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So a few days ago my 2003 Honda Civic EX started misfiring while accelerating, especially with the A/C turned on, making popping noises, and then yesterday got a P1259 "VTEC system malfunction code". Web forums said to check the oil level, so I did and the dipstick was completely dry. Oops. Apparently I have a problem with leaking or burning oil.

Anyway, after refilling the oil and clearing the code, it's working fine. No misfires even if I floor it with the A/C on.

I'd like to understand this better, though. How does low oil level cause these problems? Was it bad enough to damage the engine? Should I be on the lookout for related problems now?

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

I observed this same situation in my 1997 Integra back in the day. If you look at the summary on Wikipedia, you can see why the oil pressure is critical to VTEC:

At the switch point a solenoid is actuated which allows oil pressure from a spool valve to operate a locking pin which binds the high RPM cam follower to the low RPM ones.

So, without sufficient oil pressure, the VTEC system can't execute the shift from low rev to high rev cam lobes. Now, as you observe, the VTEC issue is a later symptom indicating low oil so my advice is not to wait until you see that code before you check the oil....

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Obviously I'm going to check the oil a lot more often now. I last checked it 2 months ago and it was a normal level, so I have to figure out what's going on with that. –  endolith Jun 14 '13 at 21:43
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