DIY

How Long Does a Catalytic Converter Last?

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A catalytic converter is an emissions control device located in your car’s exhaust system. You probably know that much already. But what you might not know is—just how long is a catalytic converter supposed to last? There are many variables that come into play.

What is the Lifespan of a Catalytic Converter?

A typical catalytic converter can supposedly last for up to 10 years or more. But generally, these components are designed to last the life of the vehicle. But of course, that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes, catalytic converters simply degrade over time, and in other instances, they fail prematurely due to engine performance problems.

Keeping your car running right is the best way to extend the life of your catalytic converter.

rusty catalytic converter in an old vehicle's undercarriage
A typical catalytic converter can supposedly last for up to 10 years or more.

What are the Symptoms of a Bad Catalytic Converter?

The primary purpose of the catalytic converter is to turn harmful emissions into non-toxic carbon dioxide and water. Thus, you can think of maintaining it as your contribution to reducing air pollution on the road.

To ensure that it’s working optimally, be sure to replace the catalytic converter as soon as it starts showing signs of failure. Be on the lookout for the following symptoms:

It is important to note that diagnosing a faulty catalytic converter takes more than just identifying which among the signs above is prevalent in your vehicle.

What Causes a Catalytic Converter to Fail?

It is important to note that, in many cases, a catalytic converter does not fail on its own. There are several factors that can cause it to malfunction. Here are some of the most common:

Incorrect air/fuel mixture

When the engine’s air/fuel mixture is thrown off, the converter may begin to overheat, come apart and eventually become restricted.

Pieces of the damaged converter may clog other exhaust components as well.

Contamination from fluids

Fluids, such as engine oil and coolant, that enter the exhaust stream can contaminate the catalytic converter.

car mechanic fixing a lifted car looking at catalytic converter
Ignoring engine-related problems or skipping routine service can cause problems that contribute to catalytic converter failure.

Engine misfire

An engine misfire can create extreme temperatures inside the catalytic converter, causing the device to melt.

Engine overdue for service

Ignoring engine-related problems or skipping routine service can cause the problems outlined above, all of which can contribute to catalytic converter failure.

Impact damage

Impact from driving over debris on the road can crush the converter, damaging it internally. Damage to the structure of the catalytic converter can also be caused by rust and corrosion.

Excessive idle time

In extreme cases where the vehicle idles nearly all of the time, the catalytic converter may run hotter than usual, eventually leading to its early demise.

When Should You Replace a Catalytic Converter?

If your car is showing signs of having a bad catalytic converter, should you go ahead and replace it? Not necessarily.

Or at least, not yet. It is recommended that you bring your vehicle to an expert mechanic first and have it diagnosed properly. After all, the symptoms outlined above could very well be attributed to other malfunctioning or bad components. It’s best to let an expert decide whether or not your catalytic converter needs replacement.

car thief peering into a car
Catalytic converters contain precious metals, which make them attractive targets to opportunistic thieves.

Another reason why you may need to get a catalytic converter replacement is if it gets stolen.

Yes, you read that right—stolen. Catalytic converters contain precious metals, which make them attractive targets to opportunistic thieves. Metal recyclers will reportedly pay about $50 to several hundred dollars for one catalytic converter.

If your catalytic converter gets stolen, you’ll know immediately. With the cat gone, your car’s engine noise will no longer be muffled by the entire exhaust system and, as a result, your car will sound extremely loud.

While you should be able to drive it for a while, make sure to get the stolen cat replaced as soon as you can.

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CarParts.com

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In the Garage with CarParts.com is an online blog dedicated to bringing DIYers and devoted car enthusiasts up to date with topical automotive news and lifestyle content. Our writers live and breathe automotive, taking the guess work out of car repairs with how-to content that helps owners get back on the road and keep driving.

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