Why You Need To Pay Attention to Your Catalytic Converter

Do you think your catalytic converter is malfunctioning? Find out how to tell and when to get a catalytic converter fixed or replaced.

Vehicles are essential today. You probably use your vehicle several times each week to drive to destinations like work, the grocery store, or friends' homes. Yet, many vehicles are not environmentally ideal. Most of them release harmful gases, which can cause drivers and passengers in the vehicle to become ill if left unchecked. Those same gases are also released into the environment. It is a problem that has plagued the population practically since vehicles were invented. The invention of the catalytic converter is one of the most major advancements in the reduction of automobile-related pollution.

Although it does not prevent a vehicle from polluting the environment entirely, a catalytic converter is essential for minimizing that pollution. That is one reason you need to stay aware of the status of your catalytic converter. Recognizing when it needs repair or replacement can also help you keep your vehicle's operational efficiency from declining. When you recognize a problem, you must also decide if the catalytic converter needs a simple repair or a total replacement.

What a Catalytic Converter Is

A catalytic converter is a portion of the exhaust system of a vehicle. It is a device that captures toxic pollutants produced by a vehicle. Those pollutants are then converted into materials that are less toxic. The exact size and shape of a catalytic converter varies from one vehicle make to another. However, it often has a honeycomb-like appearance. It can also resemble a muffler with a more cylindrical appearance. Often, it is made out of ceramic and coated in metals. Some of those metals are quite expensive or rare, such as palladium. That is why catalytic converters are often targeted by thieves.

Reasons a Catalytic Converter May Become Damaged or Fail

There are several reasons a catalytic converter may fail. One of the most common is overheating. Overheating occurs when antifreeze, oil, or gas accidentally get into the exhaust system. If they burn inside the exhaust system, the temperature rises far too high for the catalytic converter. That causes parts of the converter to start to melt. Other reasons a catalytic converter can fail include but are not limited to:

  • Bad Spark Plugs

  • An Engine That Requires Servicing

  • A Faulty Oxygen Sensor

Furthermore, catalytic converter issues may occur due to driving environments or driving habits. For example, hitting debris in the road or potholes frequently can physically damage the catalytic converter. The same is true of hitting speed bumps. If you drive in areas with those hazards consistently, expect to have to replace your catalytic converter more often than you otherwise would. Also, your catalytic converter needs to reach a temperature high enough to burn hydrocarbons inside it. If not, materials can build up and clog it. Short rides, such as to your corner grocery store, do not give it enough time to heat up. 

Signs You Need to Repair or Replace Your Catalytic Converter

If you start hearing unusual rattling noises coming from your car, you may have a catalytic converter problem. Those noises can even occur when the car is stopped, such as at a red light or in a parking space. Although, they are sometimes louder or more persistent while the vehicle is in motion. It is often at its loudest the moment the vehicle is started. Other signs your catalytic converter needs attention include:

  • You may smell “rotten eggs” indicative of a buildup of hydrogen sulfide in the vehicle.

  • Your “check engine” light may light up.

  • Passing other vehicles or otherwise accelerating quickly may suddenly become difficult.

  • You may notice excessive heat emanating from the underside of your vehicle.

  • Noticeably dark smoke may suddenly come out of the tailpipe when the vehicle is running.

Not all those symptoms occur in every case. The rattling noise and the “check engine” light turning on are the most common. Many of the other signs of a faulty catalytic converter only occur when the damage worsens. They are often signs that you may need a replacement instead of a repair.

How Much It Costs to Repair or Replace a Catalytic Converter

How much it costs to replace or repair a catalytic converter varies. The high end converters for modern vehicles can cost as much as $3,000. Converters for older vehicles sometimes cost as little as $400. If you have knowledge of automobile repair, it is a relatively easy part to install by yourself. Otherwise, you must also pay the labor cost to replace the part. It costs approximately $70 to $130 per hour for labor. The number of hours required depends on the type of vehicle. For instance, a catalytic converter replacement on a dual-exhaust vehicle takes more time than one on a single-exhaust vehicle.

How to Find a Catalytic Converter Repair or Replacement Service

The catalytic converter is considered one of the most undesirable parts to have break down due to the high cost of repairing or replacing it. For that reason, drivers requiring new catalytic converters often purchase new vehicles instead of having their catalytic converters fixed or replaced. Yet, repair or replacement is a valid option if you drive certain models and know where to look for a good deal. Here are some tips for finding catalytic converters and repair or replacement services for them at affordable rates:

  • Befriend a local mechanic. You may find he or she is willing to trade labor for a service you have to offer or provide you with a discount or payment plan.

  • Ask loved ones for trustworthy, affordable mechanic recommendations.

  • Purchase a less expensive aftermarket universal catalytic converter instead of a model-specific replacement.

  • Pick up a universal catalytic converter in person at a local auto parts store, such as Advance Auto Parts.

Important Issues to Consider Before Catalytic Converter Replacement

Before having your catalytic converter replaced, ask your mechanic if it is safe and more cost effective to repair the existing one. If you must replace it, check your state's emissions laws. Not all aftermarket catalytic converters are capable of meeting legal standards. Therefore, purchasing one could cause your vehicle to fail its next emissions test. Even if you select an excellent aftermarket converter, another consideration is lifespan. Typically, an aftermarket model does not last as long as a vehicle-specific model. However, it is potentially a good option if you do not mind sacrificing later savings for an immediate deal.