Catalytic Converter went in my 2005 Honda Civic Hybrid.
January 14, 2011 12:41 PM   Subscribe

Car Repair Filter: My 2005 Honda Civic Hybrid has 150,000 miles and the check engine light is on. Dealer is telling me I need a new catalytic converter.

Catalytic converter costs anywhere from $1500 - $2000 including labor. Car is only worth at most $3500.

In my quick online searches, it looks like the failure of a catalytic converter in a hybrid is a recurring problem. Could possibly be a software problem with Honda, but it looks like many people have had problems with the catalytic converter.

Anyone have suggestions on dealing with this? What is the general lifespan of a catalytic converter in a car?

Suggestions on resources? I am considering calling Honda. I can't do anything with the car until I get it to pass inspection, and my registration is expiring.
posted by hazyspring to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
have you gotten a second opinion? most o'reillys/autozone/etc will do a check on the code for free.
posted by nadawi at 12:54 PM on January 14, 2011

Assuming hybrids use the same diagnostic standard as normal cars, it might be worth your while to buy a code reader (about $100 - some auto parts places have loaners or will just come out and check you car for you in their lot). This let's you check the error code for yourself and clear it. If it comes back in a mile or three you can rule out a one-off glitch and know you have a real problem (for values of real problem which might including a bad sensor or connection).

After 150K miles I wounldn't be stunned by a catalytic converter going bad, though.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:55 PM on January 14, 2011

also, i don't know how to find one in your area, but every place i've lived in has a disreputable part of town with a shop that does inspections that'll pass you if slip them an extra 20 even if your check engine light is on.
posted by nadawi at 12:55 PM on January 14, 2011

Muffler shop + universal catalytic converter.

You should end up spending only 10-12% of that $2k the dealer is asking.
posted by gatsby died at 1:05 PM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

$3500 for a 2005 civic? That seems pretty low. Do the hybrids lose a lot more resale value?
posted by The Lamplighter at 1:08 PM on January 14, 2011

I haven't gotten a second opinion but:

1) It seems probably that I would need a catalytic converter after 150,000
2) On a number of forums, specifically one I was looking at for hybrid cars, there are number of post specifying problems with peoples' catalytic converter going. Some people have called Honda and complained.

So far, my best option seems to be to go and get a second opinion, but mostly likely it will come back the same. And second, go to a place that can cheaply repair my catalytic converter.
posted by hazyspring at 1:13 PM on January 14, 2011

I don't know anything about cars or catalytic converters. But when my four-year-old Honda needed a $2000 repair, I wrote to Honda of America telling them, truthfully, that I had owned Hondas for years and always did my repairs at the dealer, and that I expected more from my car than such an expensive repair at an early age. They paid for the repair.
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:14 PM on January 14, 2011

My car has 150,000 miles on it. The blue book value is about $3500-$4,000. Hybrids are worth more than a regular civic.
posted by hazyspring at 1:14 PM on January 14, 2011

wow I just traded a 2007 Civic Hybrid, only 50k miles but got 12,500 trade in value even.
posted by thilmony at 1:21 PM on January 14, 2011

Is that $3500 without fixing the cat converter? All the Civics for sale in my area are going for way more than that.
posted by The Lamplighter at 1:23 PM on January 14, 2011

It's a 2005 Civic Hybrid, DX (Base model), Manual . Given a few problems that I would have, I'm rating in in fair to good condition. I can't imagine that I would get more than $4,000.

But if anyone has any suggestions, I am open.

Kelley Blue Book.
posted by hazyspring at 1:27 PM on January 14, 2011

also, i don't know how to find one in your area, but every place i've lived in has a disreputable part of town with a shop that does inspections that'll pass you if slip them an extra 20 even if your check engine light is on.

Hell, get it done at a jiffy lube or monro. They'll tell you to come back the next day and pass you 50% of the time. If they don't, drive 10 miles to the next one. My check engine light has been on since I got the car 5 years ago.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 1:28 PM on January 14, 2011

RockAuto lists a direct fit (no welding/customization necessary) for the 2005 Honda Civic Hybrid for just over $150. I've replaced a cat on a vehicle; it wasn't the easiest thing I have ever done but it was nowhere near the hardest.

If you can't find a muffler shop to do it for $300 in labor I would be shocked.
posted by phearlez at 1:38 PM on January 14, 2011

If you bought the hybrid version for any sort of environmentalist reasons, you'll want to repair the catalytic converter so that it actually works. The catalyst neutralizes unburnt hydrocarbons so that they don't cause as many smog-forming chemicals.

The old fashioned way to check whether a cat was good or not was to tap the outside with a hammer. If it sounds like it's full of loose materials, it's junk. The converter is just a bunch of precious metals that initiate a chemical reaction with the exhaust gases, so there's no mechanical failure that can happen.

