Does a consumer have a right to influence whether a catalytic converter on a car over 10 years of age is repaired vs. replaced? The car is a 2004 Subaru Outback but the catalytic converter in question is under five years (replaced twice by Subaru under warranty, most recently in 2016, along with an ECM reprogramming that was supposedly going to prevent the replacement from going bad).
It is unclear if a P0420 — a check engine light which can apparently even be triggered by low quality gasoline, among many other reasons — qualifies as proof that yet another catalytic converter replacement is required on this car. (Car passed a smog check less than a year ago because the P0420 is only intermittent. It isn’t due for another smog for nearly a year.)
When asked, the shop in question claims they are unable to confirm if the catalytic converter was failing because they are unable to get the 02 sensor back on due to stripped threads. The car had head gasket work in 2019 and the concern was the P0420 code may reflect cat damage because the CEL briefly appeared about a month after the HGs were replaced and has been going on and off ever since.) When asked why they didn’t test the catalytic converter for internal failure before they removed the 02 sensor — which they claim to have found cross-threaded — they offered no real explanation.
If the cat has failed internally it is a moot point that the shop also stripped the threads while attempting to remove the 02 sensor — but they haven’t proven anything other than they damaged our cat trying to address exhaust leaks — which they suspected as the cause of the P0420 code. It seems as if we are being asked to pay for an OEM cat not because the shop adequately determined that the old one required replacement but because they damaged it. (The shop says they warned us that “it may be necessary to replace the cat” but we took that to mean if the cat had failed internally — not merely because they damaged it prior to making a diagnosis.)
The shop is pressuring us to pick up the car in a non-drivable state after essentially holding the car hostage to a demand for an OEM cat replacement. We think we should be offered a lower cost option — at least one that would work long enough to re-mount the 02 sensor and properly test the CAT for internal failure. However, the shop is using their California STAR-certified smog test station license as reason to deny any/all workaround as an illegal "modification”.
I found at least one article online claiming that in California, a car over five years of age without any remaining emissions warranty is supposed to be exempted from an OEM cat requirement, but it’s neither here nor there if the shop that has our car in pieces refuses to install an aftermarket cat. (I’ve posted this question elsewhere online and everyone is siding with the shop, saying we have no recourse simply by virtue of the fact that the cross-threading was mentioned before they stripped out the threads — but we had no specific discussion what would happen if the threads stripped and assumed the reference was to the fact that a back pressure or vacuum test may indicate that the cat itself had gone bad.)
Can a shop legally push a customer’s back against a wall for the highest cost repair option when there may be other things they can try first — like using a $6 oxygen sensor thread chaser to restore the grip for the 02 sensor?
The car has about 175K on the odometer but we had hoped to make it to the 200K mark. Problem is, for three weeks we have been at an impasse with the shop — which may force us to scrap the car! So are we being told the truth when they say their STAR smog-check station status ties their hands? Does it also mean that if we take it to an exhaust/muffler shop for a bung or tap, it will mean an automatic fail the next time the car is presented to a STAR smog shop? (They claim it’s not worth taking it elsewhere because a repair of the existing cat will cause the car to fail future Star-certified smog checks if such a “modification” is discovered.) Are they telling us the truth or just trying to extract $3,500 from us for the catalytic replacement? Is a customer really liable for the entire cost of replacement in this situation or is there any legal requirement that the shop that damages such an expensive component share in the replacement cost?