The catalytic converter is more durable than other auto parts. Because of the necessity of such resilience in dealing with high working temperatures. Rust, dents, and poor engine performance are still potential causes of failure.
Is it possible to keep driving if the converter fails while you’re on the road? Can I get by without a catalytic converter? How many miles can you put on it before you need to get a new one? What happens if someone steals your catalytic converter?
Can You Drive Without a Catalytic Converter?
Yes, it is possible to drive temporarily without a catalytic converter, and doing so will not cause any harm to a modern vehicle’s engine. However, in the long run, doing so will cause harmful emissions, reduce your vehicle’s efficiency, and may even land you in legal hot water. Even if your catalytic converter has been stolen, this still stands.
Before catalytic converters were standard equipment in the 1970s, older vehicles performed admirably. If you were wondering whether or not your car could function without one, the answer is yes. However, you also need to ask yourself if it’s worth taking the chance.
It’s important to know right off the bat that it’s against the law to mess with a catalytic converter. In addition to being illegal, removing or disabling this feature could result in fines of several thousand dollars. Particularly in states like California, where emissions regulations are quite stringent, this is the case.
Another issue is that the OBD 2 catalyst efficiency monitor will turn on the check engine light if the light-off catalyst (the one closest to the engine) is removed from a newer vehicle (made after 1996). The oxygen (O2) sensor is located behind the light-off catalyst and measures the converter’s oxygen storage capacity. There will be two of these light-off converters (one for each bank) in six- and eight-cylinder engines, but only one in four-cylinder engines. And there’s an oxygen sensor watching the exhaust stream behind each catalyst that turns the lights off. This oxygen sensor is known in the parts industry as a “downstream O2 sensor.”
Removing the rear catalyst will not set off the MIL because its O2 storage capacity is not monitored. But if you take out the catalyst, your car will never pass an emissions test. Since a single catalyst cannot process NOx, CO, and HC emissions, a separate catalyst is installed in the vehicle’s rear.
If emissions testing is required where you live, you will fail the test if you remove either the front or rear catalytic converters. Your vehicle’s registration will not be renewed until the emissions system is brought back up to factory standards.
What if the converter is physically present but not functioning correctly? Your car will definitely fail the emissions test if you do that. When the O2 storage capacity of a monitored converter decreases, a diagnostic trouble code is recorded by the powertrain control module through its catalyst monitor function.
The same holds true if the honeycomb brick has been severely damaged or broken, resulting in a clogged converter. Anywhere from a minor loss of power and noticeable loss of fuel economy to a horribly sluggish running engine or even a no-start is possible for your car.
How Long Can You Drive Without a Catalytic Converter?
Without a catalytic converter, cars can still be driven. It is illegal to operate a motor vehicle without a catalytic converter in any state, regardless of whether or not the state conducts emissions testing. A reputable repair shop probably won’t remove the catalytic converter for you, but if you do it yourself, know that you’re breaking the law. And the law allows the government to fine you thousands of dollars.
If someone has stolen your catalytic converter, your car will not start. Your catalytic converter has been sawed off because of the loud, booming idle. Although filing an insurance claim to fix the exhaust system is an option, preventative measures like installing a shield for the catalytic converter should be taken instead.
What Do Catalytic Converters Do?
The three pollutants, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, and carbon monoxide, are converted into harmless water and carbon dioxide by a three-way catalytic converter.
Because the air contains 78% nitrogen and 21% oxygen, NOx is produced when the “burn” temperature in the combustion chamber reaches over 2500 degrees Fahrenheit. In the combustion chambers, atomized hydrocarbon fuel is ignited, superheating the nitrogen and causing it to expand. During combustion, this is the force that moves the piston. NOx is produced when oxygen binds to nitrogen at very high temperatures.
While the engine is running at speeds above idle, exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) reintroduces some oxygen-free gas from the exhaust system into the intake system. This lowers the combustion temperature, reducing NOx emissions.
When an electrical spark occurs, every molecule of hydrocarbon (HC) wants to “marry” two molecules of oxygen. When the spark causes combustion, oxygen and carbon are united. With the right proportions of air and fuel, this explosion produces carbon dioxide, the same gas exhaled by living things every time they exhale.
Some hydrogen chloride (HC) molecules may only receive one molecule of oxygen (CO) or NO molecules of oxygen if there is just a little bit too much fuel in the engine, causing the HC to leave the engine on its own. The catalyst reduces the nitrogen oxides to nitrogen and oxygen, which are then added to the carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon molecules to produce carbon dioxide. Water vapor, the default combustion byproduct, is just as harmless as carbon dioxide.
Without altering the converter, precious metals set off chemical reactions that transform the toxic gases into less dangerous substances. It is the job of a “catalyst” to accomplish this.
Symptoms of a Bad or Failing Catalytic Converter
If your car’s catalytic converter has failed or is failing, there are signs you can look out for. Among them are:
- Illuminated check engine light
- Lack of acceleration
- Difficulty starting or a vehicle won’t start at all
How Much Does it Cost to Replace a Catalytic Converter?
The cost to replace a catalytic converter can vary widely depending on several factors, such as the make and model of your vehicle, the type of catalytic converter required, and the cost of labor in your area. Here are some estimated costs you can expect to pay:
- The cost of a new catalytic converter ranges from $400 to $3000, depending on the type and quality of the converter.
- In addition to the cost of the part, you will also need to pay for the labor involved in the installation. Labor costs can range from $70 to $200 per hour, and the installation can take anywhere from 1 to 4 hours, depending on the complexity of the job and the accessibility of the converter.
- Therefore, the total cost of replacing a catalytic converter can range from $500 to $3000 or more, depending on the factors mentioned above.
Some vehicles may require a more expensive catalytic converter due to their specific emissions standards, and some older vehicles may require custom fabrication of the converter, which can add to the cost. Additionally, if your catalytic converter needs to be replaced due to theft, you may need to consider the cost of additional security measures to prevent future thefts or failure.