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Most catalytic converters fail due to engine-related problems. Replacing the catalytic converter without diagnosing and repairing the cause of the failure may lead to another ruined converter. Typically, converter failures fall in one of the following categories: physical damage due to corrosion or from the converter coming into contact with a large object on the road surface.
- Overheated, melted, or broken converters
- Misfires – Low compression, low spark, or no spark
- Engine mechanical, ignition, or control system failure
- Coated/Oil-Fouled Substrate
- Excessive oil consumption (burning oil): bad rings or valve seals
- Excessive carbon build-up in exhaust: Incorrect timing of fuel mixture, faulty spark plugs or plug wires, faulty check valve, oxygen sensors
- Internal coolant leaks (head/intake gasket)
- Improper fuels or additives: E85, diesel, sulfur (found in some low quality gasoline)
- Structural damage
- Physical damage such as dents or cracks from road debris, collision, speed bumps, etc.
- Metal fatigue or stress fractures
- Contamination due to excessive oil consumption, internal coolant leak, or excessive carbon build up
- Melted substrate due to engine misfires which lead to excessive converter temperatures
- Thermal Shock or Cold-quenching: hot converter is suddenly cold quenched when driving through deep water or into deep snow
- Sudden drop in temperature forces the converter housing to contract, which can cause cracks or breakage of the ceramic substrate.
- Converter aging/lack of engine maintenance – cycles of damaging engine conditions will eventually deteriorate converter performance
FINDING THE RIGHT CONVERTER
It is illegal to install a catalytic converter based solely on physical shape, size, configuration, or pipe diameter.
- Determine Vehicle Manufacturer
- Determine Vehicle Model
- Determine Vehicle Year
- Determine Vehicle Specific Engine Size
- Vehicle Test Group / Engine Family Number
- Visit carbcats.com or the California Air Resources Board Aftermarket Converter Database to see which aftermarket part is approved to install.
- If no EXACT match is found, then there are no aftermarket catalytic converters available at this time.
Every CARB-compliant replacement converter must display a certification stamp or label on the converter shell that includes:
- CARB Executive Order approval number
- Manufacturer Part Number
- Date of Manufacture
- Exhaust Flow Direction
Yes, since converters are designed to last the life of the vehicle, the technician should identify and correct the root cause of the original converter failure.
- Make sure any other codes are corrected prior to installing the new converter. This is especially true for misfire, mass air flow, rich/lean conditions, and O2 response rate codes.
- Pressure check the cooling system to test for leaks which could contaminate the new converter.
- Repair any exhaust leak that may be present. A stethoscope or a smoke test are successful ways in detecting an exhaust leak. However, a smoke test can not only find escaping exhaust, but also air that is being sucked in. An exhaust leak may affect converter and O2 sensor operation.
- Check O2 operation - The front sensor should have good frequency, amplitude, and response rate and average 450mv. The rear should be fairly steady at idle and above 450mv (typically 650-850mv).
- If both of the above O2 sensor readings are not present, the vehicle should be checked with a 4 or 5 gas analyzer and repairs should be performed.
- Complete a warranty card in triplicate with the original going to the customer, one copy to the installer, and one copy to the manufacturer of the converter.
- Retain a copy of the warranty card for a minimum of four years from the date of the installation.