399.html

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          I feel as if looking for 90s Preludes and Civics is the automotive equivalent to Mission Impossible.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Crap this Lude should go quick. Even if it is on salv/rebuilt title.

            https://cincinnati.craigslist.org/cto/5305088324.html

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            R-title too? No thanks.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Well I knew that was coming! Doesn’t bother me so much on something that old.

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

            Me either. It falls off when its 10+ years old in my state.

            If I know the reason for the branding, then I see no reason to reject it, especially if its a minor fender-bender, hail damage, etc. The way insurance companies are so quick to write something 5+ years old off, it doesnt always mean the car was wrapped around a tree before spending six months at the bottom of a lake and was glued and stapled back together by someone who’s name cannot be pronounced.

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

            Corey, I highly doubt he will get that for an automatic Prelude. The autos in those are notorious for failure, but that’s only the second reason why Id have a manual or nothing in that car. Its a driver’s car, if you want a grocery getter Honda with a slush box, just go get an Accord. Easier to find, more reliable auto trans, cheaper to buy and (Im guessing) to insure.

            Here are the Preludes on my current favorites list (keep in mind, I almost always search between $100-$2k)

            First gen AWESOMENESS! http://seattle.craigslist.org/skc/cto/5274609246.html

            Clean 97, great color, and I even like the Civic hatch in the background (2nd picture). http://orlando.craigslist.org/cto/5269285403.html

            Another first gen, born the same year I was. Higher mileage and not as nice as the Seattle one, but a grand for a 33 year old Honda with (probably) little-to-no rust is a deal in my book. Just wish he wouldve taken more pictures instead of random junk around his house. http://kpr.craigslist.org/cto/5295227959.html

            I had 3-4 other 97+, but theyre gone. Not surprising.
            If I was to find a clean manual example (maybe Manuel has one? Lol) that needed an engine, Id go for it as JDM engines are plentiful and pretty cheap. I found one from a JDM 1998 Accord Type R Wagon complete with ECU (manual car as well) on eBay a while back for a song. Might be still there.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            The black 79 is very cutesy! With that brick red interior. Little bit of rust forming by the right rear lamp, but overall really clean.

            Grey 97 I’m not liking. The front is REKT for real. It’s losing clearcoat and has definitely had more than one front impact. Look at all the misalignment!

            White one seems like a junk collector in the sticks, and with those pics like that I wouldn’t mess with him. Lies and fibs abound with those people.

          • 0 avatar
            Ryoku75

            At 28D: Oh its possible, unless if you want a nice one, Honda sheet metal ages like cheese. And despite thier legendary reliability most are on their 2nd motor.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I thought HMC motors went the distance… or do numbnuts just neglect to change the timing belt on the interference engine?

          • 0 avatar
            psychoboy

            the 88-91 civic and prelude can have rear wheel arch rusting issues, but are usually fairly solid otherwise.

            88-91 preludes have usually eaten at least one motor by now, since the bastard B has long-term oiling issues. they are still the most handsome of the gens, IMHO. the rest of them are owned by people who do not know about maintenance.

            if you want to have fun, you figure out how to hang a newer B (integra, CRV) in the 3rd gen chassis. I built my own mounts for a 98 intergra drivetrain in my 91 4WS, and it’s a useful autocross car again.

            92-96 preludes have their place, but (aside from the 95/96 dash) never really resonated with me.

            97-00 preludes eat automatic transmissions, but that shouldn’t bother anyone here. they are the most business like of the three, but the headlights are a real love ’em or hate ’em thing.

            I dig the first gens, but every time I find one to buy, the deal gets stupid. I’ve passed on an authorized convertible, and got underbid on a really clean first year…in the space of a month. looking at them now just hurts my heart.

            I had a second gen for a little bit. I won’t make that mistake again.

          • 0 avatar
            Ryoku75

            At Psycho: Thank you for the informative post,
            do the deals get “stupid” with how much the owner demands? Or do they start deflecting questions? I’ve witnessed both pretty often!

            At 28C: If you stay on top of imploding distributors, oil burning, and gasket leaks the engines will usually last, the rest of the car….not quite.

            Civics of that time can have oil burning issues, or leaky headgaskets. Accords can have their camshaft seals go, distributor issues, and of course interference timing belts (perfect for the average joe sedan!).

            When the internet hypes a car for being “maintenance free”, you’re going to see much more “zombie” cars as I call them. Rolling zombies driven by absolute cheapskates, who know not of what “oil” even is.

