Diagnosing a bad catalytic converter is not the simplest job in your vehicle, but is a key part of keeping your engine healthy and enhancing the longevity of your car. There are certain steps you can take to diagnosing your catalytic converter and fixing the root cause of the problems before the bad catalytic converter ruins your engine.
A catalytic converter is a key part of the internal workings of your vehicle. Although every single component of your car is important in the proper running and the lifespan of your vehicle, the catalytic converter maintains a complex job that is key to the longevity of your car and the efficiency and performance of your engine.
Noticing the signs of a bad catalytic converter, knowing the role this component has in your vehicle, knowing why catalytic converters fail, how to diagnose a failed or bad catalytic converter, and recognizing the symptoms and causes of a bad or failing catalytic converter are key in determining if a bad catalytic converter can ruin your engine.
Why catalytic converters fail
Although the catalytic converter in your vehicle is supposed to last the entire lifetime of the car itself, this does not always happen, meaning you as the owner needs to figure out what to do to fix this issue. While durable and tough to withstand most conditions, the catalytic converter can slowly fail throughout use as the catalyst elements wear down and become damaged. If you drive a high amount of mileage per day or per week, this can cause the catalytic converter to wear down much quicker.
Worn out or damaged spark plugs, burned or leaking exhaust valves, and other components that are damaged can let unburnt fuel into the exhaust system, where it burns within the catalytic converter and melts the internal portions of hte converter itself. In addition, a poor ignition system can also lead to the same issue. This problem can cause the bad catalytic converter to ruin your engine.
Furthermore, catalytic converter problems can lead to something more serious, or be the aftermath of a more serious issue, like worn piston rings or a broken timing chain. These problems within the engine system of your car can lead to air or fuel getting into the wrong parts of your car, with a head gasket leak causing oil in coolant, turning on the check engine light.
How to diagnose a failed catalytic converter
To prevent your bad catalytic converter from ruining your engine, you should take note of a few signs and symptoms that can clue you in to the problems occurring in your vehicle.e if you smell the strong “rotten eggs” smell coming from your vehicle, this is the easiest way to diagnose the car. Fuel contains a small amount of sulfur, which is usually burned so that it is odorless. However, if the catalytic converter has undergone intense internal damage, the replacement will mean the mechanism is not working properly and the odor can be smelled by the driver and passengers.
In some cases, you can also hear the rattle from the catalytic converter. If you hear this, the element inside of the converter has become loose and disengaged, and can move around during use. If you remove the entire unit, try hitting it with a hard tool to see if you can hear the clatter from inside of hte converter.
To cross check and ensure that you do not have a bad oxygen sensor when you do not see the check engine light, use a vacuum gauge and connect the gauge to the intake manifold vacuum line. Then, start the engine and let it idle, while you temporarily check the reading on the gauge.
What is a catalytic converter?
A catalytic converter in your vehicle is an exhaust emission control mechanism that is in charge of reducing the toxic gases and pollutants that are produced in the exhaust gas from the internal combustion engine in most modern cars. Catalytic converters are usually used in tandem with the internal combustion engines that are given power by either gasoline or diesel, depending on the specific make, model, and year of the car.
The catalytic converter has to convert three harmful compounds in the car exhaust into compounds that will not destroy your car or the environment. These harmful compounds include hydrocarbons, which are released with the unburned gasoline, carbon monoxide, which is formed by the combustion of gasoline in your vehicle, and nitrogen oxides, which are created when the heat in the engine makes the nitrogen in the air combine with the oxygen.
A catalyst is the substance that accelerates a chemical reaction, and within the catalytic converter itself, are two types of catalysts. The first is a reduction catalyst, which uses platinum and rhodium to reduce the nitrous oxide emissions. Nitrous oxide is produced by nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide within the exhaust gasses from your internal combustion engine. Without getting rid of these gasses, your bad catalytic converter can ruin your engine.
The second catalyst type in your catalytic converter is the oxidation catalyst, using platinum and palladium to complete the job of the catalytic converter. These catalysts burn the carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons that are still located in the incoming gas, helping to get rid of the smog produced by the unburnt fuel. This helps the economy and your car’s lifespan. Without this step, the bad catalytic converter can ruin your engine.
The final stage of the emission control process of the catalytic converter mechanism is the o2 sensor that is just higher up than the catalytic converter. This sensor relays information back to the electronic control unit about how much oxygen is within the exhaust gases, with the on-board computer adjusting the air and fuel mixture accordingly. If your catalytic converter is damaged and cannot complete these cleaning processes, then your converter is failing,and a bad catalytic converter can ruin your engine.
