Catalytic Converter Buyer's Guide
- The catalytic converter is one of the major components of the exhaust system.
- It converts the harmful chemicals in the exhaust coming out of the vehicle by using catalysts.
- Harmful compounds react with the catalysts to change their molecular makeup. For example, carbon monoxide is converted to carbon dioxide after passing through a catalytic converter.
- There are two types of catalytic converters: Three-way and Dual-bed catalytic converters.
- Symptoms of a faulty converter include rattling noises, sulfur-like smells from the engine, decreased engine performance, and failed emission tests.
- Consider warranty, your car's performance, and your state requirements when choosing a catalytic converter.
- The cost of catalytic converters ranges from $600 to $2000, depending on the model and make of your vehicle.
- You can install your new catalytic converter on your own with the right tools and know-how.
Vehicles are a major source of air pollutants in the world. To help solve this problem, cities and states have authored clean-air laws. These laws help ensure that car manufacturers restrict the amount of pollutant cars produce. In 1975, a new device called a catalytic converter was introduced to help solve this problem.
What are catalytic converters?
A catalytic converter (or cat converter for short) is an integral part of your engine’s exhaust system. Mounted along the exhaust system, it converts the harmful chemicals in the exhaust using catalysts.
Catalysts inside a catalytic converter turn harmful gases into a more environmentally friendly state. Some of these pollutants include nitrogen gas, carbon dioxide, water vapor, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and nitrogen oxides. A good catalytic converter can reduce your vehicle's emissions by as much as 25%.
A catalytic converter’s interior and appearance will depend on the age of the device itself. The first models of catalytic converters came in 1975 on series-production automobiles in response to the tightening EPA regulations on automobile exhaust.
Most modern models look like passageways of closely formed mesh made of honeycomb interior. Older car models are different because they use ceramic beads instead of honeycomb. Either way, the honeycomb or beads’ purpose is to slow down the flow of exhaust gases through the converter allowing more time for the catalysts to interact with the emission gases.
A modern version of a catalytic converter makes use of gold mixed with other traditional catalysts. What is good about this development is that gold is cheaper than other materials and increases oxidation, reducing pollutants by up to 40 percent.
How do catalytic converters work?
A catalytic converter can do three things to your vehicle: breakdown nitrogen oxide to nitrogen and oxygen, carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide, and hydrocarbons to water and carbon dioxide.
This happens because catalytic converters have enzymes or "catalysts" that break down the harmful elements of the emission gases a lot quicker. Catalysts are enzymes that hasten a chemical reaction and that's the reason why catalytic converters are pretty effective with what they do.
Most modern cars are equipped with a three-way catalytic converter, which processes harmful chemicals in three stages.
The first and second stages of conversion involve a reduction and an oxidation catalyst. A reduction catalyst is coated with platinum and radium while an oxidation catalyst is made of platinum and palladium. Thanks to science, these harmful compounds react with the catalysts to change their molecular makeup. For example, carbon monoxide is converted to carbon dioxide after passing through a catalytic converter.
The third stage of conversion involves the engine’s control system. An oxygen sensor is mounted in the catalytic converter. Oxygen sensors work by monitoring oxygen levels in the exhaust pipes. They send a signal to the engine computer to regulate the fuel it injects into the gas chambers. This process also helps minimize the pollutants that cars emit. The imbalance of the air-fuel ratio inside the gas chambers produces more pollutants from the exhaust.
Apart from the usual three-way catalytic converter, there is another type of catalytic converter called dual-bed catalytic converters. This type of converter uses a two-stage process. The first stage reduces the amount of nitrogen oxide emissions. The second stage deals with hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide from unburned fuels.
How will I know if my catalytic converter needs replacement?
A car can run with a faulty catalytic converter but ignoring these things could lead to long-term engine damage. It’s easy to detect a faulty catalytic converter. If you notice rattling noises coming from your engine or sulfur-like smells from your vent, you might need to have your exhaust system checked. A decrease in engine performance could also be a sign that something is wrong with your converter.
A catalytic converter plays an important role in the whole combustion process. Without it, your car will produce excessive amounts of harmful gasses. Not to mention, your vehicle would fail the yearly emission testing if you don’t replace a faulty converter. Although there are self-help guides available online on how to install this part, it is best to have your trusted mechanic do it for you.
What are the things to consider when choosing a catalytic converter?
Make sure that your catalytic converter comes with a warranty. Under the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) warranty, catalytic converters must be covered for up to eight years or equivalent to 80,000 miles. The law also prohibits the use of aftermarket catalytic converters that did not pass EPA standards and second-hand converters that have not been tested or labeled properly.
Consider your car's performance. If you're currently driving a high-performance car, then a performance catalytic converter is what you should choose. In case you're driving a regular car, on the other hand, a regular catalytic converter would do. Choose a catalytic converter that’s a direct-fit component so you won't have any trouble installing it.
Lastly, make sure to choose a catalytic converter that meets your vehicle and state requirements. Research your area’s laws regarding emissions before your search for a catalytic converter for sale in online stores.
How much is a catalytic converter?
The cost of a catalytic converter replacement ranges from $600 to $2000, depending on the model and make of your car. The cost will also depend on whether you need a dual or three-way catalytic converter. These are typically sold individually.
On older cars, this part may be less expensive compared to newer models. However, the catalytic converter cost is typically higher for cars that are rare.
How to install a catalytic converter
Because catalytic converters are important components when it comes to reducing the toxicity of emission gases, it's important that you get a replacement as quickly as possible when they're already damaged.
Now in case you've already bought a new one, you don't really need to call a mechanic because you can install it on your own. Here are the tips that you can follow and tools that you can use when installing a brand-new catalytic converter.
- Car Jacks
- Jack Stands
- Penetrating Lubricant
- Socket wrench
- Break bar
- Several two-inch bolts
Step 1: Using car jacks, lift your vehicle off the ground so you can have a good look at the damaged catalytic converter.
Step 2: Place a couple of jack stands under the heavy frames to further stabilize the vehicle.
Step 3: Use a penetrating lubricant to the bolts and then loosen them with either a socket wrench or a break bar. Since more exhaust system components are prone to rusting, you better use as much penetrating lubricant as possible to minimize the effort in removing the bolts.
Step 4: If there's a heat shield, you better remove it so you won't have any trouble detaching the old catalytic converter.
Step 5: Remove the old catalytic converter.
Step 6: Install the new catalytic converter. When doing this, it's possible that you might encounter some problems so it's better that you get help from another person.
Step 7: If it's still not yet damaged, you can now reinstall the heat shield that you have just removed.