By on August 21, 2017

2003 Honda Civic GX in California wrecking yard, LH front view - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
The compressed natural gas-burning Honda Civic GX first appeared in the United States in 1998, for sale to fleet buyers, but individuals in California were able to buy Civic GXs soon after that. In spite of its extremely clean tailpipe emissions, few Californians opted to endure the hassle of trying to refuel the GX, and so these cars are very rare sights in the Golden State.

Here’s a crashed example I spotted a few weeks ago in a San Francisco Bay Area self-service wrecking yard.

2003 Honda Civic GX in California wrecking yard, hatch emblem - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
The GX cost more and had less power than an ordinary gasoline-burning Civic, so there were two big reasons for Californians to buy one: to pollute less, and (probably more important to most) to be allowed to drive solo in the carpool lane (a huge inducement in a state that has the worst freeway congestion in the country).

These days, you’ll see these decals all over the Bay Area, mostly on hybrid-electric and full-electric vehicles, but in 2003 there weren’t many Toyota Priuses and Honda Insights on the road and daily-driven EVs were nearly unheard of.

2003 Honda Civic GX in California wrecking yard, engine - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
The D17A7 engine in the GX ran at higher compression than its gasoline-fed counterparts, thanks to the anti-detonation properties of CNG. In 2003, it generated 100 horsepower and drove the front wheels via a CVT. Not exciting to drive, but clean.

2003 Honda Civic GX in California wrecking yard, fuel gauge - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
CNG is pretty cheap if you can find a filling station, so the per-mile cost to drive this car was a little bit cheaper than a gasoline Civic. CNG-powered vehicle drivers can install a home-refueling station that compresses household natural gas and puts it in the car’s tanks, so maybe that’s how the owner of this car rolled before the crash.

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14 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 2003 Honda Civic GX, CNG-fueled...”


  • avatar
    brettc

    Very interesting. Where was the tank located in this car?

    We had an ’87 Celebrity that my dad converted to dual fuel. When the conversion was done, the shop installed a steel cylinder in the trunk that stored the fuel. It cut down on trunk space, but not as much as a fusion or a Jetta hybrid.

    • 0 avatar
      la834

      I saw one of these at the DC auto show. The CNG tank was in what normally would have been the forward two-thirds of the trunk. The remaining luggage area was *very* small, less than two feet front to back if I recall correctly.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    That car took quite a hit. For crash safety, I’d still prefer electric way ahead of gasoline, but I’d take gasoline ahead of a pressurized tank of CNG or H2.

    • 0 avatar
      FuzzyPlushroom

      It doesn’t look that bad from any one angle, at least to me, it’s just been damaged all over. From the silt, I’d guess it was washed down someone’s driveway up in the mountains during this spring’s hard rains before landing on its left rear.

    • 0 avatar
      scrubnick

      When a CNG tank is punctured, the gas escapes quite quickly and dissipates. When a gasoline tank is punctured, the gasoline pours into a puddle on the ground and stays there.

  • avatar
    CaptainObvious

    When I was a teenager – late 70’s early 80’s – an older guy who worked at the town lake with me had a Ford pick-up converted to CNG. “Fuel of the future” he told us.
    I guess we’re still waiting for that future.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    I rented one of these for a few days in Palm springs , it may have even been this year model , the tank was in the trunk and took up about half of the trunk, really that was the only downside. It drove fine , was not overly sluggish for the time, I think you got about 300 miles to a tank, there was a book in the glovebox which listed where you could fuel up and a “gas Card” as well, not sure who put that there the rental company or state of Calf or Honda. You got some kind of read out w miles remaining IIRC. Since I am from the east coast I had no idea where to fill up the guide book was useless to me, no smart phones at that time, no Nav in this car. I was only planning to drive about 150 miles so I should have been fine, but since I had a car for a business conference I did a fair amount of extra driving and was really sweated getting it back to the airport before running out of fuel, it was in single digits of driving range when I returned it on fumes.

  • avatar
    linkpin

    That looks a lot more like “something exploded in the trunk” than accident damage. Look at the way the trunk and its hinge carrier area are folded upward. CNG tank accident?

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Yes, that is unusual damage, but there is also evidence of a side impact, as though the car was spun around and dinged at both ends.

      A CNG pressure event could look like that, I suppose, but I’d expect it to be immediately accompanied by fire.

    • 0 avatar
      Garak

      A trunk explosion would have torn the tail lights off, the damage was most likely caused in the junkyard. Someone wanted to pinch the CNG stuff from the rear, and a forklift driver ripped up the vehicle for easier access. Possibly the hatch was impossible to open otherwise.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    In the 1990’s we converted a number of extended wheelbase, passenger vans. Installation of the fuel tanks/cells required removal of the rearmost bench.

    Prior to that in the 1980’s we acquired 2 propane powered passenger vans.

    For both there were strict rules regarding them not being allowed to park in underground or enclosed car parks.

  • avatar
    PandaBear

    They have a 15 year CNG tank life (for certification reason), and replacement tanks are not cheap nor easily available.

    Those CVTs are very unreliable too, most CNG civics died because their CVTs died.

  • avatar
    kefkafloyd

    CNG makes a lot of sense for a variety of things but it does have downsides versus regular petroleum cars. For trucks and buses, though, it’s a complete win. The hybrid CNG-electric buses have cut emissions considerably in the state of Massachusetts and they’re cheaper to run to boot.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    That’s gotta be the most optimistic speedometer I’ve ever seen. 150mph?


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