What Is A Catalytic Converter? Learn About Cost, Location, Replacing etc.

The catalytic converter is a vital component you find in newer cars with combustion engines.

Let’s understand exactly what it is and it’s function.

What Is the Catalytic Converter on a Car?

A catalytic converter helps reduce harmful engine exhaust pollutants, making them less toxic to the environment.

When your car’s engine runs, it generates exhaust gases like:

  • carbon monoxide,
  • hydrocarbons,
  • and nitrogen oxides.

These are not good for the environment, contributing to problems like smog and acid rain.

That’s where your catalytic converter steps in.

Catalytic converter explained

It uses a chemical reaction to transform these harmful gases into safer compounds—carbon dioxide, oxygen, and nitrogen.

Your catalytic converter is made up of a honeycomb structure coated with catalyst materials. These catalyst materials are crucial because they speed up the chemical reactions that break down harmful gases. As the exhaust gases pass through the honeycomb structure, they come into contact with the catalyst materials, sparking the necessary reactions.

What Does a Catalytic Converter Look Like?

Most catalytic converters are either oblong or cylindrical in shape.

Now, let’s get a little more technical. Inside these converters, there’s typically a ceramic core that has a honeycomb structure. This honeycomb design is crucial to how the catalytic converter works, as it provides a significant amount of surface area for chemical reactions to occur.

Located between the engine and the muffler of your car, the catalytic converter plays a key role in minimizing harmful pollutants.

Do All Cars Have Catalytic Converters?

Most modern cars with internal combustion engines have catalytic converters.

Hybrid cars also require catalytic converters to effectively reduce emissions. In fact, hybrids typically need more precious metals in their converters to make them function efficiently due to their lower engine temperatures.

However, electric cars don’t have catalytic converters as EVs don’t emit exhaust.

Where Is the Catalytic Converter Located in a Car?

To locate your car’s catalytic converter, simply follow the exhaust pipe that connects to your engine. You’ll find it between the exhaust manifold and the muffler.

Catalytic converter

It usually looks like a slightly enlarged part of the pipe, sometimes encased in a protective heat shield.

Getting access to the catalytic converter varies depending on the make and model of your car. In some vehicles, it’s pretty easy to spot, especially if it’s situated under the hood or near the front of the car. However, in others, it may be located underneath the vehicle, making it a bit more challenging to reach.

In some cases, you may need to remove other components, such as heat shields, cross-members, or even suspension parts to get better access. In those situations, it’s often best to consult your vehicle’s service manual or seek professional assistance, as improper handling could potentially cause damage to other parts.

Remember, when working around your car’s exhaust system, be sure that the vehicle is cool to the touch to avoid burns or other injuries. Take these precautions, and with a bit of patience, you’ll locate your catalytic converter without too much hassle.

How Long Does a Catalytic Converter Last?

On average, a catalytic converter lasts for about ten years or even longer. However, its lifespan depends on factors like environmental and operational issues that could cause it to fail prematurely. In terms of mileage, a catalytic converter should typically last the life of the vehicle, which averages around 100,000 miles (160,934 kilometers).

If your car gives off unusually high levels of emissions or if you receive a warning from an emissions test, it might indicate that your catalytic converter is malfunctioning. Also, if your vehicle experiences a drop in performance, fuel efficiency, or acceleration, these could be signs that the catalytic converter needs some attention.

Of course, operational and environmental issues could affect the catalytic converter’s performance. Factors like poor-quality fuel or engine problems can cause the converter to work harder than usual, potentially shortening its lifespan.

How Much Do Catalytic Converters Cost?

A new catalytic converter costs anywhere from $600 to $2,500. Keep in mind that some vehicles have more than one converter, which would increase the overall cost.

If you’re looking to save some cash, you can consider purchasing a catalytic converter from a scrap yard.

Prices on catalytic converters:

Source Price Range
New $600 – $2,500
Scrap Yard $50 – $500

It’s worth mentioning that labor costs for replacing your catalytic converter are not included in these price ranges.

How Much Does It Cost to Replace a Catalytic Converter?

A catalytic converter replacement costs between $150 and $400. 

You might be wondering why there’s so much variation. The reason is that some cars have catalytic converters that are more accessible than others, making the replacement process much easier and quicker. However, if the converter is located in a tight spot, your mechanic may have to put in extra time and effort to replace it.

Just a heads up, the prices mentioned don’t include the cost of the converter itself (we have these prices listed above).

What Happens When a Catalytic Converter Breaks?

When your catalytic converter breaks or starts to malfunction, you’ll likely notice a few significant changes in your car’s performance.

One of the primary symptoms is a decrease in fuel efficiency. This happens because the catalytic converter can no longer efficiently convert harmful exhaust gases, causing your engine to work harder. You may also experience a lack of power when accelerating.

Another common symptom of a problematic catalytic converter is a foul sulfur smell coming from your exhaust. This unpleasant odor is often described as a rotten egg-like smell. You might also hear a rattling noise coming from the area of the catalytic converter, which can indicate a broken or damaged component inside the converter.

Can You Continue Driving With A Faulty Catalytic Converter?

Technically, you can still drive your car with a malfunctioning catalytic converter. You can even drive with it completely removed. However, driving without a functioning catalytic converter can lead to higher emissions, which are harmful to the environment and could land you in trouble with emissions regulations in your area.

Moreover, if you choose to continue driving with a faulty catalytic converter, it might cause further damage to your vehicle’s engine or exhaust system. In the long run, this could result in costly repairs. So it’s always a good idea to address catalytic converter issues as soon as possible to avoid future headaches and unnecessary expenses.

Related: Car Exhaust System Problems: 8 Most-Common Issues & Fixes

Can You Replace a Catalytic Converter Yourself?

Yes, you can replace a catalytic converter yourself. Here are the general steps to replace a catalytic converter:

  1. Park your car on a level surface and raise it: You’ll need to access the underside of your car, so use a jack to lift the entire vehicle and securely place it on jack stands.
  2. Locate the catalytic converter: The catalytic converter is a part of the exhaust system, usually found between the exhaust manifold and the muffler. Consult your repair manual for the exact location on your specific vehicle.
  3. Disconnect the oxygen sensor: Before removing the catalytic converter, you’ll need to unplug the oxygen sensor’s electrical connector and unscrew the sensor from the exhaust pipe.
  4. Remove the catalytic converter: Depending on your vehicle, the catalytic converter may be bolted or welded in place. If it’s bolted, simply remove the bolts connecting it to the exhaust pipe on both sides. If it’s welded, you’ll need to use a cutting tool to carefully cut away the welds.
  5. Install the new catalytic converter: Secure the new catalytic converter in place using new bolts or by welding, as appropriate for your vehicle.
  6. Reinstall the oxygen sensor: Screw the oxygen sensor back into the exhaust pipe and reconnect the electrical connector.

Remember, replacing a catalytic converter can be a challenging task. If you don’t feel comfortable doing it yourself, it’s always a good idea to consult a professional mechanic.

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