Catalytic Converter Issues?
Your junk car not running well? Struggling with power, sudden drop in fuel economy, failed an emissions test, or have an odd, pungent odor from the car’s exhaust?
This can’t be good news for sure!
It likely means the catalytic converter is malfunctioning and you need to do something about it immediately. This can be a big repair – read on to better understand your options and if it’s worth fixing your junk car. The costs may be more than the value of your junk car and it could be time to sell.
First Step: Figure out if your catalytic converter it is failing… this is an expensive repair! You need to be sure. Check out this quick and informative video to quickly diagnose the issue below:
What is a catalytic converter?
To put it in a nutshell, this is an emissions control device housed in the exhaust of most vehicles.
The catalytic converter function is to reduce toxic gases and pollutants produced by internal combustion engines of cars as a byproduct of their design, and convert them into gases that are less toxic. The inside of a catalytic converter is a honeycomb structure made up of different particles such as platinum, palladium, and rhodium, which the exhaust gases pass through and interact with, thus reducing their toxicity. These gases are emitted from the tailpipe.
How does it work?
The design of catalytic converters is pretty simple as there aren’t any moving parts or elaborate computer tech involved. The inside the catalytic converter houses a ceramic honeycomb component that is coated in catalyst particles of platinum, palladium, and rhodium as mentioned above. When the vehicle operates, exhaust gases flow through the catalytic converter and three harmful compounds – hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, and carbon monoxide – are superheated, and react with the catalyst that converts them into emissions that are less harmful.
How to spot the signs of a faulty catalytic converter?
The car failed its emissions test
Several states have made emissions testing compulsory. If the catalytic convertor isn’t functioning properly, then your car is likely to be released more exhaust gases than it should.
The engine check light is on
If the catalytic converter is malfunctioning, the oxygen sensor in the exhaust stream could be sending a signal to the engine control unit to indicate something is wrong. That is why the engine check light goes on. Take your car in for a diagnostics test, so you can know for sure if the cause for this phenomenon is a poor catalytic converter.
Rotten egg smell coming from the exhaust
The unpleasant odor of rotten eggs is often due to a compound called hydrogen sulfide. Typically, this is converted into sulfur dioxide that is totally devoid of any smell, but when the catalytic converter isn’t working the way it should, the hydrogen sulfide comes out of the exhaust pipe with a horrible smell.
The car acceleration isn’t like before
An excess of carbon buildup in the honeycomb design of the catalytic converter can eventually lead to failure. It leads to partial blockage in the converter, which adversely effects vehicle performance. Internal combustion engines depend on airflow to operate. When the converter is blocked, it generates an improper amount of backpressure in the exhaust system, which compromises airflow. So the lesser the airflow, the lesser the power, which means poor acceleration!
Facing fuel economy issues
If your catalytic converter is blocked up, then your engine won’t be getting the airflow it needs to function properly. It has to work harder to generate the same power, which means using up more fuel.
What are the reasons for the failure of a catalytic converter?
The common logic is that catalytic converters don’t have moving parts, so they ought to last forever right. It is for this precise reason that they are usually designed to last for at least 10 to 15 years, which is the lifespan of a car. But the components of a vehicle are all interlinked, so if one fails to operate properly, the effects cascade onto the rest. Moreover, no one keeps a car for 15 years anymore! These are the general reasons for catalytic converter failure:
- The oxygen sensor isn’t functioning properly.
- Spark plugs or wires are faulty.
- Oil or unburned fuel has seeped into the exhaust.
- Antifreeze has leaked into the exhaust.
How much does it cost to replace a catalytic converter?
Several factors have to be taken into account here, such as:
Vehicle make and model
For instance if your car model dates back to the nineties, then the catalytic converter replacement is going to be much less than compared to a car bought in the 2000s. Depending upon the model, the cost of the unit could be a few hundred bucks or maybe a couple thousand to replace a catalytic converter!
Quality of replacement unit
Remember not all catalytic converters are created same. There are universal fit units that cost less than $100, and direct fit, purpose built ones that can be $1000 or more. There is also a big difference in the internal design of a converter. As stated, they are made of catalyst metals like palladium, platinum, etc. Cheaper units generally have a much lower density of these particles, so they are less efficient and fail quickly. Expensive units have high catalyst density, often up to 6 times as compared to the budget versions.
Labor costs to replace a catalytic converter can range anywhere between $70 and $130 an hour. The amount of time needed to replace the catalytic converter has to be factored in as well, which varies for every car. It depends very much on placement, accessibility, and what your mechanic needs to do to replace the unit. They might have to cut out the old welded converter and clamp in a new one. You have to pay more for vehicles with dual exhaust systems, as it means twice the labor cost and expenditures of components.
Diagnosis and repair of other problems
There could be other things wrong with a vehicle that can cause the catalytic converter to fail. Some issues might only be able to be detected by professionals once they examine the car. Those problems will cost extra to fix.
To sum up, depending upon the choice of catalytic converter quality and type of vehicle you own, replacements will set you back in the range of $1000-2500. Is it worth the cost to repair your junk car or should you replace it? If you feel your car has run its course, then replacing a catalytic converter is of no use, and it might be time to consider selling your junk car off for some quick cash. You can use the money to make a down payment on your next car!