          • 0 avatar
            psychoboy

            the first deal was a pristine first year in the upper Midwest. I did some research on the car and found that my seller’s story was full of crap. I tracked down the guy he bought it from and got a decent history of the car and his sale price. I eventually got my seller to understand that his asking was crazy (both in real life and in his attempt at flipping the car), and made him a fair offer (he still made profit on the deal). he accepted the offer, but started dragging his feet on me coming to get it. eventually he told me he wasn’t sure about how to sell the car to someone out of state, so he sold it to someone local for less than I had offered. that guy put it up for sale a couple months later, again at a stupid price, and was unwilling to make a deal despite “needing to sell it”. I gave up.

            second car was this one: https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/not-a-capsule-review-prelude-solaire-convertible/

            chassis death is probably more related to local road conditions than anything. I’ve owned two firsts, one second, and eight thirds and the only real common rust is the trailing end of the rear arches (due to a “protected” pinch weld that does little more than trap water).
            my collection of civics (two firsts, two seconds, one third, five fourths) have the same concerns. the fourths will eat distributor guts, but are otherwise pretty solid little boxes. we beat our LeMon (91 civic) pretty hard and have had little problem with it.

            90-93 accords have a balance shaft seal issue that is resolved with a $2 kit from Honda. they also eat automatic tranny computers, but who wants an auto anyway? Honda’s interference motors are only a problem if you break a belt, and in all my Hondas, I’ve only broken one…six months after I accidentally set it on fire.

            88-00 Hondas /are/ getting long in the tooth, and most of the remaining ones /are/ on their 11ty-th owners, so they are being driven into the ground. that just makes the nice ones that much nicer.

          • 0 avatar
            Ryoku75

            At Psycho:

            Thats every Midwest Honda guy I’ve ever dealt with, flippers n flipping fake stories to go with them.

            You’re right about the roads, one of the reasons I’ve been iffy on Hondas are the atrocious broken up roads here in the Midwest, combined with the generous amounts of road salt.

            Which pre-03 Civic generation would you say is the best overall? In terms of reliability, AND durability to battered roads? Or basically, which would be the best for a lazy joe like me (needs automatic, 4-doors, AC)?

            The oldest Civics I ever see are the blocky third-gens, Midwest salt has consumed the others. I dont think I’ve seen an Accord older than the pop-up light models.

          • 0 avatar
            psychoboy

            @ ryoku:

            if I were shopping for a beater Honda, I’d look closely at the 98-02 4cyl accord, or the 96-00 civic. I personally drive a 225,000 mile 06 accord 4cyl 5spd coupe, and it’s been an awesome beater, but they really aren’t old enough to find as easily.

            the 98-02 accord 4cyl is the end of the F-block, and they are dead reliable with minimal fuss. the 4cyl automatics in that gen are fine, it’s the 6cyls that are crap.

            the 96-00 civic is the end of the venerable D-block, also pretty damned reliable. the 01 civic started a different D and a very different chassis (McPherson struts….buh) and I just don’t like either.

            as far as penalty boxes go, those aren’t bad. if you can find a 03-07 accord 4cyl, they are very decent cars, if you can get past the styling.

      • 0 avatar

        You like the 5th Gen, but not the 3rd Gen?

        That’s pretty odd, as they share many aesthetic design traits. Is it the pop-ups on the 3rd Gen that you don’t like…and if so, shame on you! :D

        Also, the 3rd Gen has a pair of the best OE front seats I have ever sat in.

        • 0 avatar
          Ryoku75

          At Psycho: Yea the V6s werent the best, mediocre mpg and brittle automatics. I got H-Bodys for V6 FWD sedans.

          I’m iffy on “strut Civics”, struts kinda take away the main selling point of a Civic.

          Thank you for the advice and last question, is it worth seeking out an Integra sedan or should I just stick to Civics?

          At Chris: I love the pop-up lights, I dont like
          the carburated engines (some models had fuel injection yes, but most got the carb).

          • 0 avatar
            psychoboy

            most 3rds were injected…..very few S cars exist, and only for 3 of the 4 years of the generation (no 91 carb cars were built). of the 8 3rd gens I’ve owned, only one of them was a carbed car. hell, I see more 4ws cars than I see carbed cars.

            and bedsides… the carb cars were actually pretty decent. I used mine as a tow pig for a few years… it was excellent at that job.

            all of the 2nd and 3rd gen integras are decent cars. they’ve been ricered to death, tho. hard to find ones that aren’t beat into the ground already.

