Home » Honda Pilots Only Just Stopped Featuring This Ancient Engine Technology That Most Cars Abandoned Over 50 Years Ago

Honda Pilots Only Just Stopped Featuring This Ancient Engine Technology That Most Cars Abandoned Over 50 Years Ago

2016 Honda Pilot Ah Ts
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When it comes to reliable, cheap, durable used cars, two manufacturers immediately spring to mind: Toyota and Honda. Not only do these Japanese marques have incredible reputations for reliability, you’ll often see cars from these brands crossing into moon mileage territory, be it a humble Toyota Corolla or a family-hauling Honda Pilot. However, not every used Japanese car is as maintenance-free as a cinderblock, and if you’re on a budget, you might be better off with a slightly higher-mileage V6 Honda than one with just under 100,000 miles on the clock because most of these engines use ancient valvetrain technology. Huh?

When you think about it, it’s amazing how reliable and long-lasting cars have become over the past half-century. Well into the 1980s, certain manufacturers equipped some models with five-digit odometers because as soon as a car of that era reached 100,000 miles, chances are it was junk. We can thank technologies like electronic fuel injection, electronic ignition, and hydraulic valvetrains for relegating many pesky maintenance items to the dustbin of history, and although every manufacturer got the memo on the first two issues, not every marque hopped aboard the hydraulic valvetrain, erm, train as soon as it became feasible.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Before we go any further, it’s just worth noting that no matter what used car you’re looking to buy, it’s worth check in on servicing requirements before signing on the dotted line. Cars are seriously expensive purchases, and the more informed you are, the less likely you are to get a bad deal or a bad car. While larger Hondas with V6 engines are typically quite solid vehicles, a little due diligence could save you hundreds of dollars on maintenance.

Honda Pilot V6 E1703701743508 2

See, up until its latest J35Y8 sub-model found in the 2023 Honda Pilot, the Honda J35 V6 used a solid valvetrain rather than hydraulic lifters, so periodic valve adjustment is required as valve lash isn’t adjusted hydraulically. Considering how frequently valves have to open and close to let gases into or out of a cylinder, you’re going to want smooth operation so that valvetrain components don’t smash into each other, causing accelerated wear. If the valve lash is too loose, the engine will run poorly, make a ticking noise, and valvetrain damage may occur over time. More likely, unadjusted valves in a Honda V6 will eventually run too tight, potentially resulting in valve damage and a bad idle. I don’t know about you, but a few hours of labor sounds way cheaper than valve replacement.

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Pentastar Hydraulic Lifters

The use of a solid valvetrain for so long is decidedly weird because almost everyone else switched years ago to self-adjusting hydraulic lifters that fill with engine oil and then use the pressure of that oil to maintain correct valve lash. The 2007 Toyota Sienna and Highlander come with hydraulic lifters, Mopar’s Pentastar V6 uses hydraulic lifters, the downsized 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine in the outgoing Mazda CX-9 uses hydraulic lifters, and the 3.6-liter VR6 engine available in the pre-2024 Volkswagen Atlas uses hydraulic lifters. These hydraulic lifters require zero maintenance, and although they may take a second to fill with oil upon startup, they are the superior option for most consumers. So why is Honda still using a solid valvetrain in several products?

Well, part of it could be due to the ancientness of the J-series V6, and Honda sticking with what it’s used to. The first J30A three-liter V6 was used in the 1996 Acura 3.0CL, meaning this engine architecture was developed in the early-to-mid 1990s. Hell, the first application of the 3.5-liter J35 V6 was in the 1999 Honda Odyssey, which, due to the peculiarities of North American model year convention, entered production a quarter of a century ago. A quarter of a century before that, the Honda Accord just didn’t exist yet, and the Civic was a brand new nameplate.

Secondly, many Honda single overhead cam four-cylinder engines feature rocker arms that push the tip of the valve directly. When Honda was developing the J-series V6, it makes sense that the marque stuck to known technology, rather than venturing out into the great unknown. [Editor’s Note: I’m not sure calling hydraulic lifters “the great unknown” is quite fair given how tested the tech was by then. There are obviously advantages to foregoing hydraulic lifters given that many motorcycles have gone without for years. There’s less valvetrain inertia, which you’d think would help for high-revving motors, though I’m not sure that a Honda Pilot should be particularly concerned about valvetrain inertia. I’m going to quote Autopian User Rust Bucket, here:

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Almost all American engines use hydraulic lifters since the early 1960s. This is because quiet and smooth engine operation was valued above almost anything else in the US at the time, and hydraulic lifters guarantee perfect valve clearance at all temperatures, in all seasons, with no maintenance. However, the tradeoff is increased cost, complexity, reciprocating valve train mass, and sensitivity to oil quality.

