Catalytic Converter Cali emissions?

Just got a 2002 Suzuki XLZ last night, which started up fine for me and ran for a good 15 min with no hiccups…had flat tires from sitting through the winter, and report of “exhaust leak” by previous owner. Had it towed to muffler shop who had replaced the fuel pump and gas lines (previous owner said they told him the exhaust leak needed to be fixed or the gas tank/lines/pump would be messed up again because of the leak) and had price quote of around 400 to fix the leak. Same muffler shop now says they can’t get it started/keep it running long enough today to check thoroughly b/c the exhaust flow is too low and the car is cutting off. They say that the “California emissions” catalytic converter is bad and that replacement is $2400-$2600 before they can even check on the exhaust leak that they had previously diagnosed and quoted. This is not a dealer shop, but is a large franchise (Big Al’s). Not sure if the California part makes any difference in the cost? (I don’t live in CA and have no emissions testing in my state.) How badly am I being scammed here? Does Calif emissions have anything to do with the cost of a replacement? and If I sink this money into it, what are the additional expenses I am likely looking at (b/c I know that the converter issue is basically a symptom of another problem). Thanks for any tips or advice…

You state that you don’t live in California so why not ship it to your home and haveit repaired there since Ca emissions are more strict than most states.

I’m confused here. You drove it in and now it won’t run? Were the fuel pump and lines replaced after you drove it in or was that done by the previous owner? Something is bogus here, I don’t know if it is Big Al’s or your misunderstanding of what they are telling you.

Apparently there is a completely different converter that meets Ca emissions…and if you get a car with one of those (or as I am learning, 3 of those!!), you can’t just swap to a regular converter (engine build is different for them). Not for the 2 manifold converters anyway. If I am very lucky, only the rear one is bad…and I can have that one swapped to a universal for not a lot of money. If I am not lucky, then the two manifold ones will need to be replaced by the California type. Second opinions from other muffler shops quote me lower prices, but not by much. Thanks for your suggestion, though.

Somebody is blowing smoke up your rear. Converters that are certified for use on CA vehicles means that the converters are tested to CA standards and passed. Aftermarket converters that are not certified may or may not meet those standards, it just means that they have not gone through the testing and certification process.

Some aftermarket converters may not meet the standards because their platinum and palladium coatings are not as thick as the original, the thought being that the original is expected to last the life of the vehicle in most cases where the replacement converter will not have to last nearly as long.

In the 80’s, there was a difference between converters used in CA and the other 49 states. CA was the first state to require three way cats and later the warm up cats. Those went federal in either the late 90’s or 2000. The cats attached to your manifolds are warm up cats, also called pre-cats.

BTW, there are 7 other states that require replacement cats to be certified for sale in CA. Instead of requiring additional testing, they just chose to adopt the CA standards and accept CA certification. You may live in one of those states but not have testing in your local area.

The short answer is, get the vehicle out of this shop. If you have to have it towed to another shop, do that and then if the other shop discovers that your vehicle was sabotaged, sue the crap out of Big Al’s.

How can an exhaust leak possibly effect the fuel lines and fuel tank? Also in some states a vehicle over 10 years old can operate without the convertor. I think you made a big mistake from the start by purchasing a non-functional vehicle by a manufacture that has left the US market.

@“VOLVO V70”

I don’t think so.

EPA regulations/federal laws state that removal of a catalytic converter from a vehicle that was originally equipped with a catalytic converter is a violation of said regulations/laws. And in doing so can result in up to a $20,000 fine.

The act of removing a catalytic converter without replacing it with an approved replacement (known as “tampering”) is illegal under federal law and is of great concern to EPA because of the high pollution levels that are emitted by vehicles without properly functioning emission controls. The original antitampering law was part of the Clean Air Act of 1970; it applied only to manufacturers and car dealers. The antitampering law was expanded by the 1977 Clean Air Act Amendments to apply to all automobile repair facilities, commercial mechanics, and fleet operators. And the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments (CAAA) broadened the tampering provision even further; it now applies to everyone, including car owners. Here is the text from the 1990 CAAA:


(1) Section 203(a)(3) (42 U.S.C. 7522(a)(3)) is amended to read as follows:

