With all of the uproar and amount of Catalytic Converter thefts, I thought that it would be nice if everyone knew what made them so appealing to thieves. The catalytic converter is one of the most misunderstood and misdiagnosed emission devices in today’s vehicles. The dreaded catalytic efficiency codes P0420 and P0430 are not only tough to diagnose but can also be expensive to rectify. The first thing to understand is why we have these on our vehicles, to begin with.
Internal combustion engines are a wonderful thing. They are relatively compact yet pack a real punch when it comes to developing power that can be funneled to speed. As with everything else in this world, there are always by-products that are produced during these explosive acts. Everyone understands that carbon monoxide that is a result of combustion. It’s a silent killer that has claimed more lives than anyone thinks. This is precisely why the exhaust systems have become super tight and made of stainless steel so that they are less apt to leak into the passenger compartment. Hydrocarbons are a little harder to understand as they are molecules of unburned fuel. This unburned fuel is also an issue and is a culprit in many respiratory problems.
The last of the Big 3 by-products of combustion is NOX. NOX stands for oxides of nitrogen or nitrogen dioxide. NOX left in the atmosphere contributes to the formation of smog, acid rain, and tropospheric ozone. If you don’t know what tropospheric ozone is, it’s the smell that occurs right after a lightning storm. That is the natural formation of nitrogen dioxide. NOX also combines with ammonia and moisture and forms nitric acid aka acid rain. Nitric acid can penetrate deeply into the sensitive tissues of the lung and can cause or aggravate respiratory diseases such as emphysema or bronchitis as well as existing heart conditions.
So now that we know why we have catalytic converters on our vehicles, it’s time to understand how to protect and care for them so they last the lifetime of the vehicle. The metals used in the construction of these converters include many precious metals such as platinum, palladium, and rhodium, thus contributing to the overall cost of these parts.
The whole process of cleaning the exhaust gases sounds very complicated but is really science 101. The most important gas to render harmless is NOX, as it is the most poisonous. This is called The Reduction Phase. As it turns out the extra electrons in the NOX molecule are more attracted to the precious metals and quickly jump over to attach to them. This basically turns NOX into nitrogen and oxygen.
The second phase is the process is called The Oxidation Process which uses the extra oxygen from the reduced NOX to bond with the carbon monoxide molecules to form carbon dioxide molecules and water. These are all gases that we as humans can live with. As part of the process, a great amount of heat is required. Catalytic converters need to be between 800 and 1500 degrees to perform these processes. This is why it is very important not to park over dried grass or plastic bags.
So how is the best way to protect this expensive part of your vehicle? This is really the easy part. If you keep your vehicle in tune (maintenance) and run top-tier fuels (common sense) your catalytic converter will basically clean itself as it was designed. Changing your oil at regular intervals will reduce the amount of ash and carbon that will go out the tailpipe and coat these precious metals with sludge. Keeping our air filters clean so that you will not run “rich” will make the whole catalyst process that much easier.
Now we have found devices that can be attached to the catalytic converters that make it awkward or extremely time-consuming to cut these converters out. We have installed these and have access to them. As I always say an ounce of prevention is always worth a pound of cure, and it is always much easier to be proactive instead of reactive both in mind and in the pocket.
As for the catalytic converter cleaners in the marketplace, I have not used any in my shop but I do know of some shop owners that have used them, especially in states that have stringent emission programs that say they do work for a while. As for my dime, I would rather say that:
So be proactive and protect your investments and the environment and your health.