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What You Should Know About Your Car's Catalytic Converter

Unless you happen to be a trained auto mechanic, it can be difficult to understand the function of all your car's different components. Unfortunately, this makes it more difficult to correctly assess the cause of a particular problem. If you would like to improve your automotive troubleshooting skills by learning more about your car's components, read on. This article will catch you up to speed about everything you should know about your catalytic converter.

The Basics

The catalytic converter is one of the most important elements of an automobile's exhaust system. Located between the exhaust pipe and the muffler, its role is to filter toxic substances out of the exhaust gases. It does this by causing chemical changes in the makeup of the exhaust gas. This reduces toxicity by converting dangerous substances to less dangerous ones.

Take carbon monoxide, for example. This deadly gas is a natural byproduct of an engine's combustion. Yet the catalytic converter transmutes carbon monoxide into comparatively harmless carbon dioxide. Nitrogen oxide is another example. A catalytic converter successfully breaks this substance down into simple nitrogen and oxygen.

Taken as a whole, as much as 90% of the harmful gases that flow through a catalytic converter can be eliminated in this way.

Converter Problems

Incredibly enough, the large volume of exhaust which a catalytic converter has to process is not generally what leads this component to fail. Breakdown is much more likely to be caused by leaks that lead to fuel making its way into the exhaust system. Such leaks can be caused by anything from an incorrect fuel mixture, to damaged spark plugs, to dirty fuel injectors. When any of these factors are at play, fuel tends to make its way into the converter, where it catches on fire. The heat and soot generated by this process will eventually cause the converter to fail.

Virtually the same problem can occur as the result of coolant leaks. As this coolant is combusted inside of the converter, it will gradually clog the pores through which the exhaust is filtered. Should these pores become so blocked that exhaust can no longer pass through, the temperature in the converter will rise and rise until eventually it suffers a meltdown.

Signs Of Trouble

Telling when something is wrong with a catalytic converter isn't always easy--not until the problem is pretty far advanced, anyway. Yet you may begin to notice that your car is having a harder time accelerating and/or that your fuel efficiency has gone down. Both of these issues are caused by the backup of unwanted exhaust gases in the engine. Mentioning such symptoms to your mechanic is the best of ensuring that you don't end up with a full blown catalytic catastrophe on your hands.