Keep Or Curb? : California Wants To Murder My Mazda!

By on December 5, 2016


Hi, Steve — hope all is well. I thought I’d write and ask for a bit of your wisdom, which seems to be considerable when it comes to buying and selling cars. Long story short, I have a 2002 Mazda Protege 5, 191K miles, no serious issues other than its inability to pass smog due to the manifold cat being shot. (Yes, I realize that’s like saying a person is in good health except for a blown kidney.)

Anyway, I really like the car, which has served me well since new. Still, I can’t help but suspect that at this stage of its life, things will just keep going wrong. The way I see it, my options are few:

1. Replace the cat for about $800 and hope it will pass the CA smog test, and then keep on running for a while. The repair cost is probably more than the Mazda’s ACV as it sits.

2. Scrap the car and buy a beater that is already smogged, and for which I could pay cash. Why a beater? Because my once-excellent credit score has become radioactive over the last few years. I don’t even want to know how bad it is, but it’s a safe bet no sane lender would finance me for a new car. Besides, I couldn’t come up with a significant down payment even if a lender was willing to take a chance.

3. Well, now that I think about it, no more options come to mind. In other words, I am screwed. I can’t go on driving the thing illegally (the registration has been paid through June 2017, but I can’t get a sticker due to the absent smog certification).

Anyway, I’ll certainly appreciate any suggestions you might have. Thanks, Steve.

Best, Tony


Steve Says:

Eight hundred dollars? What’s it made out of? Dilithium Crystals?

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I looked up the catalytic converter for your car. Guess what? It’s around $100 for the part and you can find it here.

But there is a unique curse to your problem, and that is that $100 manifold catalytic converter won’t cut it in California. For that you will need one that was approved by the California Air Resources Board and has a code on that cat which must be entered into a state database before it can be installed on your Mazda.

Your unit costs around $240 on Rockauto which goes to show you how certain restrictive practices end up screwing the little guy, and California is known for sticking errant repair and muffler shops with five-figure fines for skirting this regulation.

So yes, an affordable replacement to your Mazda is about as welcome in California as a Mexican national is at a Trump rally.

My vote would be to pay for a new unit and revel in the fact that your car will be good for another five years if not longer. You have a great cheap sporty car with the right climate in terms of weather, but the wrong climate in terms of how regulations end up sucking the savings out of the common man.

So go tell them to “Zoom! Zoom!” themselves. Your Mazda is not going to be recycled into 237 California approved Chinese washing machines.

Editor’s Note: A special thanks to Daniel Fehlings for taking a deeper dive and figuring out the unique regulations related to this question. 


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