          • 0 avatar
            Ryoku75

            Thats different from my experience but, whatever. I’m lucky if I even find a third-gen from the getgo. Those things rival Proteges for absorbing rust, and not many people understand how to fix carbs.

            I know of a local factory Integra coupe thats in great shape, but the owner ain’t selling it. They’re pretty good with the upkeep on their cars.

            I really question the quality of Hondas when you have to go through 8+ to find one worth keeping. But that goes for any car really.

          • 0 avatar
            psychoboy

            I’m sorry that you don’t know me well enough to understand why I’ve owned so many preludes, or any other car for that matter. I can assure you that it has nothing to do with the quality of the cars, and everything to do with the quality of the owner.

            I’m a customizer. for good, bad, or worse, very few of my cars do not fall victim to my penchant for sawzalls, torches, and welders. my current prelude (the white 91) has the aforementioned integra 1.8 swap and has been converted to four wheel steer.

            my first one (a red 89) was the first body dropped Honda in the country, way back in 1998. between those two I’ve had two I bought for parts (both 88 4ws cars), two I bought to flip (one 4ws, one not), one that is on airride (another 4ws), and one that was operating perfectly until I decided to put a SBC in it (the lone carb’d car).

            all told, in all eight third gens I’ve bought over the last twenty years, I’ve spent about $10,000 on them…and I still own two and a half of them.

            as for finding more carb’d cars than injected….where are you shopping?

            preludepower has 6 injected (including one h22 swap) before the first carb shows up.

            hell, if you really want a 3rd gen, i’ll sell you my 91 with the integra swap.

        • 0 avatar
          JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

          Chris, if youre talking to me, yes, its the damned pop up headlights ruin it for me. The only car I can think of that wore hidden headlamps well was the very first Mercury Cougar.

          I have a picture saved on my phone of a late 80s Accord without pop-ups, and I love it (Euro model). Picture the front of an 88-91 Civic on an Accord body and youll have a pretty good idea.

          Yes, without the flip-up lights, a 3rd gen would be on my list.

          • 0 avatar
            psychoboy

            you can thank the US government for the popups….since aero lights were not legal here.

            in parts of the world where aero lights were legal, they got the INX:

            http://www.goo-net.com/carphoto/10201504_198911.jpg

          • 0 avatar

            @JohnTaurus: Yeah, the reply function doesn’t make it all that easy to see who the reply is directed to.

    • 0 avatar
      scrubnick

      I love the car, too. That’s why I’m still keeping it. Tempting to get a new car, but this one is still quite satisfying to drive. If only I can keep my evaporator from freezing…

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

        Even if you got a new one, keep the Prelude if at all possible and just drive it now and again. Its value will probably sky rocket as they get more and more rare.

        Dont be like the guy who traded his 289/4spd mint 1st gen Mustang in on a Datsun in the 70s! Youll regret it! Even with all the millions of early Mustangs that were sold, a good original one is worth a pretty penny today.

      • 0 avatar
        psychoboy

        Sajeev asked me about the freezing evap, which resulted in the thermostat answer I gave him. in icing cases, the outside of the evap ices over, which should lead to limited airflow. if your airflow is not slowing down, you might actually be freezing the INSIDE of the evap and plugging up the expansion valve.

        have you had the system serviced lately? if there is moisture in the system, it can freeze and cause the same symptoms. at twenty years old, the dryer might be done and ready for a change.

        just something else to keep in mind. best of luck!

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    If this were a VAG product, the AC condenser drains would be clogged up, and the only time you get cool air again is after a corner, when freezing water dumps out onto your feet (making space for more evaporation, yay)!

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      To be fair, I’ve seen clogged condenser drains on a Toyota and a Mercedes, too.

      That seems to have been something surprisingly hard for manufacturers to get right.

      (Easily fixed, at least short term – few times a year, tops – by hitting it with a little compressed air from outside, to break up the blockage.

      Long-term, you have to open the airbox and actually … clean it.)

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      You are both referring to evaporator drains. The condenser is in the front of the radiator and doesn’t need drains

    • 0 avatar
      VolandoBajo

      Ah yes, clogged drains in VAG products, indeed.

      The story of my last VW, an 82 diesel Rabbit, with exactly that product, due to the removal of the cheap screen at the rear of the hood that kept leaves from clogging the drains.

      To add insult to injury, the dime they saved by eliminating that screen was spent adding a screen inside the fuel tank, in addition to the inline fuel filter.

