3 Common Catalytic Converter Problems

The catalytic converter beneath a Jeep.

If you have never experienced the failure of the catalytic converter in a vehicle, you may want to know more about common catalytic converter problems. However, to comprehend what can go wrong with a catalytic converter, you must first understand what it is and how it works.

What Is the Catalytic Converter?

The catalytic converter, sometimes called a “cat,” is a kind of container in the exhaust system. The exhaust from the engine gets filtered through this compartment and harmful chemicals like carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and NOx or nitrogen compounds are removed by a kind of matrix with honeycomb structures. This device is part of an emissions control system in newer vehicles as a result of auto manufacturers trying to limit carbon emissions as part of environmental law.

When something is wrong with your catalytic converter, it will generally cause you a lot of headaches if not diagnosed and fixed. Here are some of the most common problems with this auto part.

1. Overheating

One of the most common issues with the catalytic converter is overheating. When the heat rises to a certain point, the catalytic converter will fail, and in most cases, this will trigger the “check engine light.” In many cases, this overheating is caused by a failing oxygen sensor. The catalytic converter is linked to one or more oxygen sensors in a modern vehicle, which are responsible for measuring the fuel mix in terms of air and liquid fuel. When the mix is too rich, this can lead to the cat overheating. When an O2 sensor fails, the vehicle may go into an “open loop” scenario where it is not able to provide the right conditions for the catalytic converter. Modern vehicle owners can use an engine diagnostic system to figure out if an oxygen sensor has failed. This can help you figure out if the catalytic converter has been “fried” or overheated and whether it needs to be replaced.

2. Matrix Contamination

Different kinds of situations can lead to contamination of the catalytic converter, where the elements inside are no longer able to effectively trap carbon emissions. These kinds of situations include coolant leaking into the engine or a scenario where a vehicle is burning oil and excessive particles end up in the exhaust system. Some experts claim that a lean fuel mix can lead to this kind of contamination as well.

3. Clogged Cat Situations

In some other situations where the fuel mix is not right or the exhaust system is not working properly, the catalytic converter can become clogged over time. When vehicle owners recognize symptoms and take the vehicle for repairs, the mechanic may not be able to diagnose the catalytic converter without replacing it, which can be an expensive fix. Maintain and observe emission controls on your vehicle to prevent clogging the cat and giving yourself a hefty repair bill.

Learning more about the catalytic converter and common problems can definitely help car and truck owners identify issues early and help them decide how to negotiate repair options with a mechanic shop.