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Car Talk: Hot weather, long drives can lead to a temperamental Honda

Ray Magliozzi, syndicated columnist

Dear Car Talk: My wife owns a 2001 Honda Accord that acts up periodically, mostly in hot weather. When we talk to our mechanic, who is very good and has taken care of our cars for years, he scratches his head.

He tells us to bring it in when the problem occurs. I understand his request, but we’re always on the road when the problem occurs. Maybe you can help.

The problem only happens in hot weather and when we’ve already been driving for quite some time. When we stop for a 20-minute break and get back into the car, it won’t start.

When we turn the key, the starter will try to start it, but the engine won’t catch and run. If we wait for several minutes, sometimes up to half an hour, it’ll start, but it’s a rough start, and we have to give it a lot of gas before it smooths out and runs normally.

Any direction we can point our crack mechanic in? — Sid (for Sid and Carol)

Yes. Point your crack mechanic toward the driver’s side floorboards and have him get his head under the dashboard. Once he’s there, he should look for the fuel pump relay. When he finds it, he can remove it, get another one from Honda and replace it, and your problem should be solved.

This is a classic problem with Hondas of this vintage. They’ve since fixed it, but we saw this pretty often back in the day. When you start the car, there’s a relay that closes. When it closes, it sends power to your electronic fuel pump, which sends gasoline to your fuel injectors and into the engine.

What happens is that in hot weather, an older fuel pump relay can overheat. The conditions under which it typically overheats are after a long drive, when it’s hot out and when you close up the car and allow the car’s interior to get saunalike.

When that relay overheats, it won’t close. And if it won’t close, the electronic fuel pump doesn’t work. And as even the knuckleheads at my shop can tell you, no fuel = no start.

After a while — usually while you’re sitting there with the doors and windows open because it’s — what? — hot in the car, the relay cools off and starts working again. Then it takes a little revving of the engine to get enough fuel back into the cylinders to get the engine running smoothly. And then it works fine. Until it doesn’t again.

So ask your mechanic to replace the fuel pump relay, and you should be done with this problem, Sid. Then you won’t have to bring three changes of undershirts with you on every time you take a day trip in the summer.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Got a question about cars? Email to Car Talk by visiting the Car Talk website at www.cartalk.com.

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