Everything You Need to Know About Replacing a Catalytic Converter

Catalytic Converter Replacement Time

Perhaps you’ve noticed that your car is running rough. Your gas mileage seems lower than usual. You might even detect a foul odor coming from the exhaust. The fact that the check engine light is on too gives it away. Now it’s time to start thinking about the catalytic converter replacement time. Cost matters since the part alone can run anywhere from under $100 to $2,000 or more, depending on the make.

If you have an older car or a diesel, you stay on the lower end of the range. A newer vehicle like a Toyota SUV will take it the north end. Fortunately, the labor cost is less because less time is involved.

DIY or Get It Repaired?

The bulk of the cost of getting your catalytic converter replaced lies with the part itself. It is one of those things that can put the job in the dealbreaker category. That may determine whether you decide to skip it and check out new car prices or used truck values instead.

There usually isn’t a lot of work involved to get to it. The part sits between the muffler and exhaust manifold, so it’s right there in plain sight. The repair time is typically under an hour. The question of whether it’s something you can do or not depends on how it’s attached to the vehicle.

Many car manufacturers will weld in place. If yours is OEM, then the catalytic converter replacement time is likely longer. The repair will involve cutting the old one out with a Sawzall to free it. That’s where the rubber meets the road. If you have the tools and the expertise, you can tackle the job and save yourself around $100 on the labor.

Some vehicles have a catalytic converter that is bolted into place. That puts it back into the DIY category. There is a good chance that the hardware is rusted, making the repair more difficult. Penetrating oil can make short work of the task. However, if you break a bolt or can’t get them off, you’re back to square one and the shop.

Do You Have to Replace It?

To answer this question, you need to know what the catalytic converter is and how it works.

The design of the catalytic converter is ingenious. The part isn’t huge. A honeycomb feature of the interior walls increases the surface area that comes in contact with the toxic emissions and, thus, improves its efficiency. The reason that they are so expensive is that they contain precious metals like platinum or special oxidation catalysts.

This part is an essential component of your vehicle’s exhaust. Burning fossil fuels like gasoline or diesel is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions and other toxic fumes. Transportation accounts for nearly 30 percent. Your car’s catalytic converter transforms them into harmless chemicals using the heated environment within the unit. The high temperatures speed up the reaction, hence the name.

Automakers started fitting vehicles with catalytic converters in 1975 to reduce air pollution. That alone makes for a compelling reason to ante up and get it fixed. But, there are also some more practical reasons to get it done.

Failure to do so puts the rest of your exhaust system at risk along with an insurance claim. Though rare, it can cause a fire from the broken pieces and soot within the unit. Some areas require that your vehicle passes an emission test. If it doesn’t, you won’t be able to drive your car legally until you get it replaced.

Some may argue that having a catalytic converter hampers their car’s performance. The idea makes sense since it adds another link to the chain. However, the impact is minimal. Unless you have a performance vehicle, it’s unlikely to make much difference. The alternative is to skip the OEM part and go for something in the aftermarket realm.

Ironically, the manufacturing process also has unintended consequences on the environmental front. While catalytic converters filter out vehicular emissions, mining to get the raw materials to make them is a significant source of pollution with impacts on the land and people living in these places.

Why Catalytic Converters Fail

The good news is that it is one part that many automakers build to last for the lifetime of the vehicle. The bad news is that time and nature sometimes intervene. Often, a problem elsewhere in the engine is the culprit. Issues such as coolant leaks or spent spark plugs can cause the unit to overheat and begin to deteriorate. An odd noise when you start it is a telltale sign that it’s occurring.

Also, if you only drive your car in the city, soot can build up inside of the catalytic converter and speed up the same fate. That’s why one sign is poor engine performance. It has to work harder to get the emissions through the exhaust system. Sometimes, physical damage can happen from potholes or other hazards.

Fortunately, your check engine light will give you an early warning that something is amiss. But, it doesn’t always point to a problem with your catalytic converter. It could be something as innocuous as a loose fuel cap. If it’s flashing, pull over immediately and seek roadside assistance.

The Repair Process

Replacing a catalytic converter is straightforward. The process requires one piece of specialized equipment that will run you under $20. You will need the following:

  • Replacement catalytic converter
  • Ratchet and socket set
  • Oxygen sensor socket
  • Penetrating oil
  • Jack stands

Make sure to get the correct part for the make, model, and year of your vehicle. Buy new instead of going the rebuilt route. Start by getting your vehicle all four wheels onto the jack stands. Let the air circulate to cool things off before you begin wrenching on it.

Find the catalytic converter. You will then need to remove the oxygen sensor and its connections using the special socket. Next, remove the bolts at the flanges using a ratchet, starting at the back and working forward. Don’t force them. Instead, spray them with penetrating oil and give it some time to work. Give it another shot.

Then, it’s merely a matter of swapping out the spent part with the new one. Replace the oxygen sensor and its fittings. Make sure that the catalytic converter is firmly in place, and you’re set to go.

As you can see, the repair isn’t tough. It’s only rusted bolts or a welded component that make it harder and increase the catalytic converter replacement time. It’s easily a job that a DIY mechanic can handle.

Start your car and confirm that the check engine light is off after you’re done. While it can signal a faulty catalytic converter, it can also mean that the oxygen sensor is bad. You may find it helpful to use a diagnostic scan tool to determine if another repair is in order.

Your car’s catalytic converter is an essential component for reducing the toxic emissions that cause air pollution and climate change. Luckily, there’s an easy fix that won’t take a lot of time. Pay attention to any strange noise or odors coming from your vehicle to get the jump on any problems before they get out of hand.