Dear Car Talk:
My mechanic says my 1999 Altima needs a new charcoal canister at a cost of $512. Most of that cost is for the part, not the labor, he says.
He also says it won't hurt to drive the car without having this part replaced. I'll just continue to experience two irritating reminders of the problem: 1. The "Service Engine Soon" light never goes off. 2. When I refuel, the gas pump shuts off early and I can never fill it up all the way, even with multiple squeezes of the nozzle.
Neither of these problems is enough to make me drop $512 on a car with almost 200,000 miles.
So, I just want to know what are the potential problems in the next 50,000 miles if I leave things the way they are? And how bad of a person, environmentally speaking, am I for driving the car in this condition? -- Bill
Well, one problem you'll have in the next 50,000 miles is you won't know when your "Service Engine Soon" light is trying to tell you something new. If it's always on, you won't know when you have a second, or third, problem.
As far as how bad a person you are, I think I'd defer to your poker buddies on that. But I wouldn't want to live next door to you, Bill.
The charcoal canister captures raw gasoline vapors so they don't escape into the air. Gasoline vapors are the source of smog, which damages people's lungs, and is particularly hard on kids and people with breathing difficulties.
So, you're saving $500 at the expense of everyone else's health.
Your mechanic is right that it won't harm the car if you drive with a non-functioning charcoal canister. But since it will harm your family and friends, why not consider looking for a used one?
If your mechanic is willing, have him call some local junkyards and see if he can find you a charcoal canister from an Altima of the same era.
Maybe you'll find a working one with 100,000 miles on it. Then you'll certainly be good for another 50,000 miles (although if that's your goal, you might want to have him pick up a used engine and transmission while he's there, too).
Since the bulk of the price for this repair is the part, buying a used part might cut the cost by more than half.
And then with all the money you save, you can fly across the country on vacation and pollute the upper atmosphere. Good luck, Bill.