Everything You Need to Know About a Catalytic Converter

Green is slowly starting to become the leading direction in most technology areas– if mostly out of necessity rather than idealism nowadays. The car manufacturing industry isn’t spared, as some still consider it a leading factor of pollution. Truth is, modern vehicles are trying to adapt to certain ecological standards, with nostalgics of heavy emission trucks needed to pay a small fortune in taxes for the privilege of using them.

An electric automobile dominated industry may still be utopic for the time being, but technology can still be used to limit emissions by internal combustion engines. One of the handy pieces that most petrol-based vehicles use today is the catalytic converter.

What is a catalytic converter, you may ask? Well, it’s a simple and handy accessory that, once attached to the exhaust pipes, transforms the polluting substances coming out of it through chemical processes like oxidation or reduction. Basically, it makes your car less damaging to the medium than in its original exhaust state, with little to no price at all for the whole deal.

What does a catalytic converter do?

More specific, a vehicle combustion process mainly eliminates through the exhaust nitrogen gas, water vapors and carbon dioxide (of which only the latter is believed to be bad for the environment in large amounts); but due to the imperfect nature of the process, it also releases environmentally harmful emissions such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide or hydrocarbons.

A catalytic converter attached to the exhaust will manage these by producing oxidation and reduction processes due to the rare materials like palladium they are coated with on the inside. The initial versions of converters, named two-way converters, could not handle nitrogen oxide emission, but these have since become obsolete with modern three way converters handling all three types of emissions.

This is by no means new technology, with catalytic converters being patented over half a century ago and started being massively produced in the late 70’s. Nowadays they are not the only means of reducing emissions, with electronics emission control systems being deployed in models such as the fifth generation Nissan Altima, Toyota Prius C or Honda Civic hybrid to eliminate noxious emissions as a whole. However, converters are a vital part for older vehicles that allows them to ride below the various dangerous emission limits throughout the world

Most new vehicles come with catalytic converters already installed, as in some states they have to pass a mandatory “smog test” that checks the level of emissions and control efficiency, which they have to pass to be able to drive legally. California has some of the most drastic regulations in place, with the CARB(California Air Resources Board) requiring multiple CC installation in some cases; vehicles built and sold after CARB specs are titled as “California Emissions Equipped Vehicles”, and are eligible for several other states that have adapted California’s emissions law.

Catalytic Converter Repairs

However, catalytic convertors are prone to wear and malfunctioning as much as any part, and keeping a good lookout is vital if they are the only thing keeping your car under the emission threshold, since fines for using a non-compliant vehicle are quite hefty. Newer vehicle models may have electronic interfaces that would alert you of potential malfunctions, and theoretically all cars sold country-wide since 1996 have an on-board diagnostic light that should glow in case of a high emissions rate.

But just to be sure, you might want to be on the lookout for physical signs of catalyst converter malfunction. They can become clogged or even clog the exhaust pipes – causing inability to start the vehicle’s engine. Converters also have the risk of becoming poisoned – that is, coming into contact with contaminants that interfere with the chemical processes; this can usually be detected by weird or foul smells that it starts to emanate. Another frequent cause of converter fail is overheating from either very high exhaust temperatures or unburned fuel left in the exhaust pipes.

Repairing a converter is not that cheap and, depending on location, difficult to even repair or replace. States that have adopted California-like regulations make replacing any emissions control system a pain, as without the replacement getting an exemption from CARB, the vehicle is still circulating illegally despite being under the emission threshold.

But the situation isn’t really too bright in other parts. Despite the converters themselves being quite simple pieces of equipment, their repair cost can vary a lot depending to area and degree of damage. For example RepairPal, a site used for estimating fixing prices for various malfunctions, estimates that a 2015 Cadillac Converter replacement might cost between $463 and $923 in Chicago alone.

It’s not going to ruin your holiday funds, but the fact that it mostly comes unexpected is off-setting for many. The same site estimates that replacing a 2015 Subaru Impreza would cost about $150, for the sake of comparison.

Catalytic Converter Thefts

Last but not least, the converter’s external positioning combines with the valuable metals they comprise to make it quite a popular target for car thieves. Catalytic converters can easily be removed with proper equipment and thieves can make the process even faster, since most of them don’t care about its functionality as they are sold to recyclers.

California, no surprise, passed a 2010 law that obliges recyclers to thoroughly keep tabs on any convertors they were sold, with the same applying to any businesses that sell the device, in hope of discouraging thefts. This has prompted special peripheral anti-theft mechanisms to be developed for theft prevention, but there isn’t really any better deterrent or protection mechanism than locking your car into a closed garage.

As not everyone has viable access to one, other security measures you can take revolve around parking in a reasonably lit area and installing outside camera surveillance systems. Other than this, the car’s number can be inscribed on the converter to help track it after it has been stolen; although it may be of no use when found again.

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