'(3)(A) for any person to remove or render inoperative any device or element of design installed on or in a motor vehicle or motor vehicle engine in compliance with regulations under this title prior to its sale and delivery to the ultimate purchaser, or for any person knowingly to remove or render inoperative any such device or element of design after such sale and delivery to the ultimate purchaser; or

'(B) for any person to manufacture or sell, or offer to sell, or install, any part or component intended for use with, or as part of, any motor vehicle or motor vehicle engine, where a principal effect of the part or component is to bypass, defeat, or render inoperative any device or element of design installed on or in a motor vehicle or motor vehicle engine in compliance with regulations under this title, and where the person knows or should know that such part or component is being offered for sale or installed for such use or put to such use; or '


I think the reasoning behind the exhaust leak and damaged lines is that exhaust heat through the leak was causing them to fail due to cooking them to death.

It’s ill-advised and against the law to tamper with converters among other things.

I for one am not gong to fault this shop. In the original post it’s stated the vehicle started and ran for 15 minutes.
The vehicle was then towed to a shop.
This shop was presented a vehicle unloaded from the hook and which had been sitting.

All bets are off on what all that car needs. It’s a vehicle for the DIYer and I would hope that you didn’t give too much for an obsolete vehicle which has been parked.

It might be noted that the seller of this thing also provided a song and dance about why it shouldn’t be driven…

Tester you are most likely correct. My statement was made because when I took a 12 year old truck in for exhaust repair the muffler shop said I did not need to replace the converter because it was older than 10 years. I am in Oklahoma so ok4450 will most likely be able to set me straight. I did replace it so the engine light would not be on and I did plan to sell the truck.

Every shop I’ve worked in the tampering or removal of emission devices was forbidden. OK emission laws have changed repeatedly over the years and emissions testing is not required.
An individual can drive around with a bad converter and no legal repercussions; however, it’s still illegal to remove permanently or gut a converter no matter the state. A cut and paste about OK a few years ago and in short form:

Revocation of Subchapter 15, Motor Vehicle Pollution Control Devices. The Department actually lacks the legal authority to enforce this rule. Revocation of the rule will not change the federal prohibition on tampering with or removing emission control equipment from motor vehicles in Oklahoma.

As to the OP, I’m wondering if this car buy was some kind of Craigslist deal. It sounds like a deal was done after the car was heard to run a bit.
The OP was told by the seller that it’s not adviseable to drive it because of the exhaust leak.
The OP has the car towed from the point of sale based on what the seller claimed.

The seller has the money, the buyer owns a headache, and the problems the car has now including the random refusal to start were likely known by the seller all along.

That’s all theory on my part and may or may not be correct. It would be interesting to know if that’s the case or not. If not, my bad…

Here’s what I’d try.

Unbolt the exhaust manifold from the head. The exhaust manifold also includes the pre-cat.

If the engine starts and runs, then the pre-cat has probably sent debris down the exhaust system to the main cat causing a restriction. And that’s why the engine won’t run.

Too much back-pressure.


@Tester I agree.

I’ve seen guys do this to quickly condemn a cat. Of course, that still leaves the question as to why the cat’s plugged

I’ve even seen guys simply remove the O2 sensors, and the engine would start, the theory being that by doing so, you’re allowing the engine to breathe a little bit. I suppose it depends on how accessible and/or rusty those bolts are

Thanks all; second opinion from another shop that I expected to cost more…was actually less. Had it towed there this afternoon, given the reported severity of problems. When tow-truck arrived, vehicle started and ran fine for me (after an initial bucking and choking x 2 starts). Couldn’t take the chance it would die in transit, so still sent it by tow to the other shop.

This car has to meet Virginia inspection requirements, and the first shop was not an inspection center either, while second one is. Only took it to the first one b/c it was close to where the vehicle was garaged, it was getting late, and they had worked on the car before. I suspect I will hear an entirely different story once the new shop has a chance to check the car out thoroughly, especially since I had very little trouble getting it running today either, compared with the difficulties the first shop kept telling me they were having this morning.

@Tester: thanks for the update about the legality of non-approved replacement converters; looks like I wasn’t the only one this was news to. I appreciate your sending out that info.