Honda was a major motorcycle company before they ever got into the car business. Motorcycles in the 50s and 60s, and indeed motorcycles nowadays, exclusively use solid lifters. This is because the complexity and extra reciprocating mass are unacceptable for a high revving motorcycle engine. When Honda started making cars, they stuck with solid lifters, for the same reasons. This was the mid 70s when hydraulic lifters were already standard on American cars.

Into the 80s and 90s, as Hondas and other Japanese cars became more mainstream, more Americanized, and more smooth and powerful, they still didn’t switch to hydraulic lifters, because the extra mass is mutually exclusive with 8500rpm redlines and VTEC, and because adding hydraulic lifters to an overhead cam engine would mean a significantly taller head. The solid roller rocker system is quite compact. The J series is pretty much just a V6 version of the D series and F series engines that Honda already made, and it keeps the same valve train.

So Honda engineers made the engineering decision that solid valve trains would be better in their cars. They’re not alone: plenty of very modern engines use solid valve trains, although usually with bucket and shim lifters. The advantages of a solid valve train are very real, and what’s the downside? It has to be adjusted every 100,000 miles? Adjusting it is not very difficult or time consuming, and that’s not very frequent at all.

No, the real problem here is that transverse V6s suck to work on, and that caused the easy quick valve adjustment on a four cylinder to become a much more involved and expensive process.

Say it with me, guys, transverse V6s are not okay!

I have no clue who Rust Bucket is, but I can tell you that that all makes a lot of sense to me.

-DT].  

So how is valve adjustment carried out on a Honda J-series V6? Well, removal of the airbox, throttle body, and upper intake manifold, along with spark plugs, leads, and any plumbing or electrical components in the way is required to remove the valve covers. Once the valve covers are off, set the number one cylinder at top dead center as per the marks on the front cam pulley and upper timing cover, then break out the feeler gauges. If everything’s all good, you should feel some slight friction when you slide the correct feeler gauge between the rocker adjustment screw and the top of the valve. If not, tighten or loosen the screws on the end of each rocker, paying attention to the jamb nut. From there, repeat for all six cylinders. Needless to say, it’s a bit of a faff. At least it doesn’t have to be done terribly often.

Honda used to recommend replacing the timing belt and performing a valve adjustment every 105,000 miles on V6 cars, although technology has seeped in, replacing easy mileage-based tables on paper with a gauge cluster maintenance minder serving up various service codes. Any maintenance code with the number four in it will cover timing belt replacement and valve adjustment, although it’s also possible to play it safe and just stick with the previously recommended 105,000-mile interval.

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Honda Pilot Service Sub Item 4 3

Keep in mind that Honda recommends timing belt replacement every 60,000 miles for those living in extreme environments or doing any towing, although that doesn’t bundle in valve adjustment. Residents of Palm Springs, take note.

Honda Odyssey

So, let’s say that you’re looking to have all those “sub-item 4” services done at once. What sort of labor are you lookin at? Well, it depends on the model of vehicle, but on a 2013 Honda Pilot, timing belt replacement, spark plug replacement, and valve clearance inspection call for 5.4 hours of book labor, plus the cost of a timing belt and spark plugs, and any additional servicing added to the job (like an oil change, for instance). It’s the one seriously expensive service required by this otherwise stout vehicle, and if you’re looking to buy a used Honda Pilot, wouldn’t you rather someone else spent all that money?

Of course, you could always neglect to do the manufacturer-prescribed valve adjustment, but that probably isn’t a smart idea. Not only could the few hundred dollars in labor to adjust the valves be easily eaten up by the reduced efficiency of an out-of-spec engine, top end damage isn’t something worth risking as a burnt valve isn’t typically something you’ll hear until it’s too late. Reports of burnt valves on J-series V6s seem to occur at a variety of mileage points, so it’s best to be proactive rather than reactive.

