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Catalytic Converters: An Essential Component For Cleaner Vehicle Emissions

Published on December 22nd, 2023

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Introduction

A catalytic converter is an emissions control device installed in vehicles that utilize internal combustion engines. Its purpose is to minimize the release of harmful emissions from the car's exhaust system. Catalytic converters create chemical reactions that convert specific pollutant chemicals in the exhaust to non-polluting chemicals.

Many countries legally require vehicles to be equipped with catalytic converters as they play a crucial role in the emission control system.

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Catalytic Converter

Advantages of Catalytic Converters

Catalytic converters offer several benefits, the most significant being the reduction of harmful pollutants released into the atmosphere. They effectively decrease the levels of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and nitrogen oxides in exhaust gases.

Moreover, these devices also enhance a vehicle’s performance and provide valuable recyclable materials from scrap. In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency's estimate in 1985, catalytic converters saved at least ten times more in health costs than their actual price.

How does a catalytic converter work?

Catalytic converters operate by accelerating the removal of pollution from the exhaust gases produced by internal combustion engines.

For the necessary reactions to occur at maximum efficiency, the catalytic converter must reach a temperature of at least 750ºF, and the air/fuel ratio must be very close to 14.7 to 1, the "stoichiometric ratio" at which combustion completely consumes both oxygen and fuel. To maintain this ratio as the Engine Control Module continuously switches from a lean air/fuel ratio to rich and back based on oxygen sensor data, the converter substrate stores oxygen from the lean ratio and releases it when the ratio is rich.

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The principle of the Catalytic Converter

Types of Catalytic Converters

There are different types of catalytic converters available, depending on vehicle type. The most common converter types are:

  • Oxidation Catalysts: Used in diesel engines. This type of converter contains palladium and/or platinum supported on alumina. It effectively converts particulate matter (PM), hydrocarbons, and carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide and water.
  • Three-way Catalysts: Used in gasoline engines. This type or converter incorporates three distinct catalysts working together. Its purpose is to reduce emissions of hydrocarbons (HC), carbon monoxide (CO), and nitrogen oxides (NOx) from the exhaust gas.
  • Dual Bed Catalysts: Some diesel engines utilize dual bed catalysts that consist of two separate catalysts. is the catalysts function together to reduce emissions of hydrocarbons (HC), carbon monoxide (CO), and nitrogen oxides (NOx) from the exhaust gas.
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The structure of the Catalytic Converter

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Recognizing Faulty Catalytic Converters

There are different types of catalytic converters available, depending on vehicle type. The most common converter types are:

Malfunction Indicator Lamp (MIL) (also called Check Engine Light): The illumination of the MIL on the vehicle's dashboard is one of the most noticeable indications of a faulty catalytic converter The onboard diagnostics system detects abnormalities in the emissions system, triggers the MIL, and stores a Diagnostic Trouble Code identifying the problem. DTCs P0420 through P0439 are catalytic converter trouble codes. The most common are P0420 and P0430, which are low catalyst efficiency codes for banks one and two.

Decreased Engine Performance: A faulty catalytic converter can cause a decline in engine power and performance. You may experience sluggish acceleration, reduced throttle response, or difficulty reaching higher speeds.

Poor Fuel Economy: A failing catalytic converter can adversely affect fuel economy. If you experience a significant drop in mileage, it may be a result of a compromised catalytic converter.

Rattling or Metallic Noise: Internal damage or degradation within the catalytic converter can produce rattling or metallic noises. This may indicate a loose substrate or a broken catalyst element.

Exhaust System Smells or Smoke: A malfunctioning catalytic converter may generate foul odors from the exhaust system. You may notice a strong sulfur-like smell, often described as a "rotten egg" odor. Additionally, a malfunctioning catalytic converter may result in excessive smoke or visible emissions from the tailpipe.

Failed Emissions Test: If a catalytic converter is faulty, it is likely to yield elevated levels of pollutants in the exhaust gases, leading to a failed emissions test.

It's important to note that these symptoms may also result from other issues within the vehicle's engine or exhaust system. If you suspect a problem with your vehicle’s catalytic converter, have the vehicle thoroughly inspected by a qualified mechanic to accurately diagnose the issue and determine the root cause of the problem.

What does it cost to replace a catalytic converter?

The cost of replacing a catalytic converter varies between vehicles. The cost can range from $100 to $2,000 or higher, depending on the type of converter (OEM, aftermarket, or high-performance) and the specific vehicle make and model. Labor costs also vary significantly depending on the region and the chosen auto repair shop, typically ranging from $100 to $500 or more.

To obtain an accurate estimate for catalytic converter replacement, contact one or more auto repair shops local to your area. Provide the shop with your vehicle make and model, and any other relevant information. Requesting a quotation will ensure you receive an accurate estimate tailored to your location and the requirements of your vehicle.

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