What's up with your catalytic converter?

If you've lived in Atlanta for any length of time, and you happen to own a car, then you know about...

If you've lived in Atlanta for any length of time, and you happen to own a car, then you know about the city's strict emissions standards. Most car owners are required to get a yearly emissions certification prior to registering a vehicle. Usually, this is a fairly painless process: you pull into one of the countless emissions checking stations scattered around the city, the inspector hooks up his diagnostic tools and runs some tests, and then you're out of there.

Sometimes though, the process can be more time consuming, particularly if you've got problems with your catalytic converter. Actually, one of the first things those inspectors do is make sure you have one. When you see them grab that long-handled mirror and angle it so that they can see just beneath your vehicle, near the muffler, that's what they're doing!

What is a catalytic converter, anyway?

Your catalytic converter is an invaluable component in terms of maintaining your exhaust system. It looks sort of like a metal whoopy cushion (pardon the analogy) and is connected to your vehicle's muffler.

Beyond that, its name tells you what it does. It converts toxic carbon byproducts into less toxic emissions by way of a chemical reaction.

Let's say you've gone in once for an inspection (and your catalytic converter is present) yet you still fail. What now? Well, below you'll find a list of the more common issues that can cause your "cat," as it sometimes called, to malfunction.

Common Problems

  1. Electrical problems: For late model vehicles, catalytic converters are dependent on electrical signals to ensure the proper fuel/air mix ratio. What this means is, if your car (or truck) has a damaged on-board diagnostics (OBD) system, it will cause your catalytic converter to malfunction. Usually resetting your system, by allowing it to go through it's drive cycle (normally takes about a week or two) will solve this.
  2. Congestion: This happens when you use fuel with too many impurities in it, or by burned oil deposits left behind in your exhaust system. Many times, improperly seated spark plugs or frayed plug wires are to blame.
  3. Contamination: Contamination occurs for basically the same reasons as does congestion, with the added problem of having fuel debris buildup in your converter. Often at this point, the cat can't be repaired and must be replaced.

If you are experiencing issues, contact your Atlanta-area auto specialist to have your problem properly diagnosed.

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