Alright, I’ve just got to get this off my chest. My blood is boiling, and my brain is fuming with rage. This 1995 Honda Accord, which I’ve owned for only seven months, is destroying my life.
Today, I was nearly brought to my knees as I failed miserably in replacing the clutch slave cylinder on this junker. It was a pathetic sight, as I struggled in the gray drizzle to compress the plunger, only to try and fail to remove the fan and radiator to gain more access, in the process losing a slew of bolts to the bolt-god that is the splash shield at the bottom of the engine bay.
An occasional headlight reflection from the loud traffic buzzing by was the only real illumination I had as it started to get dark. My right arm was scratched up and aching like mad as I tried to fish the slave cylinder through the small crevices between the engine, radiator, fan and copious hoses and wires.
It’s not that this one job was so difficult, it’s just a pain in the ass; it’s that this repair is the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. After trying for an hour to get that new slave cylinder in, attempting to remove the radiator for more room, and thereafter being unable to reseat the radiator properly, I just wanted to lie down in the fetal position in the rain and give up.
Never have I hated a car so much. I’m thinking about terrible things to do to it right now as I type this. Should I drive my Jeep onto its hood? Should I try despicable experiments? Maybe I should see what sort of fluids I can pour down the intake before it stops running? Hairspray? Vodka? Sulfuric acid?
I want this car to die and I want it to die badly.
The thing is, the Accord has had it out for me since day one, and as hard as I tried to battle off its punches with my honed (I’m using this word loosely) wrenching skills, I simply cannot fix this damned car fast enough. Its faults have outpaced my wrenching capabilities.
Let’s start from day one.
It all began in November, when I bought this car from a friend in New Jersey. The aim was to find a reliable vehicle that would act as my parts-runner as I worked on my $600 Moab project over the winter.
Right as I left Jersey headed for Michigan, the abusive relationship began. The first problem was this horrible banging noise coming from the passenger’s side. It wasn’t just an “Oh, I’ll have to check that out when I get home” noise, it was an “I literally might die any second now” noise.
I inspected the car, but didn’t see the problem. It was dark at the time, which seems to be a prevailing theme in my life at the moment, making a visual inspection next to impossible.
Whatever, I thought, I’ll just turn the radio up and ignore it.
Which is when I learned the radio didn’t work, either. Wonderful. Then I learned that fifth gear wouldn’t engage properly, grinding every single time I did a four-five shift.
Eventually (and in constant fear that I might die), I limped my poorly-shifting, banging, radio-less Honda 10 hours to Michigan, where I discovered what was causing the noise:
Yes, that’s a ball joint about to split in half, the result of which would have probably been one or a combination of the following: death, despair, heartache, explosion, expletives, soiled undergarments.
But whatever, I had made it home alive, and the fix wasn’t so bad. I bought a dirt-cheap control arm, and swapped it without drama in about an hour. As for fifth gear, I replaced the transmission oil with some fresh stuff, and immediately noticed a difference. Now, instead of grinding into fifth gear with dirty fluid, the car ground into fifth with clean fluid. See the difference? (There was no difference).
As I continued driving this Honda—double clutching into fifth to avoid the pesky grinding—more problems arose. “Oh great, it’s the middle of the winter and the heater doesn’t work,” I noticed. So I checked the coolant level; it was fine.
I ultimately diagnosed the problem as a stuck open thermostat, and after stuffing some cardboard in front of my radiator to get me by for a few weeks, I eventually replaced the thing.
Compared to a Jeep four-liter engine, the job took about 20 times as long, totaling about an hour. That’s the story with this Honda, not only does it break frequently, but it’s also much harder to work on than any of my Jeeps thanks to its congested engine bay. But whatever, I finally had heat so I was happy.
Shortly thereafter, the Accord’s water pump blew. Then I realized I had weird fluid on my shoes, and that I had turned the carpet black with said fluid—this ended up being a leaky clutch master cylinder, and the fluid ended up being brake fluid which was dripping down my clutch pedal.
So after limping the car through the winter and returning from my Moab trip, I finally got around to replacing the master cylinder and water pump, the later of which was a gigantic pain in the ass. I had to remove the splash shield, undo the tightest bolt in the world with a massive six foot breaker bar, remove an engine mount, and figure out how to line up timing marks. Of course, in the process, I noticed that my serpentine belts were shot, but in the end, I had a leak-free, nicely-running Honda.
