Back when Michelle had just recovered from her initial rounds of chemotherapy, we sold our 2000 basic Honda Odyssey. Knowing the hell she’d been through, I wanted to treat her and we bought another Odyssey but this time bought the “EX-L” model. It had many amenities like heated leather, sunroof, climate control, power doors, etc. We didn’t get the “Touring” edition because Michelle thought things like the navigation and the drop down screens for watching DVDs were way overpriced and I agreed.

One of the features that Honda used to reserve to the higher end models was VCM – Variable Cylinder Management. Once the engine is warmed up, it can selectively deactivate cylinders so that its V-6 engine is only using 3 or 4 cylinders rather than all 6. Doing so a fully loaded Odyssey can still pull off 28mpg while doing family road trips. Pretty impressive!

If you Google Honda VCM, you can see that it had some lawsuits because it can cause some cylinders to fail at about 100k miles – more or less.

Saturday morning the boys and I left New Hampshire to head to Michigan with a layover in North East, Pennsylvania. Our van has roughly 108k miles on it. We were about half way into our first day of driving when the dashboard lit up complaining about the engine. But if you pulled over, got a bite to eat, and came back a little while later, everything was back to normal and would last a few more hours.

We stayed in PA all day on Sunday and the warning light never came back on. Monday morning we got about half of the remaining way to Michigan and the light came back on. Pull over, let it cool. Lather, rinse, and repeat. Eventually we made it to my dad’s Michigan house.

I had thought that perhaps we just had a marginal ignition coil failure which would be cheap. As we were down to the last stretch of the drive to dad’s, I’d called the local Honda dealer to arrange an appointment for this morning.

Dad helped me drop the van off and I took him out to breakfast as a thank you for his assistance. As we were driving back from breakfast, I got the text message with links to the docs summarizing the findings. Oof! About $3k to basically re-ring and gasket the half of the engine that tends to fail in VCM configurations.

It goes without saying that I felt demoralized. That van has been overall reliable but this was a major expense I’d not known to look out for. And I was annoyed that it had to be triggered in the middle of a long drive.

See also: Stupid Technology: Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) on the Rocky Road Blog.