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Second Replacement of Catalytic Converters for 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid?

I have a 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid. I have had continuous trouble with the Catalytic Converters/software. I’ve been in to the dealer five times for these issues. The catalytic converter was replaced at 59,000 miles, about 30 months ago. (They said a software problem lead to a fuel mixture that was too rich and burned out the converter.) The car has about 115,000 miles on currently, but only 56,000 and two-an-a-half years on this catalytic converter. Now, the dealer is stating that it needs to be replaced again, and Honda refuses to pick up the cost this time stating that the car has exceeded the mileage requirement.

1. Should I be burning through catalytic converters this quickly? I’m hesitant to get it fixed if I’ll need another one in two years.

2. What harm is there in driving without a new catalytic converter?

3. Does the EPA Emissions warranty guarantee 8 yrs./80,000 miles on the part, or simply on the cumulative miles on the vehicle?


Noel in Indianapolis

When a converter fails it’s usually for an underlying reason; running too rich, coolant leakage into the cylinders, etc.
Since the dealer said there was a rich running condition previously what was the cause of this condition and what if anything was done to cure it?

Driving with a bad converter may not harm anything but there are a few exceptions. A clogged converter will harm engine performance and can cause overheating, etc.
Emissions will not be what they should be even if clogging is not an issue.

As far as I know the 8/80 only applies to the original converter and not the replacements.

How is maintenance on this car? Surely the original spark plugs are not still in place?
Any Check Engine Light on through all of this and what diagnostics have been done to determine the converter is the problem again?
Converters are often misdiagnosed so that is something to keep in mind.
If by chance you do need another converter (find the root cause of the failure first) then consider an aftermarket; they’re much cheaper.

I bought the car new with 4 miles on the odometer, and I’ve had all the scheduled maintenance performed on schedule, give or take a couple hundred miles. It’s our only car, and as I’m trying to make it last 10 years, we’ve taken care of it.

The check engine light has been on, which prompted me to take it in to find the problem. I was told that it’s signaling a 1420 code (again) which is I believe the same code that was covered in a service bulletin/recall, and the same issue that lead to the first catalytic converter(s) burning out. (I was told there are multiple catalytic converters on the hybrid, which leads to the $1,300 cost.) I had to fight to get the first ones replaced, despite the EPA warranty (which they and I were unaware of) and the fact that it was still under the original extended warranty. They had us try other things in the past, making sure the gas cap was on tight enough, etc. At some times the check engine light would go off for a few days, only to come back on.

As far as I know, the code is the only diagnosis. They just saw 1420: catalyst deterioration, and told me it’d be $1,300, thank-you-very-much. I don’t think they’ve done any further investigation.

I’m hoping that it’s misdiagnosed, especially as the converters were just replaced in '05 or '06. I’ll likely take it next to an independent shop and get it out of the hands of the dealership: what should I have them look for? I’ve seen mention of oxygen sensors on the web, but it there something else that could trigger the same code?

I don’t know if it would be relevant, but the same dealer shop also replaced an EGR valve at some point in late 2007 or 2008; I don’t have the service records with me. Could that have been a symptom of a larger problem, or could it lead to problems with the catalytic converters?

I believe all replacement converters must be warrantied and the clock starts when they are installed, not the total mileage on the vehicle. You should have gotten a warranty card with the replacement converter with the installation mileage noted on it.

Converters have two warranties; performance and components. For example, aftermarket (non-OEM) cats are required to carry a 25k mile performance warranty. Some cat manfrs offer even greater protection like 5 years or 50k miles on components AND performance. The caveat is that the failure cannot be attributed to improper maintenance.

I think you’re getting the run-around. The EPA has a site that details how to report a situation where the installer/manfr fails to honor the warranty. You might try that route if Honda continues to stonewall you.

Edit: I see you have 56k on the replacement- you might be out of luck. I’d still press for the warranty card on the replacement and see what it says. Did you get one??

You can appeal the Dealers denial of cat warranty. Somes months ago one of our talented regulars posted a link to THE word on 8/80 requirements,use the search and find it.

And there it is.

A quick look shows a TSB (technical service bulletin) was issued about reflashing the computer whenver a code 1420 was set. There may also be several other 1400 codes set. (maybe)
It was stated this could even be done under a good will warranty. (basically a PR move by Honda Motor Co., not the dealer)
This applies to '02 models and up; not '01 and '00.

The EGR and converter go hand in hand when controlling NOX emissions so some of this could be related.

Have you been in contact with the regional office of Honda Motor Company over this?
If not, this might be a good time to get them involved. Be polite when explaining the situation and they may step in on this one.

No, I don’t believe I was given a warranty card at the time the first cats were replaced. In fact, I don’t think I have any proof that they WERE replaced other than the record in the dealership’s computer, and the bill I had to pay.

Yes, I had to go in two or three times for software fixes in response to TSBs or recalls. Those fixes were handled under the original extended warranty.

I did make a call to Honda North America yesterday. (The dealership told me that the $1,300 exceeded the amount that the regional office could approve, and they supplied me the number when I asked for it.) HNA stated that the request was denied due to the vehicle’s mileage. When I explained that neither cat has lasted 3Y or 60K miles, much less the 8Y/80K miles, the put me on hold to research the matter, and came back to tell me that the original decision stood, and that since the first cats were replaced within the 8Y/80K that there would be no assistance on the second repair. After some more questions, I told him that to someone thinking about a second car, he was doing a great job selling me on Toyota (which he said he’d note in my case file.)

You have the Dealers denial you can work off,this should bring up all dates,you must file a denial claim the Dealer must prove why denial is allowed. Have you looked at the site?

I’m afraid I have no answer for this one.
While there is no way of knowing at this point, I keep wondering if there was some misdiagnosis involved in all of this. When it comes to O2/converter codes and EGR codes it can be a little murky at times and converters are one of those items that are frequently misdiagnosed.

Assuming there is no underlying reason for the converter failure (excessive rich, coolant leakage, etc.) there is really no reason for a second converter to fail.
If the car was running rich or losing coolant then you would surely know it due to poor running and a CEL being illuminated.

My feeling is that there was a 50/50 chance of Honda stepping in and performing a good will warranty. Guess I shouldn’t have even given them those odds.
I don’t know if this will do any good or not but you might consider contacting the regional office again and bringing this up.

Maybe a polite insinuation (extortion is a dirty word) that being naturally curious you were wondering if the same thing is happening with your vehicle and maybe the EPA would like to hear about it. This may accomplish nothing but on the other hand someone at regional may drag out the scales and weigh the converter replacement against a potential gov. intervention and decide that you’re the cheaper option.
Wished I could be of more help and good luck.

Thanks a lot to you and all who gave me some valuable direction on how to handle this. I picked the car up last night–without installation of new catalytic converters–and will wait a few weeks and see. I think they reset the codes, so I’ll see if the check engine light comes back on, and if so start with the O2 sensor or another underlying cause upstream (at an independent shop.) If I do need to replace the cats yet again, I’ll certainly pursue both Honda and the dealer with the EPA info.

Thanks again.

Don’t forget the avenue of Dee People’s Court (small claims). 'member, “if you think you been done wrong…tak’em to court.”