Why is my Honda Civic's engine always knocking?

Here are a few fixes
by Ferman Lao | Mar 20, 2017

Dear Ferman, 

I live in Pakistan where we are always deprived of technical assistance and technology. Usually we don't get to see cars with newer engines or the latest tech, but recently Honda has launched a popular variant of the new Civic with a turbocharged engine. I am one of the lucky/unlucky owners of it.

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I bought the machine almost two months back, and its driving experience was mind-blowing. However, just when I crossed 3,000km on the odometer, the car started to knock. The recommended fuel rating is 91 RON. I used to fill it only with 95 RON, and the car was running fine. Later on I filled it with 91 RON, and it started to knock. 

When the knock started, I started fueling with 95 RON again, but the knock problem persisted. Please note that in Pakistan, we don't even know if we are getting the genuine RON fuel ratings or not due to corruption. The car only knocks when I lug the engine or floor it from a low RPM and high gear. If I use the paddle shifters and start off from first gear, it doesn't knock. I also learned from one of my friends in Mitsubishi Netherlands that repeated knock sounds can damage the turbocharger blade.

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Although I am trying to get the best fuel out of Pakistan, which is labeled as 95 RON, the car still knocks when I floor it. What do you recommend? Can octane boosters solve my problem? We have all ranges of STP octane boosters and cleaners in Pakistan. I have checked fuel from many different pumps, but the issue isn't resolved yet. I am at 5,000km on the odometer now.

Bilal Saeed


Hi, Bilal,

High-octane fuel doesn't burn faster but rather it burns in a more controlled manner and can allow for more aggressive tuning for many engines. In that sense, using octane boosters should help in minimizing the knocking you're encountering. You can go ahead and try that option, but it does entail added cost to you that over time accumulates to a tidy sum if the problem isn't resolved properly. It's also a stop gap solution to your problem considering the age and mileage of your vehicle. I'm assuming your Civic is stock with no modifications.

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A more permanent solution would be to visit the dealership and have them address the concern. If they aren't aware of the situation, making them aware helps you and other owners that may potentially have that problem. Every so often, manufacturers release firmware updates to their ECUs to address issues like yours, taking into account local conditions or problems (including fuel quality), but they can only do that if they are aware that the problem exists. If they aren't aware, then it wouldn't be possible for them to provide the right solution for it. I would go this route first and see what the dealer recommends.

A different option is going the aftermarket route with either a reflash or a piggyback ECU. Either method will allow you to fine tune your ECU programming to take into account not only the fuel quality you're getting, but also your driving habits. This assumes that your local laws allow for aftermarket modifications such as ECU reprogramming.               

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I believe Hondata already has come out with the Flashpro for the 2016+ 1.5L turbocharged Civic engine. It has a number of international versions depending on your location. There may even be a dealer or distributor in Pakistan. If that is the case, then you should be able to fix your knocking problem and be able to get a bit more of power out of your car. If that's not available on your market, you can go the piggyback ECU route, and just look for one that's compatible with your car and has strong local support.

The pinging you hear is the result of an unwanted ignition event inside one or more cylinders of your engine. This elevates combustion chamber pressures and temperatures to subject your engine internal components to stresses that it wasn't designed for. If you're lucky, there will be only some surface marring of your piston top. If it's not your day and the engine happens to be already operating at high load when it happens, the forces created can bend your connecting rods enough that you'll get to see your pistons first hand without needing to tear down the engine.

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In the meantime, I would do what you are already doing (downshifting to a lower gear instead of lugging the engine) to avoid exposing your engine to prolonged knocking as it can permanently damage your engine. Use octane boosters if you have to, at least until the problem is resolved permanently.


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