If you know anything about cars, you have probably heard of a catalytic converter. But most people have no idea what they do or how much they cost to replace. They are a vital piece of your car’s exhaust system, and they are also quite expensive. So, just how much do they cost, and why are they so expensive? We will give you all the details that you need to know if you are in the unfortunate situation of needing to replace your catalytic converter.
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What Is A Catalytic Converter?
A catalytic converter is part of your car’s exhaust system that converts the toxic exhaust gases from your vehicle into carbon dioxide and other less harmful gases. It typically sits between the exhaust manifold and the muffler or tailpipe. If you look underneath your car, you can even see this part usually. It simply looks like metal from the outside, and it is connected in line with your exhaust pipe. Though it seems simple from the outside, the inside is much more complex.
The inside of the catalytic converter looks like a honeycomb. This is to increase the surface area so that exhaust gases pass over a larger area of the surface. The inside is made of precious metals like platinum, rhodium, palladium, and others. As these harmful exhaust gases come into contact with these metals, a chemical reaction converts the gases into less harmful emissions. We will discuss that more in the next section. So, how does this conversion take place? Keep reading to learn more.
What Does A Catalytic Converter Do?
Many people wonder how a catalytic converter works. As the name implies, your catalytic converter will convert harmful exhaust gases into less toxic gases. The gases produced by the combustion inside your engine are detrimental to both the environment and humans. These gases consist of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, hydrogen sulfide, and other gases. As they pass across the honeycomb structure of the catalytic converter, they are essentially filtered. Chemical reactions convert these gases into less harmful emissions like carbon dioxide, oxygen, nitrogen, and water vapor.
Your vehicle also measures how well your catalytic converter is performing, and it can adjust the amount of fuel that is sprayed into the engine if necessary. Your vehicle is equipped with oxygen sensors that can measure the amount of oxygen in the exhaust gas. These sensors are located inside the exhaust pipe after the catalytic converter. This way, your car knows whether or not the converter is doing its job. In some cases, you may have oxygen sensors before and after the converter. In addition, some vehicles have multiple catalytic converters. This is especially true in high-performance cars pushing lots of exhaust gas through the exhaust system.
Symptoms Of A Bad Catalytic Converter
Thankfully, a catalytic converter is designed to last for many years, and it will typically last for the life of the vehicle, though not always. When catalytic converters fail, they stop filtering those harmful gases. This allows them to be released into the atmosphere, and it can also cause negative consequences to your vehicle. So, what are the symptoms of a bad catalytic converter? Here are a few signs.
— Rotten Egg Smell
As the fuel in your car burns, it produces sulfur and other hydrocarbons that get filtered out by the converter. When it starts to fail, these contaminants are no longer filtered. Since sulfur smells like rotten eggs, you might begin to smell it in your exhaust. If you notice this smell when standing outside your vehicle, it could be a sign that your catalytic converter needs some maintenance or replacement.
— Check Engine Light
As mentioned above, your oxygen sensors will notify your vehicle’s computer if the catalytic converter is not working correctly. When the computer gets this notification, it will cause the check engine light to illuminate. When you see this light, you should take your car to a reputable repair shop. They can read the code from the computer to determine whether the catalytic converter might be the cause as this light could be from other issues like bad spark plugs.
— Bad Fuel Economy
A clogged converter can lead to poor fuel economy. Increased back pressure in your exhaust system will cause your engine to work harder to produce the same level of power. This means that you will have to press the accelerator pedal a little more to get your car to drive like it once did. This will start to show up in your fuel bill as you will notice that you cannot get as many miles out of a single tank of fuel.
— Emissions Test Failure
Not all states require a smog test, but a failed test is almost always a dead giveaway for a bad catalytic converter. These tests measure the number of harmful gases in your exhaust, so a failed test means that those gases are not getting filtered appropriately. In states that require a successful test, you will have to get the issue fixed and pass the test to register your vehicle. Some high mileage engine oils even contain special additives to help extend the life of your catalytic converter and pass your emissions test.