Signs of a bad catalytic converter
As we know now, your catalytic converter is a huge part of your vehicle. This is key to the longevity and the lifespan of your car and the overall inner workings of your vehicle, by neutralizing hazardous compounds in your exhaust system, like carbon monoxide. By doing so, this catalytic converter can cause a huge increase in gas mileage and performance.
Catalytic converters are made to last the entire lifetime of your car, but without maintenance and regular maintenance, these repair issues in the other components of the inside of your car and the exhaust system can cause wear and tear, highlighting damage over time. Driving with a failing or bad catalytic converter can damage your car further, hurt the environment due to poor emissions, reduce your overall fuel mileage, and damage other components of your exhaust system. Knowing that a bad catalytic converter can ruin your engine is crucial to keep you on top of the maintenance of your catalytic converter.
Here are some important signs and symptoms of a failing catalytic converter that can help alert you to the possibility of if a catalytic converter will ruin your engine.
Check engine light
First, your check engine light may illuminate on your dashboard. Although your check engine light can come on for many reasons in your car, some more severe than others, this check engine light is one of the first signs that your catalytic converter could be failing and damaged. However, to properly identify what is the root cause of the illuminated check engine light will require a diagnosis on your vehicle. This can help you determine if the failing or bad catalytic converter will ruin your engine.
A check engine light can also come on for other reasons, like these possible alternatives when compared to your catalytic converter. Your oxygen sensor could be failing, which monitors the amount of unburnt oxygen in the car’s exhaust system and sends data to the vehicle’s electronic control module. The second reason could be a loose fuel cap, which can happen from not tightening the fuel cap all the way after getting gas in your fuel tank.
The additional reason are spark plug and ignition coil issues, which harms the system that generates the electricity the spark plugs required to ignite the fuel and air mixture within the cylinders. In addition toeh spark plug issues, the bad spark plug wires can cause the check engine light to come on since the fuel and air mixture cannot ignite. Any of these reasons can mean that the catalytic converter can ruin your engine and turn on your check engine light.
Decreased gas mileage
Another common result of failure within the catalytic converter in your vehicle is a decrease in gas mileage, fuel economy, and the fuel capabilities. This is due to the fact that your catalytic converter could become clogged over time, filled with debris and rust, and exhaust will become trapped in your car’s engine. If your engine starts experiencing a huge increase in the gas consumption and is much lower in the mileage per gallon than it normally is, then a failing catalytic converter could be the cause and you could ruin your engine.
If your converter is clogged, exhaust has the possibility to build up in your vehicle and reduce the performance, lowering the overall speed, acceleration rate, and the engine ability to give more power to your vehicle. A car with a clogged catalytic converter can feel as if the acceleration is no longer there, even if the car’s gas pedal is working correctly and is not soft or spongy.
Your catalytic converter is shaped with small components that can cause a rattling sound due to the quick movement when it is broken. If your catalytic converter is damaged or failing, this rattling will be very loud when the car starts or will get worse as you continue driving your vehicle. If you are hearing a rattling noise with the other symptoms on this list, like decreased performance and gas mileage, there is a good likelihood that your catalytic converter is what is at fault.
Catalytic Converter Replacement Cost
In order to prevent a bad catalytic converter from ruining your engine, you might need to undergo a complete catalytic converter replacement to keep your engine and the parts of your car healthy and lasting longer. So, how much does it cost to replace a catalytic converter?
Well, this number that you will be looking for depends on a multitude of factors, like your vehicle’s make and model, the quality of the replacement unit you are reinstalling into your vehicle, labor costs at the specific hsop you givist, the diagnosis and repair of other problems, and the current market cost of the catalytic converter replacement.
The vehicle’s make and model can mean that an older car is going to cost less for a total catalytic converter replacement than a newer vehicle like a 1994 Toyota Camry vs. a newer 2010 Chevrolet Silverado. In addition, the quality of the replacement unit can affect the overall price and cost. Not all catalytic converters are these aem quality or created equal, with some available for under $100, while others can run upwards of $1000.
Furthermore, the labor costs will vary depending on the mechanic shop you visit. Some mechanics will charge you around $70 per hour for their labor costs, while others can go upwards of nearly $130 for an hour of this kind of work. Also, the time to replace it depends on the kind of car you have, with some jobs taking one hour, and others taking two hours, which will increase the labor cost.
The typical cost of a catalytic converter replacement is usually between the range of $1,00o to $2,500, which is no cheap replacement. However, to prevent a bad catalytic converter from ruining your engine, this price is what you will have to pay to keep your vehicle healthy and keep a long lifespan.