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It certainly *sounds* like it's the main relay to me. Especially the part about how it starts fine, unless you've just cut it off to run inside for something. My '88 Civic Si did that. So did my '91 CRX DX. And my '91 Accord LX. And my '88 CRX Si. In every single case, it was the main relay! When the problem started, it was when the weather started warming up; the cars would all start great in the mornings, but if I stopped along the way to work to grab a Coke or anything, I'd come back out and it was a crapshoot as to whether they'd start or not. The '88 CRX and the '88 Civic both did the start-but-run-like-crap-for-a-minute-or-so trick; the others would generally restart after a bit of cranking. Eventually, the relay in the '88 CRX failed utterly - on the morning I was going to put it up into the driveway to replace the main relay, it just wouldn't start! I ended up pushing it into the driveway so I could change it. Could've happened in a MUCH worse place... ;)

I've never been handy with a soldering gun, so I generally just replace the things with new ones. Here's a little trick I learned that will make the job a lot easier: don't remove the entire relay! The housing (the black box that's bolted to the chassis under the dash) isn't what went bad - it's the electronics inside it. If you look at the bottom of the relay's housing, it's rectangular in shape. Using a small flat-bladed screwdriver (or a butter knife, if your wife doesn't catch you using it), pry the shorter sides of the box apart a bit, one at a time, and tug gently down on the relay's wiring connector. This way, the relay's innards will come out easily. Now just unclip the connector, plug in the guts from the new relay, and slide it on home. Bingo. Done. Takes me a few minutes this way. Removing the housing is kind of a chore - for me, at least - because it's held in place with a 10mm bolt that's just a beeeyotch to get to, and harder to get back into its hole and threaded correctly.

Hope this helps make the job easier.

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