The catalytic converter, is the large metal box, affixed and bolted underneath your car outfitted with two pipes extending out of it. The catalytic convertor is also the component of a vehicle that converts dangerous emissions into harmless gas. Modern cars rely on catalytic converters for the removal of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and other damaging chemicals from exhaust emissions. To do so effectively, the catalytic converter relies on expensive and precious metals -with special chemical properties.
Who Invented The Catalytic Converter?
French chemical engineer Eugene Houdry patented what is believed to be the first catalytic converter in the U.S. He filed the invention in 1950.
How Long Does A Catalytic Converter Last?
The catalytic converter can last up to ten years or longer. The component should only be replaced only when it needs replacement. Over time, the catalytic converter can become physically damaged, contaminated with oil or engine coolant, or even clogged. The catalytic converter also runs the risk of overheating.
How Do Catalytic Converters Work?
Before catalytic converters were created, waste gases created by a car engine just came straight down the exhaust tailpipe and into the environment. The catalytic converter sits between the tailpipe and the engine but it does more than work as a simple filter. Think of the catalytic converter as component that changes the chemical composition of the exhaust gases- by taking them and rearranging the atoms from their composition. Additionally:
- Molecules of polluting gases are thrust from the engine and then past the honeycomb catalyst.
- The catalyst is crafted of metals such as palladium, rhodium or platinum.
- The catalyst separates the molecules into their atoms.
- Once separated, the atoms then recombine into molecules that are now relatively harmless substances such as nitrogen, water and carbon dioxide. They now blow safely through the exhaust.
What Are The 3 Most Leading Failures Of A Catalytic Converter?
The catalytic converter is one of the most vital components of a car. Crafted of valuable metals and holding the responsibility of removing toxic chemicals, the catalytic converter can encounter issues. Since the catalytic converter has no moving parts, one would expect that it can remain durable and long lasting. But despite their construction, the catalytic converter can encounter failure. Check out some of the most common problems with them below:
Bad Spark Plug Wires or Spark Plugs
Spark plugs that misfire or don't fire at all force unburned fuel into your vehicle’s exhaust system. Since the catalytic converter can become very hot, this unburned fuel can ignite inside the converter resulting in complete or partial or melting of the ceramic catalyst.
Antifreeze or Oil Entering the Exhaust System
When antifreeze or oil make their way into a vehicle’s exhaust system, this creates a thick soot and carbon that coats and clogs the air passages in the ceramic honeycomb catalyst of the converter. Now there are two issues. The first is carbon deposits that will keep the catalytic converter from doing its job of removing dangerous emission in the exhaust flow. The second issue: once the pores become clogged in the ceramic catalyst, exhaust flow becomes constrained, which in turn increases backpressure. With this in motion, you have exhaust and heat that backs up inside of your car’s engine. with that backup of excess pressure, this can lead to internal engine damage. Your engine has the ability to pull exhaust gasses-that are toxic and burnt- back into the combustion chambers, while reducing the efficiency of the next burn cycle. Worn out and damaged piston rings, warped engine components, faulty valve seals or even failing gaskets, all possible reasons of this problem.
Failing Oxygen Sensor
A failing oxygen sensor can potentially send incorrect readings of exhaust gasses to your vehicle's computer. The incorrect sensor readings can result in improper fuel mixture -that can be too lean or too rich. With a fuel mixture that is too rich, the catalyst can potentially melt down from fuel burning in the converter. Too lean of mixture can result in the converter not being able to perform the task of removing chemicals and toxic gases. Your car can also fail emissions and your annual State Vehicle Inspection too.
What Happens When the Catalytic Converter Goes Bad?
When you have a catalytic converter that is beginning to go bad, there are some telltale signs that begin to take shape. Check out some of the most common symptoms of a bad catalytic converter:
Your Check Engine Light Comes On
Once you have that illuminated and dreaded check engine light on, you are experiencing the first and perhaps the only sign of a bad catalytic converter. Once that light comes on, your car’s ECM or engine control module will house a diagnostic trouble code in its memory.
