My 2000 honda civic ex 4-dr sedan seemed like it was misfiring. I decided to check the spark plugs to see if that was the issue. I replaced the spark plugs. The car would turn over however the engine wouldn't fire.

I thought it might be an issue with the plugs that I bought, so I put in the old plugs, and it still wouldn't start. Obviously I have made a mistake somewhere however I can't figure out where. I was worried about tightening the plugs too far, so they are finger tight with a bit of pressure using a socket wrench.

I only did 1 spark plug at a time so, it's highly unlikely that I got the wires out of order.

Any advice on what I could do before giving up and getting it towed to a mechanic?

UPDATE: I tested the spark plugs and wires, and they all spark when held away from the car. Fuel does get injected into the engine as when I removed a spark plug immediately after turning it over the tip was wet with gasoline. The engine seemed to almost catch a few times, however only a cylinder or two.

One of my concerns is that the spark plug wires seem to loosely connect to the spark plugs. As if the spark plugs were too low down in the engine.

I will try the starter fluid tomorrow to see if that will get the engine to turn over.

Any other thoughts?

  • 1
    If the plugs are wet with fuel they won't spark correctly and the vehicle will not crank. They could be wet with fuel because you have been trying to crank the vehicle a lot. However it could be an underlying condition that is fouling the plugs out, a faulty fuel pressure regulator for example. Take the plugs out and let them dry out completely. If you have compressed air you can blow them off, if not let them sit out for a few hours before putting them back in then try starting the vehicle. Jul 12, 2011 at 12:50
  • Tried restarting after letting the plugs dry, still no ignition. I'm almost certain that it is that my spark plugs wires are on the spark plugs loosely. However I have no idea why that would be the case. If i take the spark plug out and push it into the wire boot it works and grabs correctly but once the spark plug is screwed in it barely grabs on.
    – Alex
    Jul 15, 2011 at 15:13
  • 1
    Make sure you have the spark plug wires on in the correct order. I have a friend who removed all of his spark plug, replaced them and the car wouldn't start because he'd failed to note which wires were for which spark plugs. Sep 11, 2015 at 15:31
  • 1
    You should also check to see that the Booted ends of the Distributor Wires are the proper length to allow them to reach deep down into the cylinder port to get grip onto the Spark Plug. Sometimes a novice mechanic will work on an engine and change things such as Distributor Wire that he got from another car and not realize that a wire or two was incorrect because he didn't match it up with the old one but tried to use them anyway only to find out later on that the boots were not the correct size for the cylinder depth.. Jan 2, 2016 at 4:06
  • You have the right gap on the spark plug electrodes?
    – user15183
    Feb 19, 2016 at 9:02

4 Answers 4

  • Check the other end of the wires to make sure you did not loosen them.
  • Your wires could be going bad and moving them around made the problem worse. Would not hurt to replace them as well.
  • Also it could just be a coincident with the spark plugs, it could be a fuel issue or a problem with your distributor. Although, this is less likely than the first two items I mentioned.

Whenever you have a cranks won't run condition the first step is to see what's missing, fuel or fire.

First pull a spark plug wire off, stick a thin screwdriver in the end of the wire where the spark plug goes. Hold the side of the screwdriver about 1/4 inch away from a metal part of the engine, while holding onto the handle (insulating yourself from the spark) have someone crank the engine while you look for spark. If you see spark go to the next step, if not you have a problem in the ignition system.

If you had spark, then take a can of starting fluid and spray short bursts into the intake while turning over the engine. If the vehicle cranks you have a fuel system problem.

If you have spark, and the vehicle doesn't run when using the starting fluid you most likely have a mechanical problem examples include timing belt/chain, loss of compression, distributor shaft (if equipped)

Let me know in the comments what you find and I can help you further

  • Good answer, but since "fire" will inherently be missing from an engine that won't start, a more complete checklist would be: No fire? Fire = Fuel + Air + Compression + Spark (Fire = FACS) Nov 10, 2019 at 5:32
  • @Coldblackice Fire doesn't mean literal fire in this instance. Fire, in this case, is just slang for spark. It's just how it's been said, at least in the USA, for as long as I've been working on cars. Fuel and Fire simply mean fuel and spark. Nov 21, 2019 at 18:13
  • I'm just saying it's useful to expand the checklist, at least for those who aren't aware of the primary components necessary for combustion, since most people probably know fuel + spark and maybe air. Mechanics obviously already know this like basic arithmetic. Nov 22, 2019 at 4:39

Did you replace one plug at a time or did you do all at the same time? It may be that you've accidentally mixed the order of the plug leads. As there is fuel and a spark, the next step would be to check ignition timing and your first port of call is the firing order.


(Figured I'd combine my comments into an answer for anyone's future reference, since OP's been MIA since '12)

When diagnosing an engine that won't start, it's helpful to remember what all is needed in a working engine: fire. Since a non-starting engine won't have "fire", a good checklist to run through is:

No fire?

Fire =

  1. Fuel +
  2. Air +
  3. Compression +
  4. Spark

(A helpful acronym for remembering: Fire = FACS)

Given the OP's comment about fuel and spark working, and that one or two cylinders fire, it very likely may be due to a faulty crankshaft position sensor.

Assuming you've already checked OBD-II output if available, the crankshaft position sensor could be damaged, covered in dirt, or knocked out of position (even just slightly). If so, the car's ECU computer won't allow the engine to fire/start due to the inability to sync spark timing with the proper position of the crankshaft (i.e. you don't want cylinders firing when the crankshaft is still only mid-stroke).

If you can get to the sensor (will likely have to remove some things, like a wheel), you can try wiping it of any debris and seeing if that allows the engine to start, or at least more so than before. Sometimes the sensor just needs to be cleaned or re-positioned. Otherwise, it'll need replacing.

But save yourself the hassle and check your car's OBD-II output beforehand to eliminate possibilities. Cheap OBD-II adapters that connect to your phone over Bluetooth are easily and cheaply available (though it's not always necessarily best to go with the cheapest). Check Amazon or eBay for options.

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