2002 Civic evaporation system & a few shketchy mechanics

hi all,

I have a well-traveled 2002 Civic LX that runs beautifully, save the engine light that’s been popping off & on this last year.

Oops! Accidently hit the return button (and yeah, I know it’s spelled ‘sketchy’).

Anyway, it’s time for my bi-annual smog inspection and, needless to say, the engine light precluded the car from passing (all other categories were A-OK). The test results indicate a problem with the evaporation system.

Thankfully, the great state of California offers a voucher for up to $500 to assist qualified drivers (like me!) to pass smog.

The car’s been taken to a few qualified shops and, once they learn of my state voucher, the repair magically morphs from an overnight deal to a week-long affair. The just-stepped-on-a-snail look the shop owners get on their faces once I whip out the coupon makes me wonder if there’s a difference between the real costs and what they’ll charge now that the Bureau of Automotive Repair is involved.

My question is this: imagining it’s entirely out-of-pocket, what’s the worst-case scenario insofar as real costs? I know there’ll be a battery of tests to figure out the problem, but as for now I’m simply trying to get a sense of parameters. Forewarned is forearmed.

Thanks, all!

In order to figure out in which way to approach the EVAP issue, The DTC for the EVAP system must be known.


Just curious, are you shutting off the gas pump at the first click of the handle as required by California law, or do you keep adding fuel to top it off?

I think there is a limit (imposed by Calif) on how much your out of pocket expense can be to fix emissions problems. Once that $ limit is reached, you get a waiver, and automatically pass whether the problem is fixed or not. This doesn’t go on indefinitely tho. Evenutally if you fail enough times and get enough waivers, you either have to fix the problem or junk the car. But if this is the first time, the dollar limit waiver probably applies to you. Suggest to call the state office involved and ask someone.

You might want to take a look at this link to get some basic info on how the evap system works. Often the repair is replacing a purge valve or something similar and not that expensive.


If the light goes on, there’s a code stored like tester mentioned when he referred to the DTC. What’s the code?
You can get the code read out for free at places like Autozone, pepboys and Advance auto. Don’t let them ‘fix’ your car, tho - just report back with those codes.

I find problems like yours are often best handled by a Honda dealer. Spend a bit more for a dealer repair and get it diagnosed and fixed once. Local garages can start throwing parts at this and after a few days the light is on again and more parts, and then more parts, and so it goes.

Doesn’t California have a law preventing stores like Autozone and PepBoys from providing free DTC scans?

I was told that by an AutoZone employee in Ventura, California.

I can’t speak to the specifics of the smog check program in CA, but the whole program is a joke in my state and I have on occasion removed myself from the list of certified shops because I was tired of dealing with waivers, vouchers, etc. Things for the shop are much simpler if the relationship is between a paying customer and the shop. Add in a third party that has rules and regulations about pricing and payment and the shop may not want to deal. And why on earth would a state pay a shop to fix a resident’s car?

As for the repair, if the problem lies with your evaporative emissions control system, you’ll need to find a shop that has the proper test equipment to diagnose and repair your problem. Prices vary, but an evap system diag and “smoke test” should run an hour/hour and half of labor time. Labor where I am is around $100/hour, probably higher in CA.

I’m not sure, but you may be precluded from taking your car to any old corner garage if it’s an emissions failure. CA smog check regulations are quite comprehensive.


Doesn't California have a law preventing stores like Autozone and PepBoys from providing free DTC scans?

Interesting. I’ve never heard of that before, but a little Googling seems to indicate you are correct. Auto parts stores aren’t allowed to perform any repair service, free or not, and the State Of Calif considers reading codes a form of auto repair. It may be that parts stores that have a side-by-side repair business can do free DTC reads though. I’ve never had to use that service, as my Corolla’s codes are easy to read by counting a blinking light appearing on the dashboard, but I seem to remember the guys at the parts store I frequent – which has a retail repair facility along side the parts store-- I think they told me that they’ll read DTC codes for free.

Anybody in Calif able to confirm that free code reading is available at parts stores as long as they have a repair facility there too?

Code reading is a convenience, but code readers which will work for most newer cars don’t cost very much, what?, $20 or less for a basic one. It’s just that a lot of modern drivers don’t even like to pop the hood on their own cars, in fear of breaking something. So asking them to buy a code reader and hook it up? They’ll probably just pay someone to read the codes if that’s the only way. And maybe that’s the point.


I live in Los Angeles

At the AutoZone near my house, half the guys working on cars in the parking lot are the store employees!

They are blatantly working on customer cars, while the customer is standing there, watching!

“blatantly?” You say that like it’s a BAD thing…

In a younger day, I worked at an AAP, and yeah, while running codes, replacing light bulbs…an ambitious sort could, and did, “network” their way into quite a bit of shadetree work.

(Surely against policy, but I never knew anybody to care.)

Geez…against the law to round up a $39.88 gas purchase…and plug in a code reader…state seems WAY too bleedin’ nebby for my tastes!

“At the AutoZone near my house, half the guys working on cars in the parking lot are the store employees!”

Hopefully they are more competent than the kids working at the Auto Zone & Advance Auto stores in my area. Based on their blank looks when asked about certain parts, these guys are so clueless that I wouldn’t even trust them to replace a light bulb or a wiper blade!


The local chain stores here have no restrictions from state or local government and they do run OBD code scans and will print out the factory explanation of the code and although that is better than nothing it’s not much more. Of course, if the code is MASSIVE EVAP LEAK and the gas cap is off the repair is cheap and easy. The store employees are not trained to diagnose anything and most are as clueless as the customer regarding the codes. With the cost of live data OBD II scanners being so cheap I don’t understand why most DIYers don’t have them.

Guys, many of the parts stores post signs forbidding parking lot repairs

I did NOT mean to imply that it was bad for a store employee to change a light bulb

I merely was pointing out that they were openly violating their employer’s rules

The humorous thing is that some of these employees try to pass themselves off as expert wrenches, just because they know how to change oil, wipers, and pad slap a car. Some of them genuinely think all car repair is simple all of the time.

The store employees at my most frequented auto parts store won’t fix the customer cars. But the customers sometimes fix their own cars in the parking lot. Mostly topping off fluids, changing the windshield wipers, etc. But I saw one guy there wearing an oil covered jumpsuit, his transverse mounted econobox on jackstands, both drive shafts and the xmission sitting on a big piece of carboard, next to the car, and by the look of the clutch alignment tool laying there in the driver’s seat, the customer’s plan appeared to be to replace his clutch. Right in the parking lot. One advantage I guess, if you loose an important fastener, being in the parking lot of a parts store, it’s easy to get the replacement.

Oh, and just for clarification…when I mentioned picking up “shadetree” work by auto parts employees…I didn’t mean employees working in the lot, “double dipping” by being on the clock.

I meant, check the customer out, then say, “hey, if installing that halfshaft turns out to be too much for you…” and quietly exchanging digits.

The first would get you fired quickly; discreet pursuit of the second was quite viable :wink: