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Project Car Diaries: The Weeks-Long Hell of Making My JDM Evo Minivan Pass Emissions

It's just an oxygen sensor, how hard could it be?
1996 Mitsubishi Chariot Resort Runner GT
James Gilboy

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I thought the hardest part about registering my 1996 Mitsubishi Chariot Resort Runner GT would be the 2,800-mile drive home. Instead, it turned out to be the easy part when my catalytic converter disintegrated, sending me on a weeks-long parts hunt just to pass emissions.

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My self-inflicted misery began on the drive back from Ikea, where I had just purchased a shelf that I thought couldn’t fit in my MR2. (It could’ve, but that’s beside the point.) On my way, I realized I hadn’t yet gotten to experience full boost, as I didn’t want to scare my anxiety-ridden mother on the trip up. Getting on the onramp, I uncorked all 230 of this 2.0-liter turbo’s horsepower, enjoying the ferocious sound it makes on boost—and in the process, opened up something I didn’t mean to.

I’d been able to hear a small, growing exhaust leak on my long drive home, but after a two-gear pull it had gotten much louder. It sounded like someone had stolen my cat. What had happened was the exhaust built enough back pressure to disintegrate what was left of the rusty cat, blowing fiberglass insulation out the top.

I wasn’t so worried about finding a replacement cat, a cheap Expo AWD cat turned up in only a few clicks on eBay, and I was at the exhaust shop in a matter of days. There though, the technician pointed out a couple of problems. For one, the eBay cat was a couple of inches longer than the stock one. That could be solved by cutting and welding in new flanges; the ones on there were irredeemably rusty anyway. The real problem was with the wire hanging from the bung just behind it: The exhaust gas temperature sensor.

Rusted Mitsubishi exhaust temperature sensor.
Rusted-in Mitsubishi exhaust temperature sensor. Credit unknown, I got this from a Russian classified listing last summer. Same part, though.

The sensor seems to control the car’s exhaust gas recirculation system, which limits NOX emissions. It was working fine, but decades of rust had concreted it into the bung, and the tech told me there was no hope of getting it out. (He was right: I later broke it trying to prove him wrong.) It wasn’t crucial for passing an emissions sniff, but leaving it out would cause a permanent dash light that I worried could disqualify the car from getting tested in the first place. Between that, not thinking I’m above the law, and wanting to keep things as stock as possible, I set out to find a replacement.

That’s where the hard part began.

I turned to a parts database that fellow Mitsubishi owners had turned me on to, EPC Data. It pointed me to part number MD155373, and linked directly to Japanese sites I could special-order it from. Piece of cake.

But after two days, I got bad news. Amayama’s warehouse was out of them, the part was out of production. Fortunately, Megazip said it had at least one in stock, and I ordered a week ahead of their advertised summer shutdown, when they wouldn’t fulfill orders. But they didn’t follow through in time, and I waited two weeks before they contacted the warehouse to check part stock.

There were none left.

That left me with one option: Scroll page after page of Google until I found it elsewhere. Alas, the search results were cluttered with results for an oil pressure sender, not an EGT sensor. Eventually, I found the part I was looking for—but there was a problem. It was in Russia.

Multiple Russian parts sites listed this EGT sensor as being in stock (as well as the identically numbered, but distinct oil pressure sender). Yet it was tricky to work through the order system translating Russian line-by-line, and in the process, I learned that Russia has banned export of car parts. Ordering would be a $300 gamble, and the odds weren’t stacked in my favor.

Further searching turned up a Polish distributor that had it, but it’d only ship to a small number of European Union countries. One of them was Ireland. I considered asking a distant acquaintance of my dad’s to forward the package, but imagine explaining all this to a Dubliner in his sixties without buying him a pint first.

This was when I started looking where I should’ve started, at possible equivalents in U.S.-market cars. Much of the running gear is Eclipse GSX, so I figured its sensor might match up. Fail that, one from a Galant VR-4. Sure enough, one of their sensors looked right, but something was off—the connector was different. I called the exhaust shop about just splicing it in, but they advised confirming the temperature range with Mitsubishi so I didn’t cause myself problems.

My call to the local Mitsubishi dealer’s parts desk bore no fruit, though. Though the clerk seemed more interested in this than anything he’d done all day, his database didn’t recognize the part number. Sending it up the chain to the warehouse got the same result. He suggested I call the local Fuso dealer, Mitsubishi’s heavy truck spinoff, but they came up short too. So did a parts specialist recommended by some Delica-owning friends. Another dead end.

Going back through my tabs to go over my options, I stumbled across an Amayama page showing possible equivalents to this Russian unobtainium. One of them, MD148283, said it should fit this model, but the part diagram was too low-res to show whether it had the right connector. Everything else looked right though, and I was out of other options. It was $160 I was willing to gamble, and if it didn’t plug straight up, I’d tell them to splice it and call it a day.

Just over a week went by before a small box from Japan arrived on my porch. My heart was in my throat as I cut it open and unraveled the bubble wrap, turning the pouch in my hand to search for the connector.

Bingo.

One morning spent at the exhaust shop and a confused emissions attendant later, and I have all the paperwork I need to get plates. It only took close to two months since buying the car. This leaves me with the toughest question of all, though.

Should I splurge on Oregon’s classic blue plate or not? (Spoiler: I did.)