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I have a 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid. About a year ago, I noticed it had starting problems if not recently driven in the last few days, like when I'd come back from a vacation or if I didn't drive it during a 3-day weekend. Normally it starts almost instantly; in this case the starter would take a second or two before the engine would catch, initially starting with what seemed like a backfire. My mechanic couldn't figure out anything wrong.

The problem has continued and the "recently" time period has shrunk, now it is about 12 hours or so. I get home at night around 6pm and leave for work around 7:30am, and each time in the morning it has this problem. When I go home it doesn't have the problem. (It's not a temperature issue as far as I can tell; we live in a warm climate and I've had the same problem often when starting during the weekend at midday.)

Does anyone know what it might be + what I should ask my mechanic to look at? I wonder if it is a leak of some sort into the cylinders.

(Just to clear up the obvious question, the starter motor works every time, it just takes a while for the engine to engage.)


Clarifications:

  • Cranking isn't slow (so the battery doesn't seem like the problem)
  • I get a slight hydrocarbon smell after this "bad startup" occurs (fuel or oil maybe?)
  • (possibly unrelated issue) When I come to a stop and have my foot on the brake, e.g. at a red light, the engine is supposed to automatically stop and then restart when I take my foot off the brake. It no longer does this, instead it remains idling in the 500-1000RPM range.

Noted conditions when starting after a 36-hour downtime period: engine sputtered for about 1.5 seconds, then started. During this time starter did not slow down appreciably, but had to work very hard and pulled down the starting battery just enough to trip the low-battery light (which went off a few minutes later). (The 12V battery is somewhere between 18-24 months old + seems fine otherwise.)

  • Does it crank as fast even when you haven't driven in a while? If so, it suggests a bad battery or something consuming too much power while the car is off. – Allman Jun 3 '15 at 14:18
  • Cranking is fine, it's not a battery; I thought maybe there was a battery issue at some point, and more than once I have charged the battery prior to starting -- doesn't solve the problem. – Jason S Jun 3 '15 at 14:19
  • When you go to start it, the engine turns over but it doesn't sound like it's even starting to fire? Just crank, crank, crank, crank, then finally after a small burp (possible backfire), and then it will want to start? If so, how much cranking do you need to do to get it to fire? (10 seconds? 2 minutes?) – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Jun 3 '15 at 14:26
  • Hmm. I'll have to check it tomorrow. This morning I had the backfire but it started in under a second. I think it usually takes about 2-3 seconds before the engine fires. (Sorry I'm not 100% familiar with the terminology. "turns over" means the starter is turning the crankshaft, and "fire" means the spark plugs are firing and the engine takes over normal operation?) – Jason S Jun 3 '15 at 16:02
  • How many miles are on the car? – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Jun 3 '15 at 22:44
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When I come to a stop and have my foot on the brake, e.g. at a red light, the engine is supposed to automatically stop and then restart when I take my foot off the brake. It no longer does this, instead it remains idling

This is an indicator that the battery or electrical charging system is not in an optimal condition, but most likely the battery. If it has aged enough, regardles of the number of months you bought it since, it can no longer hold the same capacity. I may have very well set on a shelve for X years before being sold.

Start/Stop systems are designed to stop the car only when a series of conditions are met, and the most important one is for the battery capacity to reach a certain treshold, which varies from model to model. If after you changed the battery start stop did not work at all anymore, then it may be because the battery is not suitable for your sistem (google for BEM code).

The problem has continued and the "recently" time period has shrunk

This is second thing that points out a possible old battery. For what I know, for the engine to fire it is necessary for the starter to reach a certain rotation speed, otherwise on some gasoline cars there may not be any spark at all, to prevent detonation. There may also be other reasons to prevent the spark that I'm not aware of.

Once again if the battery isn't in it's best state, the necesarry rotation speed will be reached during a longer period of time as the electrical engine is not able to draw the necessary current from the old battery.

I would save myself the trouble and just go to a specialized battery shop where they have a special tool which tells you how much capacity your battery still has, as well as diagnose other possible electrical issues.

It's usually cheap and very effective.

  • I forgot about this question. It was the hybrid battery and I have since sold the car. My guess is what was going on is that the hybrid battery would get discharged after a day or two of not being used, and on hte next time I started the car, it would pull down the 12V starter battery while the DC/DC converter onboard was recharging the hybrid battery. If it was recently recharged, this wouldn't occur. – Jason S Jan 5 '18 at 19:44

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