Many years ago, when life was simpler and pollution was not such an issue, a typical car exhaust would only need one additional component, the silencer. This would help to cut down on the amount of noise but little else, and byproducts would flow freely into the atmosphere. Today, however, each vehicle has to be fitted with a catalytic converter, and this is intended to detox the exhaust so that the car can be a good environmental citizen. Yet as with anything else, issues can arise, and you may have a dodgy catalytic converter beneath the car. What should you know about this particular part and how can you tell if it's playing up?
Understanding the Cat
The catalytic converter (or cat for short) contains a honeycomb-like structure which basically acts as a filter. Within the converter are precious metals such as palladium or platinum that help with the process, and the part is designed to trap contaminants so that toxic gas is converted into something harmless.
In the normal course of operation, the cat will not cause too much of a problem and will allow the exhaust gas to flow through with relative ease. However, if it becomes clogged, then this will lead to a backup of pressure, and this can certainly affect performance.
Sometimes, issues with the engine may affect the cat. One of the exhaust valves may be a little loose and, in this case, any unburned fuel could make its way through to the cat. On the other hand, the cylinder head gasket may be on its way out and small drops of engine oil could find their way into the combustion chamber. They would then escape through the exhaust valve but would be caught by the cat, leading to congestion and overheating.
Any of these issues can lead to poor engine performance or excessive fuel consumption. For example, you may notice that the car is rather sluggish when you're trying to pass a slower vehicle, and you may also notice dark grey smoke emanating from the back. Don't delay if you come across one of these problems, however, as the catalytic converter is quite an expensive part and you will want to keep it in good condition.
Schedule a visit to your auto repair mechanic and tell them what you think is wrong. They will be able to fix any of the trigger issues and service your cat as needed.