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Thankfully, if you’re buying new, you may be able to catch a lucky break. For the 2023 Honda Pilot, the powertrain engineers revised the J35 V6 with dual overhead cam heads that use hydraulic lifters to eliminate the need for valve adjustment. While this engine hasn’t yet made its way into the Honda Odyssey, Ridgeline, or Passport, expect changes to happen once those models get redesigned. It took long enough, but Honda has finally seen the light.

(Photo credits: Honda)

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BBecker
BBecker
1 month ago

So if my quick googling and scan of my owner’s manual are correct, this “ancient engine technology” appears in the 2021 Honda Accord with the standard 1.5T and so likely also in the latest Accords and Civics. Either this tech isn’t as dated as you write, or you should focus your outrage on the fact that too oft-praised Honda outfits its mainstream bestsellers with this outdated tech.

Zelda Bumperthumper
Zelda Bumperthumper
3 months ago

I’m not sure how fussy valve lash adjustment is on a transverse V engine, but I’ve done it on the K20A2 in my RSX, and it’s tedious but not difficult if you’re patient. Definitely buy a valve adjustment tool before starting the job. You can do it without, but you’d best have 3 thumbs. It’s a worthwhile tradeoff in my eyes, because I rip it close to the (reflashed) 8600 rpm fuel shutoff on a regular basis. On the other hand adjusting the lash in the 2UZ in my GX470 requires removing the entire timing set and then removing the freaking cams. So I just going to pretend it’s in spec for life.

Last edited 3 months ago by Zelda Bumperthumper
changedmynameasIworkinadealershipandsomeofourbrandsarentgreat
changedmynameasIworkinadealershipandsomeofourbrandsarentgreat
3 months ago

I used to do this as an apprentice diesel mechanic on Volvo trucks. I was not a very good mechanic as I didn’t really understand what I was working on (in my test I adjusted them “fine” on an unfamiliar engine, but I failed because I didn’t realise on that engine the intake and exhaust valves where on the opposite side to what they were on the D11, D13, D16 engines I usually worked on at work). I always had someone with me. Pretty fun but trucks are a lot easier because everything is big and easy to access – straight six in a ladder frame.

Matthew V Schultz
Matthew V Schultz
3 months ago

Nice! That they are. I like how the volvo D series have their valves set up with the timing marks on the gears.

In my travels, I have never seen any big diesel with hydraulic valve trains.

All the engine’s have their own caveats, though. Every engine has its own special tools for running the overhead and their own way of doing it.

I like the old way of doing it. #1 TDC, In on 1,2,4; Ex on 1, 3, 5. Turn 360, then In on 3,5,6; Ex on 2, 4, and 6.

changedmynameasIworkinadealershipandsomeofourbrandsarentgreat
changedmynameasIworkinadealershipandsomeofourbrandsarentgreat
3 months ago

We also did the exhaust after the intake and thankfully the first few times I had someone with me because I’m sure I got caught out once or twice not changing to the right feeler gauge the first time. We also had a big nail board with all the (shims? spacer things?) hanging up to put in which got exchanged between trucks as each had different needs. As you can tell I was not good at this sort of thing but obviously as an apprentice was being supervised, I do remember running off to VCADs to get all the torque etc specs for everything on basically every service. Maybe seems old school in a modern engine but given the minor service intervals for these things was like 200,000kms and 500,000 for a major it sort of makes sense and presumably its more robust than self adjusting tappets. Fond memories of that job and everyone I worked with who was older had been at that same employer for like 20 years seems if you have a bit of mechanical aptitude and aren’t horrible with maths like me heavy vehicle technician is a great career at least here in Aus.

Last edited 3 months ago by changedmynameasIworkinadealershipandsomeofourbrandsarentgreat
Matthew V Schultz
Matthew V Schultz
3 months ago

As a engineer and heavy equipment mechanic, I can attest to it being a great career once you are able to see past the stigma of mechanics being greasy monkeys with a cardboard box of tools and a fifth grade education. Just the computerized systems on some machines require engineering-level diagnostics and that’s before adding the additional layers of mechanical, hydraulic, and pneumatic controls.

I tend to keep the repair manuals open as well, as they are good, quick reference and they give you that “job done well” feel.

Solid valve trains are still better. 🙂

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
3 months ago

Even my 944 has hydraulic lifters! And it came with a five-digit odometer!

