If you want to know how much a new catalytic converter should cost, you’ve come to the right place. Catalytic converters, also called “cats,” are a part of your car’s exhaust system that you don’t hear much about. Because they usually last as long as the car does. But, like any other machine, they can still break.
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Catalytic converters are an important part of your car because they help get rid of harmful gases like carbon monoxide and change them so they leave the exhaust in a much cleaner form. Their use is also important to improve the air we breathe, lower the number of deaths caused by air pollution, and lessen the effects of greenhouse gases from cars.
This article also tells you what a catalytic converter does, how it works, what causes most problems, how to replace a catalytic converter, what goes wrong when it does, and how to fix it. Read on for a full explanation so you know what to do if one in your car breaks.
What is a catalytic converter, and why do cars have them?
If you think back to your high school chemistry classes, you may remember that a “catalyst” is a substance that causes a chemical reaction. This idea was used to make a catalytic converter work. So, the reaction would still happen inside, changing the gases so they could leave the engine through the exhaust in a less dangerous form.
These dangerous gases are carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and hydrocarbons that haven’t been burned. They are bad for people’s health and the environment because they make smog and acid rain. The V8 muscle car segment pretty much died out in the 1970s. This was partly because of the fuel crisis and high insurance costs, but the Clean Air Act at the beginning of the decade was the main reason for this. This change was the start of the auto industry’s move toward cleaner controls for emissions, which led to the development of the catalytic converter in 1975.
Most catalytic converters are between the exhaust manifold and the muffler. They look like a smaller version of an exhaust silencer. Depending on the kind of car, though, they can be in different places. Some cars with twin exhausts have one for each pipe, and some more expensive cars have two in line to reduce emissions even more. Manufacturers have found that they work better closer to the top of the engine, where they can warm up more quickly.
How does a catalytic converter work?
As soon as the engine starts, the catalytic converters start breaking down and changing harmful gases into oxygen, water, and carbon dioxide. But they work much better and get up to about 800 degrees Fahrenheit.
A catalytic converter is made up of two ceramic blocks that are shaped like honeycombs. They look this way because they are made up of thousands of tiny channels that are covered with expensive metals like platinum, rhodium, and palladium. Catalytic converters are mostly stolen for these metals, which can be worth up to $200 as scrap depending on the price of the metals at the time.
What happens when the catalytic converter goes bad?
Lucky for us, problems with the catalytic converter don’t happen very often, but just like with anything mechanical, there’s always a chance it could break. Some cats will last 70,000 to 100,000 miles, ten years, or even the whole life of the vehicle. At the same time, other cats will break down faster if the car isn’t driven long enough for them to reach the right temperature before the engine is turned off.
Most problems with the cat are caused by problems with the engine itself. Failure can also happen on trips that start and stop, since the engine never gets to the right temperature. Overheating, contamination, and physical or accidental damage to both the inside and outside of the converter while driving are also causes. Most of the time, the only way to fix the problem is to replace the converter, which is an expensive fix.
If the engine isn’t working right and the catalytic converter stops working, the temperature inside can get so high that it can melt the precious metals inside or even break the honeycomb material. When a cat doesn’t work, it’s usually because of simple mechanical problems that are easy to avoid with regular engine maintenance. These include worn-out spark plugs, a broken oxygen (or Lamda) sensor, the wrong mix of air and fuel, bad engine timing, or any other problem that lets unburned fuel leave the combustion chamber and destroys the catalytic converter.
In the meantime, let’s say that your car’s engine has serious problems, like worn piston rings, bad valve seals, or a gasket that has broken. In that case, oil or antifreeze, which aren’t supposed to be in a car’s exhaust system, could get in and damage the converter beyond repair. If this happens, it will leave a thick layer of carbon soot on the ceramic catalyst, which can’t be fixed without a new one. Even when a car is regularly serviced and driven normally, this soot can still build up and cause a clogged cat.
Can you drive a car with a bad catalytic converter?
