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What does a catalytic converter do?

July 26, 2022

Your catalytic converter is one of the most important parts of your vehicle, and contributes to it functioning in a cleaner way on the road – reducing environmental impact from potentially harmful chemicals and gases. 

With the theft of these key pieces on the rise, many drivers are left wondering what is so special about these car parts, and if they can drive without their catalytic converter in place. If this car part is new to you, it may also be time to ask yourself what does a catalytic converter do? Understanding this will allow you to check your vehicle or notice any signs or symptoms of failure, such as getting an error code P0420 or even seeing the check engine light on. 

Below, we’re diving into everything you need to know about your catalytic converter, and signs of failure that you should watch for to ensure that your car is as functional and safe as possible. 

What Is A Catalytic Converter? 

A catalytic converter is a metal-based car part that creates a continuous chemical reaction as the car is used. The part takes in the exhaust and emissions from your car, reducing nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide – two extremely harmful gases that can negatively affect the environment and your health. 

It’s housed in the middle of your exhaust system, working actively to convert these harmful gases into cleaner, single-gas emissions. While it’s important to note that you will not harm your vehicle by driving without this part, it isn’t recommended. 

Your state may have compliance laws around the amount of emissions that you can release, which you may be in violation of – not to mention that your average fuel efficiency will go down, causing your car to consume more fuel to get to your next destination. 

If you’re concerned about the health of your catalytic converter, don’t sacrifice your fuel efficiency. You can easily get a diagnosis and an estimate for a catalytic converter replacement even from a mobile mechanic.

How Do Catalytic Converters Work? 

Catalytic converters use noble metals (such as rhodium, platinum, and palladium) to act as catalysts for the chemical reaction of separation. These metals are arranged in the “honeycomb-structure” that catalytic converters are known for, and exhaust is forced through this structure to begin the transition. After the emissions pass through the structure, they’ll be expelled through the exhaust system as cleaner, safer emissions (such as steam, nitrogen, etc.) 

Does My Car Have A Catalytic Converter? 

Catalytic converters have been required in vehicles as of 1975, which means that your vehicle likely does have a catalytic converter. Because of their prevalence and the valuable metals found in them, they are also a prime target for theft

What Are The Signs Of Catalytic Converter Failure? 

Here are a few things to watch out for that could signify catalytic converter failure: 

  1. Bad Smells

If you’re smelling sulfur or a “rotten egg” smell, you may want to have your catalytic converter checked. This could mean that it’s stopped working, or is malfunctioning and circulating emissions back into the vehicle. 

  1. Fuel Inefficiency 

If you notice this or engine issues like error p0420 popping up, it’s time to get it checked. This code signals further engine performance problems that could be caused by your malfunctioning (or lack of) catalytic converter. 

  1. Banging or Rattling Noises 

Sometimes, your catalytic converter can become damaged; loosening the delicate mesh and rendering the piece useless. When this happens, drivers might hear a banging or rattling, which is caused by the metal piece hitting the sides of the housing. If you hear this, have your catalytic converter checked to avoid future complications. 

At Home Vehicle & Catalytic Converter Repair 

Looking for a new way to service your vehicle? Don’t compromise your convenience or your time. Contact RepairSmith for on-demand, in-driveway vehicle repair and service. 
We can assist you with your catalytic converter repair, and can diagnose any additional issues that could be compromising your engine’s performance. Simply fill out this form to book an appointment for our mechanics to drop by your driveway.