mechanic holding piece of broken catalytic converter

If you own a car that was manufactured within the past 40 years or so, then it has a catalytic converter as part of the exhaust system. Unless you are a mechanic, you more than likely are not even aware of what a catalytic converter does and why it is necessary on your car. It is a very important piece of equipment, and your car will not function properly when there is an issue with it!

Here, we will go into a little more detail about what a catalytic converter is, what it does, and why you should care about it. If you do start to have problems with it, you need to make a decision on whether to replace it or just sell your car and buy a new one. Catalytic converters are quite expensive parts and they need to be installed by a mechanic. Let’s dive in and explore this part in more detail and your options when you are having trouble with it.

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What Does a Catalytic Converter Do?

3d illustration of catalytic converter

As the engine in your car runs, it produces dangerous gases that are emitted through the exhaust. Some of these gases include carbon monoxide and other things that are harmful to humans and the environment. The catalytic converter in your exhaust system helps to reduce these harmful gases and converts them into oxygen, carbon dioxide, and other gases that are not harmful.

This happens through a chemical reaction that takes place within the converter itself. The catalytic converter is made of precious metals like platinum, palladium, and rhodium in a honeycomb pattern inside of a metal shell. The exhaust gases from your engine heat the converter to extremely high temperatures above 800 degrees.

The catalytic converter is located in the exhaust system between the exhaust manifold on the engine and the tailpipe. It is inline on the exhaust pipe so that all exhaust gases pass through it. Some cars even have more than one converter! If your car has dual exhaust, it may have one on each exhaust pipe. Other high-end cars may have two converters on each pipe so that the gases are filtered twice for even lower emissions!

As the exhaust gases pass through the extremely hot catalytic converter, a chemical reaction takes place and the dangerous gases are converted to safer ones. This is safer for the environment and actually helps increase the performance of your vehicle as well.


Can You Drive with a Bad Catalytic Converter?

In most cases, your car will still run and drive even after the catalytic converter goes bad. However, there are many problems that will be created by driving with a bad converter. First, your car will produce toxic gases that will be spewed directly into the environment since they will not be filtered.

If you live in a state that requires a smog test or emissions test, then your car will fail this test. The emissions from your vehicle will definitely be over the legal limits without a properly functioning converter.

Next, your car’s performance will suffer as a result of a bad catalytic converter. You are likely to see a reduction in horsepower and a reduction in your fuel economy. Your car relies on oxygen sensor readings from sensors that are located on both sides of the converter to spray the correct amount of fuel into the cylinders. When the converter goes bad and these readings are no longer in the proper range, the computer cannot distribute fuel most efficiently.


What Happens When the Catalytic Converter Goes Bad?

There are several reasons a converter can go bad, although they do not typically go bad very often. One of the main reasons for failure is due to a clog in the converter itself. This can often occur when your car is only driven on very short trips. To operate properly, the converter needs to reach a temperature of 800 degrees or more. On very short trips, this may not occur and a buildup of carbon and other deposits may start to occur inside the catalytic converter.

Besides buildup resulting in a clog, most all catalytic converter failures are the result of a problem within the engine. In most cases, an engine problem such as bad spark plugs, bad fuel injectors, or other issues caused unburned fuel to enter the converter. This causes those deposits to accumulate more quickly and the converter can quickly become plugged.

When deposits occur in the catalytic converter, the backpressure in your exhaust system begins to build and will start to cause even more problems. This can lead to blown gaskets, or worse yet, dangerous gases entering the cabin of the vehicle. This could even be deadly if left undiagnosed!

Finally, although rare, your catalytic converter could be damaged by road debris. When traveling down a highway at speeds of 60+ mph, a lot of damage can be done if a rock or other debris fly up and hit the converter. While it is protected by a metal casing, there are times that it can be damaged enough by debris that would cause the need for a replacement.

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What Are the Symptoms of a Bad Catalytic Converter?

There are many common symptoms of a bad catalytic converter, so let’s take a look at a few of them here.

Check Engine Light

One of the first signs of converter failure is often the check engine light. Your car is smarter than you think, and it usually knows when things aren’t right! This is why you should never ignore this light! The computer in your car is constantly monitoring the exhaust gases. It gets an oxygen reading as the gases are entering the catalytic converter and another reading as they come out.

The computer knows what the difference between the two readings should be, so when there is a discrepancy, the check engine light will illuminate letting you know that there is a problem. Any reputable repair shop should be able to scan the codes in your computer to determine whether the light is a result of a bad converter.

Rotten Egg Smell

If you smell rotten eggs as your car is running, that is almost always a sign of a failing catalytic converter. Since the gasoline that your car burns contains some sulfur, it gets converted to hydrogen sulfide during the combustion process. Hydrogen sulfide smells like rotten eggs.

