Understanding the Catalytic Converter

Understanding the Catalytic Converter

Pollution from car exhaust has been reduced by almost 75 percent in the last fifty years, mostly due to catalytic converters. Our auto technicians at Mountain View Automotive in Thornton can help with understanding the catalytic converter and how it benefits your car and the environment.

According to an article in Science Daily, a catalytic converter is a device used to reduce the emissions from an internal combustion engine. Part of a vehicle’s exhaust system, catalytic converters are used in almost every engine – even in forklifts, mining equipment, trucks, buses, and trains. It provides for a chemical reaction where unburned hydrocarbons are more completely combusted.

In the old days, cars didn’t have catalytic converters and exhaust from cars often created a hazy smog. But the problem got so bad that around 1975 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency required all vehicle manufacturers to install catalytic converters in automobiles to help reduce pollution.

In a How Stuff Works article, it explains how a catalytic converter converts three harmful compounds in car exhaust into harmless compounds. The three harmful compounds include:

  • 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 It 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 catalyst converts carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide. It turns the hydrocarbons into carbon dioxide and water. It also converts the nitrogen oxides back into nitrogen and oxygen. Without the catalytic converter, the vehicle 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 in older cars. This caused vapor lock. 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:

Engine Performance

If your engine does not perform well you may have a failing catalytic converter. If clogged it can restrict the exhaust flow. A cracked one will leak. Both can affect engine performance and fuel economy.

Rattling Noise

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 is wrong.

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.

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 check it out and fix whatever might be going wrong. Call or contact us today for an appointment.