— Poor Engine Performance
When you press your gas pedal, you know how fast your car should go. Some vehicles will accelerate more quickly than others, but you are familiar with your car. If you notice that your car does not accelerate like it once did, it could signal a catalytic converter problem. Again, the increased backpressure in the car’s engine will harm its performance.
Cost Of Catalytic Converter Replacement
Unfortunately, it is not cheap to replace a catalytic converter. So, how much does it cost to replace a catalytic converter? While labor costs are relatively low, the part itself is costly. This is due to the composition of the part. The precious metals included in the catalytic converter are expensive, and they make the price of the part very high. A single new catalytic converter can cost anywhere from $500 – $2,000, depending on the make and model of your car. Labor for the job usually only costs around $100 – $300, which puts the total cost of a catalytic converter replacement around $1,000 – $1,500 in most cases.
Remember that some vehicles even have more than one catalytic converter. If you have an issue with your engine, it can lead to having to replace all the converters. For example, dumping too much unburned fuel into the exhaust or antifreeze getting inside the combustion chamber can ruin all your catalytic converters. In that case, you could be looking at a large repair bill for your car.
Catalytic Converter Repair Options
What if your catalytic converter is going bad, and you don’t have the cash to replace it? You do have some options! So, how much is it to fix a catalytic converter? It depends on the severity of the problem, but it might be much cheaper than replacement. The first option is to attempt to use a catalytic converter cleaner. This is a liquid that can be poured into your fuel tank. You just drive your vehicle, and the cleaner does its job as it gets burned and filters through the catalytic converter.
In many cases, this can correct the problem as long as there is no total blockage in the converter. If you have some buildup in there, the cleaner will usually do a good job. Plus, a bottle of this cleaner only costs about $20!
Another option is to explore aftermarket options instead of purchasing an OEM converter. You can often find aftermarket parts at a lower price that will do the same job as the OEM part, and these parts are usually a direct fit as well. Many people will even search for a catalytic converter at a junkyard or auto salvage yard because you can typically buy a used one there much cheaper than a new part. Unfortunately, your warranty is usually long expired before you begin to experience any problems with your catalytic converter.
You might ask, “Is a catalytic converter worth fixing?” The answer might depend on whether your state requires emissions testing. While it is not advised, some people remove the catalytic converter when they experience converter failure. This is not an option in states that require smog testing, but it is doable in the states that do not. Others might sell their car for scrap and buy a new one.
The Bottom Line
Unfortunately, a catalytic converter price tag is relatively high, and just the part alone can set you back over $1,000 in some cases. For cars with dual exhaust, you might even be forced to replace more than one converter at a time. In this case, you might choose to try a catalytic converter cleaner before opting for total replacement. While it is a high repair cost, you should not drive with a clogged converter, and this can lead to further engine damage and even total engine failure if your exhaust flow is blocked.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you drive a car with a bad catalytic converter?
Some people wonder, “Is a catalytic converter worth replacing?” They think you can drive with a bad one forever. In most cases, yes, you can continue to drive with a bad catalytic converter for some time. But what happens when a catalytic converter goes bad? It starts to get clogged with unburned fuel and other contaminants. Once the converter becomes completely clogged, you should no longer drive. This blockage in exhaust flow can cause catastrophic engine damage. In addition, it could cause toxic gases to enter the cabin of your vehicle. If you notice any warning signs of a bad converter, you should have your car checked by a mechanic.
Why is it so expensive to replace a catalytic converter?
It is so expensive to replace a converter because the part itself is costly. The inside of the converter consists of precious metals that are extremely expensive. Therefore, these parts are expensive to produce and cost a lot of money to purchase. The labor costs are not very high, but most of the expense comes from the new catalytic converter.
How long does a catalytic converter last?
A catalytic converter should last for many years. Many converters will last for the life of the vehicle. In most cases of converter failure, it is caused by another issue with the car. For example, if the engine is not running correctly and is dumping unburned fuel into the exhaust, this can cause a converter failure. With a properly running engine, your converter should last for the life of your car.