A Poor Performing Engine
In some instances, the catalytic converter may become restricted or clogged, which will then create excessive exhaust backpressure. This pressure will choke the engine, and eventually lead to performance issues- lack of stalling and power- are an example.
Your Vehicle Won’t Start
For a catalytic converter that is severely restricted, that restricted converter can produce enough exhaust backpressure, preventing the engine from starting.
Failed Emissions Test
A catalytic converter has the task of cleaning up the harmful emissions your vehicle’s engine produces. If you have a faulty converter, you can easily fail your state emissions test.
What Is A Catalytic Converter Made Of?
The catalyst is crafted of a platinum-like metal or platinum itself. It can also have rhodium or palladium.
How Do I Extend The Life Of My Catalytic Converter?
A catalytic converter can be very expensive to repair or replace; so, it’s to your benefit to keep your converter in working order! You can do several things you can keep your catalytic converter working effectively and efficiently while avoiding costly repairs:
- Make sure you take your car in for service at regular intervals.
- Be sure to address issues as fast as you can, to avoid hefty repairs and fixes.
- Make sure that you use unleaded fuel with a catalytic converter. If you use leaded fuel, you run the risk of deactivating your catalytic converter.
How Do I Know My Catalytic Converter Needs to Be Changed?
Check out some of the signs it may be time to replace your catalytic converter:
Deceased Engine Performance
If your car inexplicably and suddenly begins performing at a sluggish rate, then you may have a clogged catalytic converter. This also means that your emissions from your engine will not be cleared quickly enough. A slower rate of emissions flow prevents the engine from working efficiently.
Rattling sounds coming from your car's exhaust system, -even when you drive at high speeds or just simply start the ignition – can signal damage to the catalytic converter. A damaged catalytic converter means that it’s not filtering your emissions properly -and structurally is beginning to fail. Your catalytic converter needs to be replaced immediately.
Reduced Fuel Efficiency
When you have a clogged catalytic converter your car’s fuel efficiency is reduced. Why? Your engine will not be able to clear its emissions fast enough. Thus, your convertor will now be operating in suboptimal conditions and burn more fuel to generate the same amount of power. If you find that you are filling up a lot- despite no changes in your driving habits- then your catalytic converter may be the culprit. Ignoring the issue can not only cost you more in gas, but you run the risk of paying money for repairs.
Your Vehicle Constantly Misfires
If you are having consistent misfires as you drive your vehicle, a mechanic may need to look at your catalytic converter. Your converter may not be causing the misfires, but it can become damaged by issue- causing a breakdown of the mesh located inside- which has the job of filtering out your engine's emissions.
Starting Issues & Ignition Issues
With a severely clogged catalytic converter on your hands, you won’t just be experiencing issues with your emissions. You may also experience problems while trying to start your car, due to emissions building up in the engine and choking out the ignition system. A malfunctioning catalytic converter can cause your engine to inexplicably and suddenly shut off, or just not start at all. Once this is the case, you have a real safety hazard on your hands. Your car could potentially turn off while you’re driving, due to the catalytic converter not being able to vent emissions fast enough.
Can You Clean A Catalytic Converter Instead of Replacing?
In a word, yes. But there are some things you need to consider. You may be frustrated with the P0420 code and you have a desire to clean your catalytic converter. But then, you realize that the removal of your catalytic converter takes a lot of work. So, then you have the notion to clean it without removing it.
Think about the following:
- Your catalytic converter may need to be removed, due to being over-clogged.
- Once you tap on the catalytic converter, do you hear any rattling? Then you may have some loose parts. Removal is now inevitable.
- Your catalytic converter may be clogged due to oil entering the cylinders and getting burned and combusted inside that hot catalytic converter. Should this be the case, you will need to fix the internal oil leak.
In the end, it may be better to remove your catalytic converter instead of cleaning it. You may have issues that cannot be addressed, unless you take the catalytic converter off and see what the problems are.
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