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What’s a Catalytic Converter and why are they being stolen

All vehicles have them. Although we often work with them, many of our customers don’t know they have one until they need expensive repairs or replacements. To help you, our Bowers Automotive team in Colorado Springs created this simple guide to learn about the catalytic converter, what it does, why you need it, and how to care for it.

Why Do Thieves Target the Catalytic Converter?

Catalytic converters are one of the most frequently stolen car parts. It is not uncommon for a vehicle owner to find their car exactly where they left it, seemingly undamaged, but with the catalytic converter cleanly cut out and removed by thieves.

What Does the Catalytic Converter Do?

When your vehicle burns fuel, it produces bad stuff – carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and unburned hydrocarbons. The purpose of a catalytic converter is to turn these toxic by-products of fuel combustion into less hazardous compounds before they are released into the environment by your exhaust.

If you looked inside your catalytic converter you would notice it has a honeycomb structure. This large surface area is painted with a mixture of platinum and palladium. These precious metals act as the catalysts, speeding up the chemical reactions. When the toxic fumes pass through the honeycomb, they contact the catalyst and are converted into less harmful compounds.

Your catalytic converter carries out several different chemical reactions, oxidizing the harmful carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons to produce carbon dioxide and water. It also carries out a reduction reaction to change nitrogen oxides into nitrogen and oxygen.

Why Do We Need It?

Understanding the catalytic converter takes knowing its origins. Well, according to the Clean Air Act mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency, it was decided that every car made after 1975 must have a functioning catalytic converter to reduce the number of harmful fumes it produces. If no vehicle used a catalytic converter, they would constantly be producing a foul smelling and toxic mixture of gasses. In densely populated areas, these fumes would cause significant air pollution and smog.

While it is against the law to tamper with a vehicle’s emission control system, thieves target catalytic converters because of the highly valuable precious metals they contain and their conveniently accessible location underneath the car. It is possible to salvage the platinum coating from the stolen catalytic converter and sell it for a high price.

Your best bet is to leave your car in well-lit, busy public places to discourage thieves. At home, keep it safely tucked away in your garage. Your worst-case scenario? It usually costs more than $500 to replace a catalytic converter due to the costly materials.

How Do I Know if There’s a Problem with my Catalytic Converter?

An unexplained rattling noise or bad smelling fumes coming from your exhaust can indicate a problem with your catalytic converter. Faulty ignition coils and spark plugs, or accumulated dirt in the air filters can cause damage to the emissions systems. This will usually cause your check engine light to turn on.

If you have any concerns, take your vehicle to an ASE certified mechanic such as Bowers Automotive in Colorado Springs. We would be happy to do a full diagnostic check and help you with understanding the catalytic converter. Call or contact us today to schedule an appointment if you suspect an issue!

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