Your vehicle’s catalytic converter is an important part of its exhaust system. At first glance, your converter may look deceptively simple – a long metal box with intake and exhaust ports. But inside, it’s an engineering marvel. It contains a complex honeycomb-shaped structure coated with chemical catalysts that help reduce your vehicle’s emissions. But a converter malfunction can sideline your vehicle. And if you take it on the road with a bad converter, you could run afoul of state and federal laws. Read this quick guide for useful information on your catalytic converter cost, symptoms of a failing converter and more.

Why You Need a Catalytic Converter?

Since 1975, automobiles in the U.S. are required to have catalytic converters. These essential components reduce vehicle emissions by converting harmful exhaust gasses into less harmful compounds. Most converters contain two types of catalyst:

  • Reduction catalysts, breaking nitrogen oxides into nitrogen and oxygen
  • Oxidative catalysts, converting hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide into CO2 and water

Reduction catalysts typically contain platinum and rhodium, while oxidative catalysts use either platinum or palladium.

To understand why converters are required, a brief history lesson may be useful. During the early 20th century, automobiles became the most popular transportation. But all those vehicles put out pollutants, and in larger cities, they aggregated and turned into choking and eye-burning smog. And that smog became a huge problem – for instance, Los Angeles experienced 200 days of smog each year during the 1960s. The need for environmental measures led to new laws and corrective measures such as the humble catalytic converter.

How To Tell Your Catalytic Converter Has Gone Bad

If you’re driving a vehicle that’s under 20 years old, your catalytic converter is probably working well. These parts can easily last over a decade, faithfully turning potential pollutants into their less harmful components. However, that’s not to say that converters can’t develop problems. If you accidentally fill your tank with leaded fuel, its lead content can destroy the catalysts. Leaking engine coolant can also clog your converter if not rectified. Common converter problems include clogging, overheating and physical damage from road debris. The metals inside a converter are valuable, so some thieves steal and resell them to metal dealers for hefty profits.

All that aside, it’s wise to watch out for potential problems. Faulty converters can produce several noticeable symptoms:

  • Slow acceleration
  • Reduced engine performance
  • Black or dark gray exhaust smoke
  • Excessive heat from your vehicle’s underside

Replacing Your Catalytic Converter

You can’t get back on the road without replacing a faulty or missing converter. So how do you find a high-quality component? Many aftermarket auto parts dealers offer dependable replacements at reasonable prices. It just takes a little shopping around to locate the best one for your vehicle.

Most converters have a similar structure, but you may need one that specifically fits your vehicle. Luckily, this is also a simple task. You can use your retailer’s make/model/year vehicle search or its VIN lookup tool to narrow down your results. Depending on your vehicle, your new converter may cost as little as $200. At the higher end, converters can price out at over $2,000.