You can drive a car with a broken catalytic converter for a while, but eventually it will be clear that something is wrong with how the engine works. There are other signs to look out for, and the car will drive differently if something is wrong. Here are the most important things to watch out for:
A modern car’s engine management light is meant to let you know that the cat isn’t working right. The oxygen sensor will send a message to your car’s ECU, which will then show the problem on your dashboard with either a yellow warning light (usually for engine management) or a red warning light (usually for a serious problem). Using a diagnostic machine will give you a quick answer, and you should know that P0420 and P0430 are the two fault codes that mean the catalytic converter is broken
Another sign that your catalytic converter may be broken is a sulphur smell coming from the exhaust. This smell is often compared to that of rotten eggs. This is because of that common problem we talked about earlier, where fuel that hasn’t been burned gets into the exhaust system. Small amounts of sulphur are in gasoline, and when the gas is burned, the sulphur turns into hydrogen sulphide. When this happens, you know it’s the cat’s fault because a well-functioning cat turns sulphide, which smells like rotten eggs, into sulphur dioxide, which doesn’t smell bad.
Every few years, emissions and smog tests are often done all over the US, from coast to coast. As you might have guessed, this is done to make sure that harmful gases don’t leak out of the exhaust system. But problems with the catalytic converter are a common reason why a car doesn’t pass an emissions test.
Cars made after the 1996 model year have an OBD2 port, which lets diagnostics check how much pollution is coming out of the exhaust. For cars made before that year, a hose is attached to the end of the tailpipe to measure how much pollution they put out.
Your car’s engine running slowly and it being harder to speed up are also signs that something is wrong with your catalytic converter. This is because a clogged cat will stop the car from accelerating smoothly and easily. This is more noticeable when the car needs to accelerate quickly, like when passing, going up a hill, or towing/carrying a heavy load. If the metals inside the cat melt or if too much carbon builds up on the honeycomb structure, the cat will start to get clogged.
With this problem, you might be able to clear out the carbon buildup in your catalytic converter if you catch this sign early and don’t have any of the other important signs on this list.
When your car is running, idling, or starting up, your catalytic converter is usually the cause of any strange noises coming from the exhaust area. It could mean that the honeycomb is badly broken. This is often caused by too much heat, which causes the honeycomb inside the cat to break up.
If this problem is confirmed, you must replace your catalytic converter because the honeycomb pieces can do more damage to your car’s exhaust if they are allowed to pass through to the muffler. It could also cause a breakdown, with the engine stalling and making it harder to start it back up.
Another sign of a clogged catalytic converter is that the car gets bad gas mileage. At the start of the four-stroke cycle of how an engine works, air and fuel are needed. When the gases leave the engine but can’t get out through the exhaust, there is less airflow, which makes the engine use more fuel.
This means you have to step on the gas pedal to speed up because more fuel has to be put into the cylinders, making the mixture much richer than usual. There are many things that can cause fuel economy to get worse. Still, if this is happening along with another sign on this list, it could be your catalytic converter.
Another sign of a broken catalytic converter is dark smoke coming out of the tailpipe when the car starts up and when it speeds up. At the same time, you might notice that there is too much heat coming from under the car. If the engine is getting too hot, you should turn it off and let it cool down.
If you notice any of the above problems, you should take your car to a garage to be checked out.
How do you unclog a catalytic converter?
Most of the time, you have to replace a catalytic converter that is too clogged up. But if you want to keep your catalytic converter from having problems in the first place, you could look into products that clean it. There are two main kinds of preventive measures you can take: ones that you can do yourself with fuel system cleaning products and ones that a garage can do for you with an exhaust cleaning service.
By doing things this way, you can avoid problems when you get your car inspected and fail the emissions test. If you only go on short trips that you start and stop, you should definitely think about this. Short, regular trips can leave some hydrocarbons unburned because the catalytic converter can’t reach the right temperature to do its job.
You can do other things, like drive your car fast on the freeway at least once every two weeks for up to half an hour and use premium gasoline, to keep your cat running well.
Why is the cost of replacing a catalytic converter so high?
The simple reason why it costs so much to replace a catalytic converter is that it has valuable metals like rhodium, palladium, and platinum in its honeycomb structure. The price can change based on how many cats your car has, whether the part is aftermarket or from the manufacturer (OEM, which stands for “original equipment manufacturer”), the make of the car, and even how old it is.
Let’s say you have an old car with a gas or diesel engine that was made before 1981. In that case, the cost of replacing the catalytic converter is much lower, but only if your car was sold in large numbers when it was new and isn’t too old or rare now. Most cars made before 1981 have a much simpler two-way catalytic converter that costs between $175 and $750, plus up to $150 for labour. This makes the cost of replacing it less than it is for a modern car.
If your car has a gas engine and was made after 1981, it probably has a three-way catalytic converter. As you might have guessed, the design is more complicated, which means it will cost more to replace. After paying up to $150 for labour, the cat could cost anywhere from $500 to $2,200.