Problems caused by a bad catalytic converter

Written by steven symes
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Problems caused by a bad catalytic converter
(IT Stock Free/Polka Dot/Getty Images)

A catalytic converter helps to remove certain pollutants from the car exhaust, rather than releasing those pollutants into the air. The catalytic converter sits in the car exhaust system, behind the exhaust headers and before the car muffler. Normally, a catalytic converter will last the life of a vehicle, unless an underlying problem causes it to fail.

Emissions Test Failure

A failed catalytic converter that has not clogged can contribute to an increase in hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide exiting the car tailpipe. Normally, the catalytic converter will reduce the amount of these pollutants to extremely low levels. An increase in these pollutants in the car exhaust can also be caused by a faulty air pump, pulse air system or another component of the car air supply.

Fuel Mileage

A catalytic converter that has plugged up will create excessive back pressure in the car exhaust system. This back pressure increase can affect the car fuel mileage, meaning the car will not be able to drive as far under the same conditions with the same amount of gas. The plugged catalytic converter causes the car to work harder to maintain performance, meaning the car engine will burn more fuel than it would if it had a properly functioning catalytic converter.

Engine Power

A plugged catalytic converter can also reduce the car power at high speeds, such as when the car is driving on the freeway. The driver may notice the car cannot pass other vehicles on the road at freeway speeds as it once did. A driver may also notice that, once the car hits a certain speed, its acceleration becomes sluggish. A plugged converter can also cause the car to idle rough, meaning the engine will sputter or fluctuate in its RPMs. The failed catalytic converter can also cause the car to have trouble starting, causing the engine to stumble or stall upon starting.

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