Your internal combustion engine is driven by hydrocarbon-based fuels.
The catalytic converter purifies the harmful exhaust gasses your engine produces from unburned hydrocarbon compounds — to release less harmful emissions. However, it uses precious metals to do so, making it a lucrative target for theft.
Wondering where’s the catalytic converter located?
Or how to prevent catalytic converter theft?
What about how to tell if you have a bad catalytic converter?
Read on to get the answers and more.
This Article Contains:
- Where is the Catalytic Converter Located? (And Why It’s Valuable)
- How Does a Catalytic Converter Work?
- 5 Fool-Proof Tips for Protecting Your Catalytic Converter
- 4 Catalytic Converter FAQs
Let’s get started.
Where is the Catalytic Converter Located? (And Why It’s Valuable)
The catalytic converter (fondly known as “CAT” is usually found near the end of your motor vehicle (as opposed to the internal combustion engine at the front) as it’s a part of your exhaust system. It’s typically placed close to the outlet of your exhaust pipe, between your muffler, an O2 sensor pair, and an exhaust manifold.
So, how does a catalytic converter look?
The catalytic converter is usually wider than your exhaust pipe and almost resembles a second muffler. Based on the vehicle’s make and model, your catalytic converter can be cylindrical, honeycombed, or flat-shaped.
But what makes it valuable?
Your catalytic converter contains precious metal components (platinum, palladium, and rhodium — for its catalytic process), which makes it a common target for catalytic converter thieves. Also, it doesn’t help that your CAT is easily accessible and takes just 30 seconds to steal!
Warning: Energy-efficient and hybrid vehicles are more likely to be targeted since their catalytic converters have higher amounts of precious metal. Low-emission vehicles with two catalytic converters are also at a higher risk of theft.
Now that we know where to find your catalytic converter, let’s find out what it does.
How Does a Catalytic Converter Work?
The catalytic converter reduces air pollution by converting harmful gases collected by your exhaust manifold into harmless compounds. For this, two catalytic events take place when exhaust gasses pass through your catalytic converter:
- In the first chemical reaction, a reduction catalyst eliminates nitrogen oxide (NO) in your exhaust gas.
- In a second chemical reaction, your exhaust gas then goes through an oxidation catalyst — eliminating unburned hydrocarbons (HC) and carbon monoxide (CO). With the help of oxygen, the oxidation catalyst turns them into carbon dioxide and water vapor.
As a result, a fully functional catalytic converter has tailpipe emissions only consisting of water (H20), carbon dioxide (CO2), and nitrogen (N2) — and no harmful compounds like carbon monoxide or nitrogen oxide.
There are different types of catalytic converters that work along the same principles.
Here are the three most common catalytic converter types usually found as part of the exhaust system:
- Two-way catalytic converter
- Three-way catalytic converter
- A diesel oxidation catalyst (DOC)
It’s evident that your catalytic converter is essential, so let’s discuss how to protect it from thieves.
5 Fool-Proof Tips for Protecting Your Catalytic Converter
Did you know that catalytic converter theft increased by 353% in 2021?
Thieves can make a huge profit by reselling a stolen catalytic converter or breaking it down for scrap metal.
But don’t worry!
We know how to keep your vehicle safe from catalytic converter theft.
Here are a few tips on preventing catalytic converter theft:
- Avoid parking your vehicle in an unobserved place where someone can easily crawl underneath and leave you having to report a stolen converter.
- Weld your converter to your car so it’s harder to remove.
- Engrave your car’s vehicle identification number on your catalytic converter so it’s easier to identify a stolen converter.
- Invest in a special clamp, cage, or anti-theft device that’ll make it more difficult to remove the CAT.
- Adopt a car alarm sensitive to the vibration of sawing off your catalytic converter.
Next, let’s answer some queries regarding catalytic converters.
4 Catalytic Converter FAQs
Here are the answers to four common questions about the catalytic converter:
1. How Can I Know if My Catalytic Converter is Faulty?
If your catalytic converter is faulty, you might notice the following:
- A sluggish car engine
- Reduced acceleration
- Dark exhaust smoke
- A rotten egg smell from your exhaust
- Check engine light on display on account of your O2 sensor registering an issue
Your check engine light doesn’t just indicate a bad catalytic converter. That’s why it’s always better to have a mechanic diagnose the problem before taking action.
2. What Causes Damage to My Catalytic Converter?
Like any car part, your catalytic converter is subject to wear and tear.
Here are some other things that may affect your catalytic converter directly:
- Misfiring spark plugs or a faulty oxygen sensor can cause a catalytic converter to overheat.
- Contaminants in the fuel, leaded fuel, can destroy the valuable metal.
- A faulty cylinder head gasket can leak engine coolant into the combustion system. This would eventually clog the catalytic converter, stopping it from neutralizing harmful pollutants.
3. How Much Would a Replacement Catalytic Converter Cost?
On average, catalytic converter replacement or repair can cost from $1,000 to $3,000.
Why such a high figure?
During a repair, the auto shop has to replace precious catalyst metals within your converter, like platinum, rhodium, and palladium. The valuable metal in your CAT makes it difficult and expensive to replace.
Alternatively, you could also go for a complete catalytic converter replacement. Again, the value of precious metals in the new catalytic converter would drive the cost. These high prices should motivate you to take extra precautions to prevent catalytic converter theft.
PS: Converter theft can be very lucrative for thieves looking to sell a stolen catalytic converter as scrap metal.
4. Should My Vehicle Always Have a Catalytic Converter?
Yes, it should.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has specific emission standards to reduce air pollution. To comply, a vehicle owner must always have a fully functioning catalytic converter fitted to their exhaust system to prevent harmful gases from entering the atmosphere.
This includes the use of cheaper catalytic converters, like an aftermarket catalytic converter. In fact, in 1986, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued new legal guidelines for the construction, efficiency, and installation of an aftermarket catalytic converter.
So, if your CAT is damaged or missing, it’s time to get a new catalytic converter.
Your catalytic converter is a valuable component of vehicle emissions — valuable enough to present a tempting prize for catalytic converter thieves. Knowing where to find it is crucial so you can always keep an eye out, catch issues early, and prevent complete CAT breakdown.
If, however, you suspect a CAT problem, contact AutoNation Mobile Service for help.
Put your trust in our fantastic team of qualified mobile mechanics who bring the auto shop straight to you! At AutoNation Mobile Service, we offer convenient online booking, upfront pricing, and a 12-month, 12,000-mile warranty on all repairs.
Contact AutoNation Mobile Service for your catalytic converter-related issues or any vehicle maintenance.