Here’s the bad water pump after I threw it into my freshly-mowed lawn in a moment of triumph:
Of course, then there was the blowout from earlier in the winter, when I slid the Accord on a patch of ice into a curb. The passenger-side front tire was annihilated, so I just opened the trunk, lifted the false-floor, and grabbed the spare. No problem, right? But of course there was a problem: the spare had a giant gaping hole, too.
So I did the responsible thing and just ditched the car in the parking lot for a week until I could grab a new set of rubber donuts from the junkyard.
Once that was done, I thought I had the Honda all fixed up. It had new transmission fluid (even though it still ground into fifth), new oil, a new timing belt, a new water pump, a new control arm, new front tires— it was totally ready to be sold.
So I drew up a for sale sign on it, listing it for $1,300. And quite a few people stopped by my house to have a look. In fact, on the first day, three people knocked on my door, and I even gave one guy a test drive. People seemed interested.
Then, before anyone could buy it, I decided to take her on one final ride to the grocery store, just to make sure I wasn’t selling a deathtrap to anyone. After loading my car with frozen pizza, tuna, pasta, PB&J ingredients and other single-person foods, I headed home. I drove out of the parking lot, clutched in, and switched into second. My speed climbed above 30, so I clutched in again, shifted to third, and clutched out.
That’s when the pedal at my feet disappeared. The master cylinder had swallowed my clutch pedal, and I couldn’t even pull it up with my foot. I was stuck in third gear.
I was about five miles from my house, about to hit heavy traffic, and I was stuck in third gear. I couldn’t go any faster than about 45 miles an hour (which is fine for suburban roads), but what’s worse is that I couldn’t drive any slower than 20.
So that meant if I reached a red light, or just some congestion, I was doomed—stuck in the middle of the road, looking like a jackass as I waited for a tow truck.
I had to be strategic. If I saw a red light ahead, I drove as slowly as I could, hoping it would turn green by the time I got there.
This worked for much of the way, until I got to one red light with lots of backed-up traffic. I tried going as slowly as possible. The little 2.2-liter engine tried its darnedest to keep the car from stalling as I hovered around 20 mph. The car started shaking as the high loads sent each cylinder explosion reverberating into the cabin.
The car in front of me grew larger and larger, the light remained red, and the Honda’s engine was struggling. This was it. I was going to be “that guy.” I was going to stall my crappy car in the middle of a road with no shoulder and hold up the affluent suburbanites of Rochester Hills, Michigan.
Parents in Grand Cherokees and Ford Escapes would pause their telephone conversations about stock portfolios to honk and curse at me, telling their 2.5 children in the back something along the lines of “Don’t be that guy, he’s a loser.”
Panic started setting in as I thought about the prospect of being laughed at by rich suburban children in Grand Cherokees—a true nightmare.
Then, just before my engine gave its last gasp, at the last second, I pulled into a parking lot and just drove around in circles. I kept doing loops around a Dairy Queen parking lot until I saw the light turn green, at which point I somehow managed to rocket out of the lot without touching my brakes and without crashing into anyone. From there, it was a straight shot to my house, where let the car stall to a stop in my driveway.
The good news was that the clutch slave cylinder is right at the front of the engine, and can be removed via two bolts and a flare nut. That was easy, but putting the new one on required me to contort my arm to compress the plunger with one hand, while simultaneously threading in a bolt. I tried for an hour, and it just wouldn’t happen.
So I tried to remove the fan to get more access, but Honda’s attachment scheme made this a bit of a bear, as I couldn’t access whatever was holding the fan near the bottom of the engine bay. That’s when I tried removing the radiator, at which point I dropped a bunch of bolts into the abyss that is the Honda’s engine bay.
After deciding I’d rather not remove the radiator hoses, I tried to put the radiator back in place, but it just wouldn’t sit right anymore, as the rubber grommets at the bottom (which are borderline impossible to get to from above) had shifted.
So now my car is sitting outside in the wet, with a radiator halfway attached, a bunch of bolts sitting somewhere in the engine bay, and no clutch slave cylinder.
I am sitting inside, defeated, with oil from head to toe and a strong desire to pour gasoline on that Honda and finally end this nightmare.
But I won’t.