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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    This happened again. I really need to be better about doing what my past self tells me to do.
    – endolith
    Oct 20, 2016 at 0:09

2 Answers 2


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, 2013 at 21:43

Just had the EXACT same thing happen to my 2004 Accord EX 4 cyl/auto trans. . Accelerating with A/C on... car began cutting out. Immediately turned A/C off and backed off the accelerator. When I got home, checked oil. Ended up being 3 and a half quarts low (oil light began flashing when I was pulling in my driveway). I just added 2 quarts 2 weeks ago. Not leaking oil or smoking or wetness on the engine... nothing to indicate an oil guzzling problem. The car does, however, have 307,000+ miles. I will need to check it more frequently. I suppose the upside is that since I am adding so much new oil, I can forgo oil changes at the quickie-lube!

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    Welcome to the site, and thank's for contributing! Your last sentence is hilariously true, but don't forget to swap out the filter every few thousand miles! May 16, 2017 at 16:46

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