@ok4450: I wondered about hauling it up onto the flatbed for towing myself (it’s a 4WD) and was relieved when I didn’t have major problems getting it started and moved for better access by the tow truck the second time (the spare was on it today and the other tires had air in them, so it was actually drivable this afternoon) And no, I didn’t pay much for it, knowing ahead of time that there were issues the owner had already told me about. Between and RepairPals, I knew that I was still getting a decent deal even with the planned exhaust repairs (although I wasn’t expecting quite this much of a bill, haha)

@ keith: awesome history! And (per the previous owner) the fuel pump/lines was replaced and “gas tank cleaned out” by Big Al’s several months before I bought it. It ran fine for me the night I bought it, and I made sure to run it for at least 15 minutes if not more while I was talking to the owner. Big Al’s mechanic verified on the phone that he had done the work and was familiar with this car, but when I came in to talk to them about their estimate and previous work this guy was not around. (Convenient?) I honestly can’t and won’t say that there’s anything illegal or even unethical in how any of this has gone…with cars this old, strange things do happen. It’s just stranger than I expected. Even if they see evidence of sabotage, I would have trouble proving it was those mechanics when I just got the car. Nice thought though.

My original request for “tips and advice” (Not judgments about my decisions) has brought loads of great information. As for buying a “nonfunctional vehicle” from manufacturers who have left the US, I can only say that I see lots of newer (foreign and domestic) cars sitting in junkyards dead as doornails, and for some reason I don’t seem to have a problem getting mine started and running. Not sure why this other bunch couldn’t get it to run, but now I’m waiting to hear Paul Harvey’s “rest of the story.” Part of me says there may be water in the gas line and that it froze overnight so they couldn’t start it but melted by the afternoon when I tried it…but what do I know. Thanks again!

@yorkie412008 You’re really taking me back!

I used to listen to Paul Harvey’s “rest of the story” all the time . . . years ago, obviously

you’re smart to take the vehicle to an authorized inspection center. They’ll be aware of the regulations, and they won’t propose any illegal and/or shady repairs

I’m glad to hear you didn’t pay much for the vehicle, given the uncertainty. Smart move

The shop may have created the exhaust leak in the past so the previous owner could get the vehicle home with the plugged catalytic converter. This may be why they won’t just repair the exhaust leak, it needs one or more catalytic converters replaced.

OK4450 stated the problem pretty clearly IMHO. The shop where the car currently resides was handed a vehicle with a totally unknown history that had shut itself down after 15 minutes and refused to restart. All bets are off. There’s no “baseline” of knowledge to start with. No assumptions can be made.

I also agree with Tester’s idea that the simple first step would be to simply disconnect the cat and see if the engine runs. If it does, that makes the exhaust system #1 candidate for further tests or for replacement. If it doesn’t, then the traditional stuff, the fuel supply, the ignition system, a fault code download, etc. can begin. Why the shop hasn’t already tried this is beyond me. It’s a violation of federal law to remove the converter permanently, but disconnecting it for diagnostic reasons is perfectly normal, acceptable, and legal.

To me anyway, the quickest and easiest way of checking for a plugged up converter is with a vacuum gauge although a lot of people don’t seem to use them.

The gauges are cheap, easy to install, and results had in a minute or so. No messing with rusted fasteners, no greasey mess, and no bleeding knuckles.

It’s odd that it would run fine for 15 minutes and a converter is said to be plugged up. Just some food for thought, but is it possible that the tow truck could have dinged the exhaust up and caused a restriction? Unlikely but in the auto world anything is possible.

Of course, a vacuum gauge would show that also.

The vehicle was sitting for a few months and if the fuel in the tank is Ethanol there’s a possibility of fuel contamination; especially if the atmosphere has been damp quite a bit from rain, snow, and the right dew point.

I agree except that it’s hard to meaningfully measure vacuum on an engine that won’t start… {:slight_smile:

I agree with mountainbike 100%

Like I said, I’ve seen engine fail to start, until the guy at least removed O2 sensors, or lowered the y pipe

I still see a big red flag here, it ran fine when it was driven in and now all of a suddenly the cat is plugged up so much that it won’t start. I still think it is time to find an honest independent mechanic. The OP needs to ask friends, family and coworkers for recommendations and get this vehicle out of Big Al’s hands.