Don’t Let Your Catalytic Converter Take You by Surprise

At AAMCO Colorado we take great care to keep you informed about your car and all its systems, as well as keep your car on the road with scheduled maintenance services and repairs, including full transmission repairs and replacements. Car owners in Colorado know the importance of a fully functioning exhaust system. Without it, your car can’t pass emissions testing, which means you can’t register your car – and if you’re new to Colorado, that means you can’t get license plates. Part of the exhaust system that affects your chances of passing Colorado’s strict air quality program tests is the catalytic converter.

What is a Catalytic Converter?

A catalytic converter is an important part of the vehicle’s exhaust system that works to convert three harmful pollutants into harmless gases. The pollutants are:

  • Hydrocarbons (in the form of unburned gas)
  • Carbon Monoxide (created by the combustion of gasoline)
  • Nitrogen oxide (created when the engine’s heat forces nitrogen in the air to combine with oxygen)

Each of these gases are dangerous in their own right. To any air-breathing animal, carbon monoxide is poisonous. Nitrogen oxides leads to smog and acid rain, while hydrocarbons produce smog. Fortunately, a failing catalytic converter does come with several noteworthy symptoms to help you identify the issue. Should you experience any of these, it is always a good idea to have your vehicle looked over to confirm your suspicions.image - catalytic converter

  1. Check Engine Light Comes On
    Though this does not necessarily point to your catalytic converter being the problem, it means that you have a problem elsewhere that absolutely needs to be addressed – sooner rather than later. If you experience related to the catalytic converter, and your light comes on, it would be a logical conclusion to assume the issue lies with the converter. Since a Check Engine Light can mean a variety of things, you should take your vehicle in for a thorough inspection. A mechanic has diagnostic tools which they can connect to your car’s computer to allow them to interpret the issues your car is experiencing.
  2. Reduced Engine Performance
    One of the most commonly reported signs of a failing catalytic converter is a reduction in engine performance. The catalytic converter is built into the exhaust system and can affect the overall performance of the engine should it be experiencing any issues. For instance, if your converter is clogged, it will restrict exhaust flow, whereas a cracked one will leak. This can negatively affect the performance of your vehicle, and can cause a reduction in power, acceleration, and even fuel economy
  3. Increase in Emissions
    It is possible to have contamination of the chemical mechanisms inside the catalytic converter. This is caused by the addition of substances such as motor oil or antifreeze. This contamination can prevent it from performing the way it is intended to. If this is the issue, you will begin to notice an in increase in the levels of carbon emissions coming from your vehicle. The converter will need to be replaced and the source of the problem will need to be fixed before it causes damage to the entire exhaust system.
  4. Misfiring
    Anytime the engine misfires, the catalytic converter can overheat. However, an exceptionally high fuel/oxygen mixture can cause similar issues. When there is an extra rich fuel mixture being used, raw fuel enters the catalytic converter and is then ignited. These catalyst components can actually melt under the extreme heat conditions.
  5. Oxygen
    Another way to figure out if your catalytic converter is failing is to take out the oxygen sensors from the exhaust system. If there is a noticeable change in the performance of your vehicle, then the converter most likely has a clog and is going bad. Please note this is only a temporary test, not a solution. You definitely need to put the oxygen sensors back in once you’ve determined if there is a clog in the catalytic converter.
  6. Low Fuel Economy
    A catalytic converter in the process of failing will cause a noticeable decrease in your gas mileage. If you are in the habit of tracking your mileage and how much you spend on gas, you’ll notice that you’re refueling more often and average mileage, or fuel economy, is declining.
  7. Exhaust System Performance
    If there is a problem in the fuel system, there will most likely be issues in the performance of the exhaust system. This could mean the melting of the catalyst experiencing extreme heat conditions, as noted in #4 above.

If you are experiencing any of the above problems, bring your car to your local AAMCO Colorado Transmission and Total Car Care center for a complete Vehicle Courtesy Check diagnositc. We’ll help you keep your car running reliably so you won’t have to worry about whether your car will start in the next cold snap, or if you’ll weather the next blizzard.

If you have questions about your car’s road readiness, or about car repair and maintenance topics, AAMCO Colorado can help. You can also go online and use the AAMCO Colorado Ask a Mechanic feature to submit your auto repair questions. They will be answered by a real AAMCO Colorado mechanic as soon as possible.

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We’re the transmission experts with over 50 years of experience rebuilding and replacing transmissions, and all their 800 pieces. We’ve fixed over 40 million transmissions – way more than our competitors. And we offer a lifetime warranty. Because we have the skill to fix an 800-piece transmission, we can easily fix the rest of your car – brakes, shocks, mufflers, even your engine. Lots of things can make your engine light come one. Today it can hard to tell what’s wrong with your car, especially if it’s your transmission. Our technicians are trained to keep up with the complex engineering of today’s cars. So, next time something goes wrong with your transmission or any other part of your car, bring it to your local AAMCO.