5 Symptoms of a Bad Charcoal Canister (and Replacement Cost)

Last Updated on June 30, 2021

You’ve probably never considered what happens when the charcoal canister in your car goes bad. That’s because it’s possibly one of the most reliable parts of your vehicle.

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The charcoal canister (aka: EVAP canister) is an essential part of the Evaporative Emission Control System (often shortened to “EVAP”). This system helps ensure that dangerous fumes from your gas tank aren’t released into the environment and instead puts them to work powering the engine.

There are times when this part is damaged or becomes faulty after years of use. Because charcoal canisters rarely degrade, it’s helpful to be familiar with the symptoms, so you know what to do next, and how much this repair will set you back. 

How a Charcoal Canister Works

To put it simply, the charcoal canister in your car absorbs excess gasoline fumes and vapors that accumulate in your gas tank.

The charcoal in this part is activated carbon, which is manufactured to be very porous. These pores help maximize the amount of gas and toxins that the canister can absorb.

Here’s a video showing the inside of a typical charcoal canister:

 

Periodically, the charcoal canister empties by pushing this excess vapor into the engine through the fuel vapor vent line and purge valve

Without the charcoal canister, these vapors would either collect in the gas tank or be vented from the car into the atmosphere. These vapors are often toxic and dangerous for the environment.

Because the canister collects this vapor and then uses it to power the engine, the EVAP system helps cars be safer for the environment and more efficient.

The relatively simple construction of the charcoal canister means that it’s generally self-sustaining. However, there are some situations where it gets damaged or wears out. One of the most common charcoal canister problems is caused by “topping off” your gas tank, which can cause an overflow of fuel to flood the canister.

Bad Charcoal Canister Symptoms

#1 – Check Engine Light

check engine light on

The computer in your car will often recognize that there’s a problem with your car’s charcoal canister before you do. Because this is a relatively autonomous car part, it’s generally not the first thing mechanics look for when diagnosing a check engine light.

Keep in mind the additional symptoms of a faulty charcoal canister so you can properly identify the cause of your engine woes.

#2 – Increased Emissions (or Failed Emissions Test)

emissions test failure

If you’ve noticed that your car’s emissions have significantly increased, your charcoal canister might be at fault. The primary job of the EVAP system is to prevent excess gasoline vapor from being released into the environment.

You might notice that your car’s engine is running richer, or a more pungent fuel smell from your exhaust. Between the check engine light and increased emissions, a faulty charcoal canister can cause your car to fail your mandatory state emissions inspection. 

#3 – Reduced Vehicle Performance

brake noise while driving

Because the EVAP system connects directly to the engine through the purge valve, trouble with your charcoal canister can impact your car’s performance. If this system is faulty, the purge valve can be stuck open, affecting your engine’s air-fuel mixture.

As a result, you might see a decrease in your vehicle’s performance. You might find you get fewer miles to the gallon, trouble starting your car, or a rough idle if your charcoal canister is defective. 

#4 – Issues Filling Up Gas Tank

gasoline in a diesel engine

If your charcoal canister is saturated or the fuel vapor vent line is clogged, one of the first things you might notice is trouble at the gas pump.

You might be unable to fill your tank, or that the gas pump nozzle shuts off before your tank is full. If your canister cannot remove vapor from the gas tank, those fumes take up volume, minimizing the space you can fill.

Related: 15 Causes of Poor Fuel Mileage

#5 – Fuel Smell In or Around Your Car

fuel smell

A faulty charcoal canister will fail to collect fuel vapors before they escape your powertrain, which will cause a strong fuel smell around your car.

Sometimes, these noxious fumes may accumulate inside the cabin, which will be problematic for most drivers. These vapors can be dangerous after prolonged exposure and can cause headaches, confusion, or even loss of consciousness.

Can a Charcoal Canister Be Cleaned?

Some owners may be able to clean their charcoal canister using an air compressor. This process can help troubleshoot whether your canister is genuinely faulty, or if some of the lines are just blocked. 

Generally, the process involves removing the canister from your vehicle and using the compressor to blow air through the canister at a specific PSI to clean it without damaging internal components effectively.

Make sure to check your vehicle’s emissions manual (if one is available) for more information on how to clean your charcoal canister. Also, never pour any liquids into the canister, as they can permanently damage this piece.

In most cases, cleaning the canister is not advisable and replacement should be done instead.

See Also: How to Clean a Clogged Catalytic Converter

Charcoal Canister Replacement Cost

Best places to order parts?  See: 19 Best Online Auto Parts Stores

charcoal canister replacement cost

The total cost for a charcoal canister replacement can range from $150-$630. Depending on your vehicle’s make and model, a new part usually costs between $100 and $500. If you hire a mechanic for the replacement, you can expect to pay an additional $50 to $130 in labor. 

Charcoal canisters are generally easy to access. However, working on the EVAP system can be a bit tricky, so make sure to check your car’s manual for more information on how to do this repair. 

Is it Safe to Drive With a Faulty EVAP Canister?

In most circumstances, it is safe to drive with a bad charcoal canister. The biggest concern most owners will face regarding a damaged EVAP system will be that your vehicle will release more fumes into the environment.

If you’re a driver that is concerned about your carbon footprint, this may motivate you to fix your charcoal canister as soon as possible. But even if you sit on the other side of the climate change debate, replacing the canister should be a put on your to-do list.

However, if your defective charcoal canister causes a strong fuel smell inside your vehicle, you’ll want to expedite this repair. As already mentioned, being exposed to fuel vapors can be extremely dangerous. If you must drive, roll down a couple windows to let fresh air into the vehicle.