These things were fun as hell to play with when I had the cam tower off. Clackity clack clack. Here’s what they look like, FWIW—little shiny silver buckets: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVFOXIldlog

Tomato
Tomato
3 months ago

The Acura C-series V6’s had hydraulic lifters. They made those from ’85-’04. I never had to adjust the lashing on my Acura Legend. Those didn’t have VTEC, though. Maybe they ran out of room. Or money… they all have timing belts, after all.

Pat Rich
Pat Rich
3 months ago

Thanks for reminding me Im way overdue for a valve adjustment I absolutely will be ignoring. Mine is bucket shim style and is a major PITA and I really don’t want to do it or pay for it. It doesn’t seem to be an issue for most of these engines though so…meh.

Fourmotioneer
Fourmotioneer
3 months ago

Issue with tight lash is that with thermal growth during operation, the exhaust valves could fault to fully seat, which limits their ability to transfer heat to the valve seat -> head -> coolant and can lead to burnt valves.

Valve/seat wear during operation slowly decreases distance between tip of valve stem and cam lobe

More lash leads to more time of the valve at zero displacement from the valve seat and consequently more time for heat transfer to occur

Goblin
Goblin
3 months ago

This whole procedure sounds like a simphony compared to my Santa Fe’s 3.3 V6 Gdi which requires camshafts on both cylinder banks to be removed and solid buckets to be replaced for valve adjustment. And it’s not an exotic or little used by any means, it comes cooked in all flavors on all three brands…

Really, Honda’s system is the antiquated and difficult one ? Pfffftttt 🙂

Last edited 3 months ago by Goblin
Angry Bob
Angry Bob
3 months ago
Reply to  Goblin

My Honda VFR800 is like that. Cams have to be removed and the VTEC lifters replaced with solid lifters before measuring clearance. And there are 4 cam shafts. A lot of owners just skip the service because you can eventually just replace the engine with the money saved from skipping valve adjustments.

changedmynameasIworkinadealershipandsomeofourbrandsarentgreat
changedmynameasIworkinadealershipandsomeofourbrandsarentgreat
3 months ago
Reply to  Goblin

Hmm thanks one of my ‘rare but nobody cares car’ is the approx 2006 Hyundai Grandeur with the 3.8l version of that V6 (I ran a 800 buck 2000 Grandeur (XG300) with the 3.0, loved that car) but that sounds a pain in the arse

Danny Zabolotny
Danny Zabolotny
3 months ago

BMW used solid lifters for quite a while too: the M20 ran through 92, and the M30 ran through 93. Those engines were easy to adjust since it was just rotating an eccentric lobe on the rocker to set the clearances.

On their ///M engines, they went even longer with solid lifters— the S38 ran through 1995 and required valve adjustments with shims, and so did the famed S54 which ran through 2008! Thankfully some forum users found that Wiseco Volvo shims fit perfectly, so that makes the valve adjustments on an S54 relatively cheap and easy.

Last edited 3 months ago by Danny Zabolotny
Roger Pitre
Roger Pitre
3 months ago

Just got our 2012 MDX done, $1800 Cdn parts and labor for TB, plugs, valve adjustment. It’s got 102000 miles, and is still in top shape. Not cheap, but a still only the equivalent of a payment and a half on a new one. Probably would have been ok for a while yet, but peace of mind and all that. Been changing all the fluids as prescribed by the MIL since new too. A couple hundred bucks worth of oil is also a good investment…

American Locomotive
American Locomotive
3 months ago

I don’t really think it’s a huge issue. The Japanese solid valve trains are pretty robust. Toyota also used solid valve trains up until relatively recently. The 5VZ V6 and 1/2/3UZ V8s all used solid valvetrains, and they’re all known for going 200,000+ miles without ever needing adjustment.

Rabob Rabob
Rabob Rabob
3 months ago

Yup, It’s easy to do and they don’t need much adjustment after the engine breaks in. I just checked them occasionally on my Honda and buttoned everything up since most would be in spec.

Last edited 3 months ago by Rabob Rabob
Dan Pritts
Dan Pritts
3 months ago
Reply to  Rabob Rabob

Easy to adjust, but not easy to get at. That’s the rub.

Rabob Rabob
Rabob Rabob
3 months ago
Reply to  Dan Pritts

It’s literally not difficult at all

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