Everything You Need to Know About the Catalytic Converter

Everything You Need to Know About the Catalytic Converter

catalytic converterIn the mid-1960s, motor vehicles were the source of over 60 percent of the pollution across the U. S.

To address this problem and many other types of pollution, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stepped in and passed several laws, including the Clean Air Act in 1970 and later, an amendment that called for the American auto industry to vastly reduce vehicle emissions.

While there was a lot of legal back and forth at the time, as well as evolving rules and regulations over the subsequent decades, cars equipped with a catalytic converter began rolling out in 1975.

Since then, car emissions have been reduced by almost 75 percent. That’s why it’s important to come see us at Mountain View Automotive in Thornton if there’s ever a problem with this vital component.

Through proper care of your catalytic converter, you’ll have a better running vehicle and help us protect the environment.

What is a Catalytic Converter?

A catalytic converter is a device used to reduce pollution from an internal combustion engine. Part of the exhaust system, catalytic converters are installed in almost every engine – from everyday cars and trucks to forklifts, mining equipment, vans, buses, and trains.

This important component enables a chemical reaction where unburned hydrocarbons are more fully combusted instead of being released into the environment. Basically, the catalytic converter transforms toxic pollutants like carbon monoxide into less harmful emissions like carbon dioxide and water.

As we said, cars originally didn’t have catalytic converters and exhaust from cars often created a hazy smog back in the day. Once the problem got so bad that the EPA stepped in with new laws and strict regulations, this component was created to address three harmful compounds, including:

  • Hydrocarbons: A hydrocarbon is an organic compound made of only carbons and hydrogens. In a car, it is released in the form of unburned gasoline. Hydrocarbons produce smog.
  • Carbon Monoxide: Formed by the combustion of gasoline, carbon monoxide is a poison for any air-breathing species, including us humans!
  • Nitrogen Oxides: These are created when the heat in the car’s engine forces nitrogen in the air to combine with oxygen. Nitrogen oxides lead to smog and acid rain.

How Your Catalytic Converter Works

Understanding the catalytic converter takes time because it’s a pretty complicated system. In a catalytic converter, the “catalyst” in the form of platinum and palladium is coated onto a ceramic honeycomb or ceramic beads that are housed in a muffler-like package attached to the exhaust pipe.

The then converts carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide. It turns the hydrocarbons into carbon dioxide and water. It also converts nitrogen oxides back into nitrogen and oxygen. Without a catalytic converter, your car would produce excessive emissions and have trouble passing the emissions tests in Colorado.

Symptoms of Catalytic Converter Problems

Because it requires high heat to operate, the catalytic converter was once placed near the engine. This caused a problem called vapor lock which turned car fuel from liquid to a gas. Not a good thing. It also produced a bad smelling exhaust from the chemical reaction in the converter that included sulfur.

If a catalytic converter does its job you probably won’t even notice it. But a faulty catalytic converter will produce a few symptoms that can alert you that you might need service. Here are some of them:

Poor Engine Performance

If your engine does not perform well you may have a failing catalytic converter. If clogged it can restrict the exhaust flow, causing the car to jerk or not respond correctly when attempting to accelerate. A cracked one will leak. Both can affect engine performance and fuel economy. Your engine may misfire and cause this part to overheat.

Rattling Noise

Severe rattling noises can indicate a problem. When a catalytic converter gets damaged internally from excessively rich fuel mixtures, the coated honeycombs on the inside of the converter often collapse or break apart. This can cause a rattle. When the car starts the rattle is usually worse and more noticeable.

Check Engine Light

Sometimes a problem with your catalytic converter will trigger the check engine light. The oxygen and air fuel ratio sensors monitor the efficiency of the catalytic converter by gas levels in the exhaust. If it detects that the catalytic converter is not operating correctly, it will set off the check engine light.

Of course, the check engine light can mean other things as well. If you bring your vehicle into Mountain View Automotive, we can help you figure out what’s wrong and provide any necessary repairs, including replacement of your catalytic converter if necessary.

Theft of Catalytic Converters

Your catalytic converter may be a target for thieves. Believe it or not, people steal catalytic converters because of the metals they contain like platinum, palladium, rhodium, and gold. Thieves sometimes cut the exhaust out to remove the converter. You not only lose your catalytic converter, but you also may end up with damaged fuel and electric lines.

Failed Emissions Test

While not passing may be due to other components of your exhaust system, you could indeed have an issue with your catalytic converter. If oil or antifreeze has leaked into it, or it’s simply experienced any type of failure, pollutants won’t be properly dissipated. This will certainly show up during testing.

If you notice poor fuel economy, bad smelling exhaust, weak acceleration, or a rattling noise, it could be a problem with your catalytic converter. So, bring it into Mountain View Automotive in Thornton. Our auto technicians have spent years understanding the catalytic converter inside and out. We can perform a complete diagnosis, pinpoint whatever might be going wrong and take care of it quickly.

Feel free to stop by the shop in Thornton or give us a call to schedule an appointment.

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