Serious gearheads want any advantage they can get out of their machines. Stock parts get the job done and outperform expectations in many cases. But customizing a vehicle calls for a little more thought and effort. Maybe you’ve heard that removing a catalytic converter can significantly boost horsepower. Before you make plans to take it out, read this quick guide about catalytic converters. You could save yourself some time, money and headaches.
What Does a Catalytic Converter Do?
Your vehicle’s catalytic converter does an important job. It controls emissions by converting harmful gasses into less harmful ones. This essential component handles carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. Made from platinum, palladium or rhodium, the converter is a metal box with two pipes.
Inside the converter lies a ceramic honeycomb-like structure coated in catalysts. One type of catalyst breaks down nitrogen oxides, while another changes carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide. Engine exhaust passed through the first pipe into the catalyst. The second pipe allows cleaner emissions to exit the vehicle.
All vehicles in the United States must have catalytic converters. You may need a little back history to understand why. During the 1940s, smog blanketed some of America’s largest cities. Los Angeles had one of the worst smog problems – the city averaged about 200 smoggy days a year in the 1960s. Since eye-burning choking haze came from vehicles, the solution was reducing harmful emissions. The catalytic converter was invented in the 1950s, but it became standard equipment starting in 1975.
Pros and Cons of Removing Your Catalytic Converter
Your catalytic converter slows down the movement of exhaust gasses inside the vehicle. That’s because it constricts those gasses and creates back pressure on the engine. With no catalytic converter installed, those gasses move out more quickly. This can speed up the intake and exhaust process, which may let your engine gain more horsepower. As a result, engines can run at lower temperatures and may achieve better gas mileage.
But there’s one slight problem: Removing a catalytic converter is illegal. Several states, including California, forbid it altogether. Federal law also prohibits removing a functioning cat. You’ll also generate pesky error codes. And then there’s those harmful emissions, like the ones that created L.A.’s smog problem in the first place. Your engine will also create a lot more noise, attracting law enforcement attention. You could also lose your low-end torque, which can cancel out any horsepower gains.
Replacing a Bad Catalytic Converter
As mentioned earlier, you can legally replace a malfunctioning catalytic converter. When this unit fails, you may notice darker exhaust and a telltale rotten egg smell. Other symptoms include reduced engine performance and acceleration problems.
You may wonder, “How much is a catalytic converter?” if you’re in this situation. Keep in mind that costs vary, but they result from the cost of parts and labor. Professional replacement ranges between $950 and $2,500. Experienced and confident DIYers can install a direct replacement unit for much less. If you go this route, get your cat from a reputable dealer. Some dealers have a VIN number search to help you find the right part.