Common Catalytic Converter Problems and Symptoms

Under the hood of your car, everything is there with a specific purpose to help your vehicle perform properly. In your exhaust system and helping turn pollutant gas emissions into safer, less harmful emissions is your catalytic converter. It can substantially reduce or even completely eliminate pollutants and is a vital part of your vehicle’s exhaust system, a properly working catalytic converter will mean the difference between whether or not your vehicle can pass a smog check and stay street legal to drive.

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Over time your catalytic converter may become worn or faulty and will be in need of service, though there are usually key symptoms to look for to alert you that you may want to seek service for your catalytic converter.

  • Rattling Noise – Once your catalytic converter becomes older or damaged from fuel mixtures, the honeycombs on the inside can begin to collapse and/or break apart which will cause a rattle to occur. It may be most noticeable when you first turn your vehicle on and over time and left unattended it will get worse and worse.
  • Check Engine Light Turns On – A catalytic converter gone bad can also lead to the check engine light turning on, there are sensors installed in newer model vehicles designed to monitor the levels of gas in the exhaust and the catalytic converter’s efficiency. If your car’s computer detects the converter not operating properly or not catalyzing the exhaust properly then the check engine light will turn on to let you know that there is an issue in need of service. It’s also important to remember that the check engine light could be on for a variety of reasons so if your check engine light turns on, make sure to have a professional mechanic scan for the proper diagnosis code to accurately discover the cause.
  • Misfiring Engine – If you use an overly rich fuel mixture, there can be instances of raw fuel entering the catalytic converter and being ignited. This misfiring can cause the catalytic converter to overheat as well. In either of these instances the components in the converter can melt and cause extensive damage to your entire exhaust system.
  • Lower Fuel Economy – A catalytic converter that is going bad and failing will cause a drastic and extremely noticeable decrease in fuel efficiency. If you notice yourself needing fuel more and more frequently then have your vehicle looked at as soon as possible to avoid significantly extra costs at the pump.
  • Clogged Converter – If your fuel mixture is not right or your exhaust system is having issues, the catalytic converter can become clogged. This can lead to a variety of issues with performance and functionality, unfortunately, auto mechanics sometimes may not be able to diagnose an issue with the catalytic converter without replacing it, which may be an extremely expensive fix.
  • Increased Emissions – Sometimes adding substances like motor oil or antifreeze to your engine can cause a contamination in the catalytic converter and prevent it from properly performing. In the event that this happens, you’ll notice a higher level of carbon emissions coming from your exhaust system. If this does happen, you’ll need to replace the converter or have it repaired immediately as extensive damage to your entire exhaust system can occur or your vehicle may even begin emitting an illegally high amount of exhaust into the atmosphere.
  • Reduced Vehicle Performance – Exhaust may become trapped in your catalytic converter and if that happens there will be a noticeable drop in performance. There is a buildup of pressure that occurs and affects the running of your engine, stopping it from breathing. A sudden increase of pressure can cause the engine to stall out while you’re driving as well. The car will also jerk or feel like there’s no fuel when you attempt to accelerate due to the vehicle acting as if there is an airlock in the exhaust system.
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Try to address issues immediately

Any piece of the exhaust system is vital to your car’s overall performance and in the event of one component going bad, it’s important to make sure that you have your vehicle looked at and repaired immediately as any damages to the exhaust can be costly and lead to further internal damages to your engine. Given the importance of the catalytic converter specifically, knowing what to look and listen for will help you prevent expensive repair costs and preserve the quality and performance of your vehicle.

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