Our cars are made up of lots of different parts which together operate the engine and allow the car to drive.
The Catalytic Converter is one of these parts. It is located in the exhaust that controls emissions.
It reduces the toxic emissions output in exhaust gas by converting them into less-toxic pollutants through the process of reduction.
Catalytic converters are most common in vehicles which have internal combustion engines, however, they will be found in most cars in the US vehicle market.
Those reviews are coming up very shortly, and after that we’ve also got a handy buying guide for you which walks you through everything you might want to think about before you buy.
And to top that off, we’ve also got another handy section where we answer some of your most frequently asked questions.
And with no further ado...
How Does a Catalytic Converter Work?
We’ve already established what a catalytic converter does, but to understand how long they last, we must first know how they work.
The catalytic converter performs an essential job within our cars to reduce the emissions they produce. It contains two ceramic blocks that have a solid design but contains a lot of little holes similar to the architecture of honeycomb. These holes are actually lots of microcellular channels.
The ceramic blocks are coated with precious metals that heat up due to their close proximity to the engine.
The heating of these metals causes a chemical reaction that breaks down the toxic gases emitted by the engine and converts it into carbon dioxide and water vapor. These gases can then be safely emitted into the atmosphere through the exhaust.
How Long Does a Catalytic Converter Last?
There is no straightforward answer to the lifetime of a catalytic converter. Several factors will impact the life of the converter, however, on average these devices will last for a while. In good conditions, a catalytic converter can last upwards of 10 years.
Of course, this number will differ depending on the number of miles you drive each year, however, a catalytic converter will usually have a long enough life that will allow you to drive between 70,000 and 100,000 miles before it needs replacing.
As this number suggests, catalytic converters usually have a long lifetime. This can be prolonged through regular checks to ensure any issues with the catalytic converter are identified early and can be fixed before they progress beyond repair. Repairs on this part can be very pricey so it is best to identify issues early.
One factor that might damage the catalytic converter is your driving habits. Catalytic converters work best when they operate on long-distance journeys, these journeys allow the catalytic converter to reach their optimum temperature while driving before they are switched off.
If you only drive on short, small distance journeys, this could have a bad effect on the catalytic converter. This is because the catalytic converter will be consistently turned off before it is allowed to reach its optimum temperature, which will wear down the catalytic converter over time and reduce its lifetime significantly.
Signs of a Dying Catalytic Converter
As the catalytic converter is not part of your car’s engine and will not impact the driving ability of the vehicle should it develop any issues. This can make it difficult to tell if there are any issues with your catalytic converter.
That being said, there are some common signs that your catalytic converter is on its way out. You should watch out for these and take your car to the garage if you suspect there is an issue with the converter.
Common signs include:
- Poor and sluggish engine performance
- Inability to accelerate hard
- Dark and dirty exhaust smoke outputted
- A vile stench from the exhaust that resembles rotten eggs
- A lot of heat being emitted from the underneath of your car
It is also worth noting that many modern cars will have computer checks which will check the function of the catalytic converter. The onboard diagnostics of the vehicle will have oxygen sensors which will check the emissions that are traveling through the exhaust system.
If these oxygen sensors detect a change in the exhaust emissions a light will appear on your dash, in most cars, this light will show as a red circle to notify you of an error within the exhaust.
Should this light appear, or you experience any of the common signs we’ve listed above you should take your car to the garage to be checked.
What Causes Problems With The Catalytic Converter?
We’ve already established that your driving habits can have an impact on the lifetime of the catalytic converter in your vehicle, but some other factors can cause problems with it.
One common issue that can cause issues with your catalytic converter is the roads and terrains that you drive on. The catalytic converter is constructed so that the important ceramic blocks inside are wrapped in a secure mat that protects from damage.
However, driving on uneven surfaces, across speed bumps, and through potholes can cause damage to the underneath of your vehicle. This could cause the ceramic to fracture and interrupt the exhaust flow. If this occurs you will likely need to replace the catalytic converter for it to work properly once more.
Another common fault with catalytic converters is a malfunction with the oxygen sensor. If the oxygen sensor does not work properly it will likely send incorrect messages to the vehicle’s computer. This malfunction may cause as little an error as the light showing on the dash despite the catalytic converter working as normal.
Or it could produce worse errors. This malfunction could lead to an improper fuel mixture condition which can lead to the burning of fuel and the converter melting.
Finally, a common cause of issues with the catalytic converter is unburned fuel entering the exhaust system. If this happens there is a possibility of the fuel igniting when it reaches the catalytic converter.
Similarly to the issue with the oxygen sensors, this can lead to the converter burning up and melting. An issue that will require you to buy a new catalytic converter if it is not picked up early.
So in short, a catalytic converter will usually last for roughly 10 years, or between 70,000 and 100,000 miles if you would prefer to measure it that way.
This lifetime can be shortened due to bad driving habits and some other issues, but it can also be extended with good maintenance throughout your car’s life.