A properly functioning converter would convert this gas into gases that do not smell. So, when this smell is present it usually signals that the converter is not doing its job and the hydrogen sulfide is making its way out into the air.

Sluggish Acceleration

Your car’s engine performance can be greatly affected by a clogged converter. Since the exhaust flow on your vehicle needs to be open and flow freely in order to reach maximum performance, a clogged converter can have a detrimental effect on performance. The exhaust is then trying to escape through a smaller area, thereby reducing the amount of power that your engine makes.

Poor Fuel Economy

If you have noticed that your car does not get as many miles per gallon as it used to, this could point to potential problems with your catalytic converter. Due to the additional pressure in your exhaust system, you may have to press the pedal even more to get your car to accelerate.

Poor fuel economy can also be a symptom of many other issues as well, so this symptom alone should not cause too much concern.

Failed Emissions Test

This one almost always points to a bad catalytic converter. During the test, the tailpipe emissions will be tested with a measuring device, so if they are higher than they should be, then the converter is likely not doing its job properly.


What is the Catalytic Converter Replacement Cost?

Now that you know how a catalytic converter works, what it does, and how to identify when it’s going bad, let’s talk about replacing that part. If you’re having issues, you might be wondering “How much does it cost to replace a catalytic converter?” Due to the precious metals contained in the converter itself, the cost of a catalytic converter is quite high. In addition, this is not a part that you can easily replace yourself. It needs to be welded into the exhaust pipe, so plan on paying a shop for labor costs as well.

Let’s take a look at a new catalytic converter cost for some common vehicle types:

As you can see, these are not exactly cheap parts to replace! Converters for high end cars can exceed $3,000 in some cases, especially when there are multiple converters within your exhaust system.

Remember that the prices above are only for the part. Since this is not a part that you can easily replace on your own, you’ll be paying a shop to do the work. The average hourly rate at most shops is upwards of $75 per hour and nearly $200 per hour at some dealerships. This puts the total cost of the replacement anywhere from $500 to well over $3,000! In many cases, this may be more than what your car is worth!

When that is the case, it may be much easier to sell your car and purchase a new one that does not have that problem. You should consider a service like Auto Wranglers where you can get an instant cash offer for your car. We will come to you and pick up the vehicle for free and put some cash in your pocket!

This way, you don’t have to worry about getting your car to the shop and paying those high prices for a replacement part. You can get a fair price for your vehicle and use that money as down payment on something new! We make it super easy to sell your car for cash.


How Much to Fix a Catalytic Converter?

mechanic working on underside of car

The catalytic converter repair cost can vary widely depending on exactly what kind of issue you are experiencing. Repairs to a converter can be challenging due to the way a converter is made. So is a catalytic converter worth fixing?

Usually, no. These parts are not made to be repaired. Should failure occur, replacement is most often the best solution.

If you do find a shop who says they can perform a catalytic converter repair, you can expect to pay a hefty price tag for labor. Most shops charge at least $75 per hour for labor, and some can even come close to $200 per hour. This can really add up if a mechanic needs to spend much time performing the car repair. Remember that for a replacement, the catalytic converter price alone can exceed $3,000 in some cases!

If you have a faulty catalytic converter, your best option may just be to contact Auto Wranglers and let them take that car off your hands. We will make you an instant cash offer to buy your vehicle so that you can use that money to get something new! Don’t go through the hassle of repairing or replacing your converter only to have something else on the car break soon after. We’ll give you a fair price and you won’t have to worry about that problem any longer!


Is a Catalytic Converter Worth Replacing?

closeup view of new catalytic converter

Since converter failure is fairly uncommon, it is most likely caused by an underlying problem with the engine itself. The engine could have bad seals or gaskets that are causing antifreeze or unburned fuel to enter the exhaust system.

In this case, the converter is probably not worth replacing because the new part will quickly become damaged as well. Unless you address the underlying cause, then the problem will continue. Those underlying engine problems can cause engine damage and be extremely costly to repair.

If you are having any of the symptoms we’ve discussed in this article, you should probably just consider getting an instant cash offer from Auto Wranglers so that you get rid of that problem vehicle. Then you don’t have to worry about those costly repairs and you can use the money you get to buy a new car.



While catalytic converter failure does not occur often, it is a very costly repair. Usually the entire part must be replaced by a qualified mechanic, and those bills can add up into the thousands of dollars quickly. This is not something that is fun to deal with!

Forget about those repair bills and contact Auto Wranglers today.  We’ll pay you cash for your vehicle so that you can buy one that doesn’t have any problems. Contact us today so that you can get back on the road and do so without any harmful emissions!

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