Also, you could try to get an inspection station to run a tailpipe test even with the CEL illuminated to see what you're actually spewing.
posted by hwyengr at 1:44 PM on January 14, 2011

Seconding the independent muffler shop for your catalytic converter. Just for a laugh, I had Jeep estimate mine, the estimate came back at $3200. My licensed mechanic I have been using for 15 years did it for $800. I'm always flabbergasted by people who get repairs done at dealerships.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 2:11 PM on January 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Man, skip the dealer. Go to a little guy. With a car that common, a whole goddamn exhaust shouldn't be more than a grand.
posted by notsnot at 2:43 PM on January 14, 2011

1- The catalytic converter, on its own, rarely goes bad. It is just a ceramic honeycomb that the exhaust gases flow through.

2- The way car's computers test for a catalytic converter's efficiency is that there are two oxygen sensors. One before the cat, one after. It compares the values from each one and makes sure there is less oxygen in the second one. By deduction, it then knows that stuff got burnt in the cat.

3- Oxygen sensors are more likely to go bad than catalytic converters, and they are way cheaper. Further, they can go bad in a way that just makes them wrong, not broken. I would be shocked if that's not what the problem really is. Probably just the rear/downstream one, but replacing the other one couldn't hurt and will likely improve gas mileage.

4- Argh! Almost forgot this. The way to actually test if the catalytic converter has gone bad is to test the exhaust with a sniffer. Because you need to find out if the rear sensor that set off the light is telling the truth or not. A bad cat will show slightly high HC and very high NOx. If they are trying to sell you a cat without having replaced #3 and/or done the sniffer test, they are trying to rip you off. (Through incompetence or malevolence.)

On the other hand. If the cat has gone bad, it is almost FOR SURE because something else has gone bad in the engine. Burning oil, internal coolant leak, running rich. You could easily replace the cat and have it fail again shortly thereafter. How has gas mileage been lately? Any fluids mysteriously disappearing?
posted by gjc at 3:00 PM on January 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

General suggestion for dealing with this:
Take a step back and don't get blinded by the numbers. It sounds like the car is paid off? And if you were considering selling it and buying something different, you probably wouldn't be looking at replacing it with a $3500-4000 car, right? So even if it costs $2000 to fix (which seems high), that's less than 7 months with a $300/mo car payment (and that's excluding higher insurance costs, taxes, interest...).
posted by itheearl at 5:12 PM on January 14, 2011

gjc --- That is exactly the kind of info I have been looking for. I don't know how gas mileage has been, because I really haven't been driving it a lot.

But, I am going to take the car to a different mechanic to look at. But the information is extremely helpful.

posted by hazyspring at 6:31 PM on January 14, 2011

I can't advise you strongly enough to avoid, despite all temptations of savings, any type of universal, aftermarket, or otherwise non-Honda replacement catalytic converter. In my experience, the non-factory converters are not produced to the same standards as the factory part and more than 75% of the time return with the same P0420 Cat Below Efficiency code. They're cheaper for a reason and it's because they use less of the necessary catalytic material in the core. At customer request, I've installed these aftermarket units only to see them fail prematurely time and time again, especially on newer low-emissions or PZEV cars. When the failed aftermarket converters were replaced with factory units, the repairs were permanent and the cars didn't return with a P0420 cat malfunction.

Also, I believe that the converter in your Civic Hybrid may be part of the exhaust manifold, meaning that it's a very specific shape that doesn't lend itself to being available as a universal weld-in type that's usually welded into a section of straight pipe like a muffler. Some companies make an aftermarket replacement converter for some "in-manifold" type converters but they are typically of an EXTREMELY poor quality, featuring leaky welds, inferior materials, and poor fitment. They are not recommended by me at all.

So, it is correct that, theoretically, a converter shouldn't ever really fail or go bad on its own. There's usually an outside factor causing that failure. Some things like burning oil, incorrect air/fuel ratio, and burning coolant can deteriorate the converter. Other things like a lifetime of short trips can shorten the life of a converter. But, the infinite lifespan of the converter is, in my experience, totally theoretical. I've replaced many on cars that have over 100k on the clock but have no evidence of any malfunction that would lead to the deterioration of the converter. In my opinion, they just kind of have a lifespan.

Additionally, given the high mileage of the vehicle and the condition of the exhaust components, as a professional mechanic, I always recommend replacing the associated oxygen sensors whenever a converter is replaced. First of all, removing the old sensors from the old exhaust to swap them into the new pipe can be a very fraught process. The amount of rust and corrosion on an exhaust with 150k is pretty staggering and it's more likely than not that the sensor can become damaged in the struggle to extricate it. Also, since you're paying to remove and install the sensor anyway, you might as well put a new one in. Many oxygen sensors fail at or before 150k, from what I've seen. You're better off replacing it as part of the whole repair.
posted by Jon-o at 5:41 PM on January 21, 2011

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