      That “engineering marvel” caused repeated intermittent no-starts that would mysteriously clear up and reappear at random intervals, until finally a mechanic at Virginia Diesel (God bless him and them) offered to find the problem at no extra charge, after the first few labor hours hadn’t turned anything up.

      Only condition was to leave it with him for a few days. Since I had just purchased an 88 Thunderbird, it was a done deal, as I had been living with the problem for over a year, and through multiple failures to start.

      END RESULT: a totally useless screen in the fuel tank had gotten sludged up, and the sludge would flap back and forth, intermittently blocking all fuel from leaving the tank.

      Score VAG 0, stupidities 2. One for removing the screen that protected the AC drains from leaves, and one for adding a screen in the tank to protect the motor from getting fuel at random intervals.

      That was the last of many VW’s for me.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    This is a nice problems and resolution.

    Maybe the OP, as Victor Freeze suggested, needs to CHILL OUT.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Styling wise, do you prefer the Prelude pictured, or the earlier one with more blocky styling and the horizontal front lamps?

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        My personal preference is for the gen3 ‘lude, but the gen5 up top is #2.

        • 0 avatar
          JMII

          3rd gen wins because of the pop-up headlights. I had an ’89 Si in yellow… it was all kinds of awesome.

          However turning on the A/C pretty much killed the torque-less Honda engine. Still the best handling and best interior of any car I’ve owned.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Ok so there are three Prelude generations between MY87 and MY01: the BA3/4/5/7, BB1/2, and BB6 in the final generation. The “blocky” very dated looking ones are the BAs, with the one pictured being a BB6. I’d take the BB6 followed by BB1/2 (mid 90s) over an earlier BA.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honda_Prelude

    • 0 avatar
      scrubnick

      I will not chill out. It gets hot over here!

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

        Meh, try no A/C, black interior and only one working window (passenger side) with 90-100% humidity and upper 90°’s/lower 100°’s.

        Id much rather be hot than cold. It got down into the 30°’s the last couple of nights, makes my back pain 10x worse. I ran a space heater in my bedroom (house has central heat/air) and crank it up until my thermometer reads 73°-75°! The heat helps quite a bit with the pain, which is why I havent bothered to fix the car’s A/C (I will probably before next summer, as Ill be sharing the car with my significant other and I want us to be comfortable).

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      I prefer the ugly first gen, all other Preludes strike me as slightly fancier Accord coupes.

      Then theres the blocky last gen, ugly abd loved by ricers, it was either that one or the fourth gen that began “The Prelude Curse”, as Honda fans say.

  • avatar
    turf3

    Fast cycling can also be caused by:

    1) Low refrigerant causes cycling on the low side cutout (if present).

    2) Blocked condenser, dirty fins, or inoperative fan causing cycling on high side cutout. My guess would be on this. Maybe a multi speed condenser fan that is not going into high speed? I am guessing this because of “only happens when really hot”.

  • avatar
    MBella

    I don’t think it’s the evaporator freezing. From the description it sounds like the compressor is cylcling on and off in 30 second intervals. It also seems like hot air is coming out of the vents. If the evaporator was freezing it would lead to reduced or completely blocked airflow. We really need clarification from Nick on this. It’s a pressure issue from the sounds of it. (Either high or low) Unless it is reduced airflow, and not reduced cooling, the refrigerant charge is the first place to start.

  • avatar
    redmondjp

    I had the same issue in my 1997 Civic.

    It was an intermittent (only when hot) in the A/C compressor clutch coil.

    It was a major bear to find! Only when I tapped into the power wires right at the clutch coil, with a tiny light bulb up where I could see it at the cowl, was I able to figure out what was going on.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Bingo this is the real culprit based on the symptoms. The temp causes the coil to open, current flow stops. Sometimes it cools back down and starts working again in a short period other times it takes an almost full cool down. It is more common to happen in stop and go traffic as under hood temps rise.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    Hondas never have problems and go to 300xxx without even oil changes, you just got a lemon in this 16 year olds opinion!

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

      Lol! Funny because it sounds exactly like what some clueless kid would say.

      My neighbor’s 10 year old thinks Toyotas are unbreakable because his friends dad has hit several deer (supposedly, I happen to think hes a drunk and is blaming his alchohol-induced wrecks on deer) in his truck, but it still runs. Trying to explain that body damage doesnt affect mechanical reliability (unless of course the radiator or other critical component is damaged as well) to him is like trying to explain how WiFi or Bluetooth works to an 89 year old. “Son, in my day, if you had a blue tooth, you tied it to a door knob and jerked it out!!!”

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