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What’s The Deal with A Catalytic Converter?

Once upon a time, cars didn’t have catalytic converters and it wasn’t hard to tell. In some large cities across the globe, smog created by vehicular emissions, industry, fires, etc., irritated eyes and put a “hazy” blanket over the surrounding area. In 1975, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency started to require all vehicle manufacturers to install a catalytic converter in automobiles. Today, smog and car exhaust still exists, but concentrations of nitrous oxides and ozone have declined by 70% to 80% in the past fifty years. A lot of that reduction can be attributed to the catalytic converter.

So what exactly does the catalytic converter do? As part of your exhaust system, it basically turns the worst pollutants into less toxic pollutants as well as carbon dioxide and water. Because it requires high-heat to operate, in older cars it was located near the engine and was known for causing vapor lock, but most of today’s cars have an integrated catalytic converter, which avoids this problem. The catalytic converter was also notorious for being noxious and producing foul smelling exhaust. This was caused by chemical reactions occurring in the converter that included sulfur.

Today, you may never notice your catalytic converter until it fails. Materials in the converter may break up and create a rattling noise. They might also block the exhaust system and cause your check engine light to come on and well as affect performance. Unburned fuel and oil vapors are typically the culprits that cause a catalytic converter to fail. Faulty spark plugs, ignition coils or even dirty engine air filters can cause these accumulations.

Your catalytic converter may also stop working because it’s no longer there. Thieves target catalytic converters because they are made using precious metals including platinum, palladium, rhodium and gold. Reciprocating saws are used to cut the entire section of exhaust out to remove the converter, sometimes damaging fuel lines, and electric lines requiring extensive and costly repairs.

By taking precautions like regularly replacing your air filters and parking under well lit – moderately active lots, you can avoid damage to, or potential theft of, your catalytic converter. If you do happen to suspect an issue, notice poor fuel economy, weak acceleration, stinky exhaust or strange rattling, be sure to pay NAPA AutoCare a visit. We can diagnose the problem for you, and make sure your car produces “squeaky clean exhaust emissions”!

Posted June 16th, 2016

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