 

22 thoughts on “5 Symptoms of a Bad Charcoal Canister (and Replacement Cost)”

  1. PROBLEMS FUELING GAS PERKS OUT TANK NOT VENTING I HAVE REPLACED EVAPORATE VALVE AM ALSO GETTING CHARCOAL INTO PERGE VALVE WHAT IS CAUSING THE TANK NOT TO VENT

    Reply
  2. Toyota corolla 2012, 10,000 miles. The dealer said I need to replace a charcoal canister. Check engine and track off lights are on. The cost $948

    Reply
    • Ouch but that’s typical for a dealership. Find a good independent shop in the area. It should be half that.
      BTW, 10k miles on a 2012? That’s really low.

      Reply
  3. Hello
    This video is very very helpful. I am a automobile repairman, sometimes I just replace the defect parts, but I don’t know why the parts failure. When I check the textbook, there are only simple patterns. I can’t understand the working principle of parts by simple patterns.
    In this video, you disassembled the fuel tank in great detail, and photographed the shape of each position of the parts in detail, so that I can fully understand

    Reply
  4. okay 2013 Sportage, problems filling tank and check engine light P0449. disconnected the tube coming from the tank to the canister and more problems filling the tank, so what could be next to look at?

    Reply
  5. I have a 2017 Chevrolet impala 3.6 when I start the car it’s rough starting and it’s pouring fuel out the fuel vapor canister I bought a new purge valve and I’m putting it in in a few days but I have never in my 35+ years experience I’ve ever seen this problem do you have any ideas and thank you

    Reply
  6. I have a 2005 Camry. Noticed my check engine light was continuously on. The dealer told me that it was the charcoal canister. They said that in order to access the canister they would have to remove the exhaust system. They said the exhaust was rusty and would fall apart. They would therefore need to replace both the entire exhaust system and the canister for around $3300. I took the car home. The check engine light did not go on while I drove it home for about 20 minutes. My mechanic closed down permanently and I do not know whether to trust the dealer’s assessment. Would love to hear some advice. Thanks

    Reply
    • From what I understand the charcoal canister is a bit harder to get to on that particular vehicle. Without seeing the condition of your exhaust system I can’t say whether or not the dealer’s estimate is accurate, but it probably is. Perhaps there is another way to access the canister that doesn’t require dropping the exhaust?

      You can always try getting an estimate at an independent shop. Independent shops tend to be much cheaper than dealerships.

      Reply
  7. 2014 Chevy equinox and my vapor canister is dragging from the bottom ? Is it able to screw back on or replaced . And is it safe to drive on

    Reply
      • I wish I could send a pic but the cannister that’s connected to the fuel line under the car is detached and when I drive it scrubs the ground , I ordered a new one jus want to know how can I fix

        Reply
  8. I have a ’98 Corolla. 117,000 miles (only). Two years ago (August 2019, at 114,000 mi) my engine line went on. Took it to AAMCO. Code PO441 indicated EVAP problem. OK, figured over 100K, replaced canister assembly + canister purge solenoid. Two years and only 3,000 miles later I’m having the same issue? Only unusual thing to have happened a week or so earlier…after a 200 miles trip, filled gas tank maybe too much and smelled some fuel. But that went away, then later lost gas cap in another fill up. Replaced next with a new cap next day. Could either of those two events have caused my problem? Doesn’t seem two years and 3,000 miles would cause it. Does infrequent driving cause EVAP problems?

    Reply
    • Yes, in fact either event could have given you an EVAP code. Driving with the gas cap off is a quick way to get a check engine light, and so is topping off at the gas station. When you top off, there is a chance you could get some fuel into the EVAP system and possibly the charcoal canister, which could trigger a code.

      How frequently do you drive? I wouldn’t think infrequent driving would be the cause. Do you smell fuel in the engine bay or near the fuel tank?

      Reply
      • Thanks for the response.

        Not smelling fuel now. Did notice smell briefly when I may have put too much in the tank. I did not notice the light until some days after I replaced the cap, which I did the day after I lost it. By the way, the mechanic who tested the system reset the computer to see if it would go back on, which it did…not immediately, but within a few miles.

        I don’t drive the car very much, typically to the golf course and back, maybe once a week, but I did take it on about a 250 mi. 2-day round trip about two weeks before the light went on. Also, I leave it in the driveway which gets very hot this time of year. Why would infrequent driving cause this problem?

        Reply
        • I don’t think infrequent driving is the cause of the problem. You may need a new carbon canister if it was saturated with fuel from topping off, I am not sure.

          You could try an evap leak tester to see if you can pinpoint the problem. Perhaps there is just a leak in a hose. 1998 was a long time ago and I bet some of those fuel lines/EVAP hoses haven’t been touched since the car was built.

  9. Comment from “Odile” in Nov. 2019 interesting, in that I have a 2013 Corolla with just 18,300+ miles on it and yesterday it failed emission test with 5 codes on one line item. Took it to mechanic today and he said all codes had to do with EVAP system, and that worst case scenario would be having to replace canister. He got price on it and hopefully was including his labor when he quoted me $650. But he said he’s going to run diagnostics on it and hopefully find something other than that to be causing problems that won’t cost as much to fix.

    Reply
    • That sounds about right. Could be as simple as an evap hose that isn’t sealing well, which would be a very cheap fix (basically just the diagnostic fee plus the cost of the hose). A leak like this would vent fuel vapors to the atmosphere so you would want to get it addressed either way.

      Reply
  10. I have a 2018 jeep grand Cherokee v8 my check engine light came on got it looked at and they said it was a leak in the charcoal canister do I replace it

    Reply

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