What is a catalytic converter?
A catalytic converter (or “cat”) is a crucial component of a modern vehicle’s emissions control system. Cats reduce the release of certain pollutants (such as carbon monoxide, nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide and hydrocarbons) by converting them into carbon dioxide or steam using rare earth metals (like platinum, rhodium or palladium).
The catalytic converter is typically under the car — usually right after the exhaust headers transition into the exhaust pipe. To find it, just look under your vehicle and trace backward from the exhaust tip toward the engine.
How does a catalytic converter work?
If you open up a catalytic converter, you’ll see what looks like a dense, honeycomb structure. This structure is made from heat-resistant ceramic, and it’s there to provide more surface area for exhaust gasses to flow over. This honeycomb grid is also laced with precious metals, typically from the platinum family.
Each metal functions in a specific way:
- Reduction catalysts, like rhodium and platinum, react with nitrogen oxide by removing oxygen and breaking the molecular bonds into nitrogen and oxygen, which are harmless.
- Oxidation catalysts, like palladium and platinum, change carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide by adding oxygen.
Once this happens, the resulting exhaust gasses are moved out through the tailpipe into the air.
How much does it cost to replace a catalytic converter?
Replacing a catalytic converter can be expensive, which is why catalytic converter theft is so problematic. However, some catalytic converters cost much more to replace than others.
We got estimates from five different mechanics across the country to help you set expectations for what a catalytic converter replacement may cost you. We used three sample vehicles to represent different kinds of vehicles.
The Honda Civic, generally the most affordable of our sample vehicles, had by far the most expensive catalytic converter replacement costs in our survey. Meanwhile, the BMW 740i had the lowest average parts cost but a much higher labor cost than our other sample vehicles. The Ford F-150, one of the most popular vehicles in America, had the lowest average replacement costs by far.
|Vehicle||Average parts cost||Average labor cost||Average total cost|
|2017 Honda Civic||$4,108 (93% of total cost)||$306 (7% of total cost)||$4,414|
|2017 Ford F-150||$757 (81%)||$176 (19%)||$933|
|2019 BMW 740i||$720 (31%)||$1,589 (69%)||$2,309|
In general, you can expect to pay more for an imported brand than a domestic brand, and you may pay much more for a vehicle like the Toyota Prius, which uses a special catalytic converter that’s incredibly valuable.
What if you have a warranty or insurance?
Whether you should contact your insurance provider or auto warranty provider for help paying for a catalytic converter repair or replacement depends on your situation.
- If your catalytic converter was stolen: If your catalytic converter was stolen, you’ll want to check with your car insurance provider to see if you’re covered. Comprehensive car insurance should cover the cost of a catalytic converter replacement if it is stolen. Just keep in mind that you may still need to pay your deductible, and some comprehensive policies require high out-of-pocket costs.
- If your catalytic converter failed: If your catalytic converter broke down and your vehicle is under warranty, you may not need to pay to have it repaired or replaced. The Environmental Protection Agency mandates that automakers provide special warranties for emissions components, including catalytic converters. Under these warranties, major emissions components are covered for eight years or 80,000 miles, whichever happens first.
» MORE: Best Extended Car Warranty Companies of 2023
If your vehicle hasn’t been maintained properly, your warranty coverage may be denied.
It’s worth pointing out that, should you find yourself outside the manufacturer's warranty and the federal warranty limit, most extended car warranties will not cover your catalytic converter.
However, an extended warranty may cover whatever caused your catalytic converter to fail in the first place. For example, a blown head gasket can allow coolant to burn off in your engine, and that coolant can gunk up the catalytic converter. An extended warranty may not cover the cat, but it will help you fix that pesky leaking head gasket to stop the issue from recurring.
» LEARN: What does a car warranty cover?
Terry, a ConsumerAffairs reviewer from Ohio, felt that their extended warranty was still worth it even after they had to pay out of pocket for their catalytic converter replacement: “After not receiving a discount on my catalytic converter failure, I was hesitant when my mechanic submitted the list of items that needed repaired on my Jeep. … CarShield covered items that I didn't expect them to cover, including the rental car, front and back brakes, water pump assembly with everything that was associated, and saved me thousands of dollars.”
How much does it cost to repair a catalytic converter?
There are some situations where repairing your catalytic converter makes sense rather than outright replacing it. (Obviously, repair is not possible if your catalytic converter is missing.)
“Repair” (in the context of catalytic converters) usually means giving the cat a thorough cleaning to clear out any gunk that’s lingering on the inside. If there is damage beyond clogging, then repair is generally not practical, and your catalytic converter should be replaced.
Jay Jindal of Jindal-Andre Automotive Services in Washington, D.C., explained that “cleaning a cat may seem like a good idea to save a few bucks, but most of the time it ends up costing about as much to replace it with a new one. Granted, some vehicles, like Toyota and Honda, have a much more expensive catalytic converter than brands like Ford. It’s best to weigh out the options.”
The repair process involves removing the catalytic converter from your vehicle and performing a thorough cleaning. Although the process of cleaning isn’t difficult, getting the catalytic converter off and on can be a challenge for those who are not mechanically inclined. This is especially true if it’s been on your vehicle for 10 or 15 years.
If you can get away with repairing your catalytic converter, it can be a cheaper option than replacement. Repairs are billed by the hour at local labor rates. However, getting a repair estimate ahead of time is difficult because a shop will not know how dirty the cat is until it removes it from the vehicle. Also, don’t forget to figure out why your catalytic converter clogged up in the first place.
What to do if your catalytic converter is stolen
One of the telltale signs that your catalytic converter has been stolen is that your car is suddenly quite a bit noisier than normal. Because catalytic converters are placed before mufflers in most exhaust systems, your car will make significantly more noise now that there’s a gap in your exhaust system.
If you suspect your catalytic converter is gone, pop your head under your car near the front seats and look for any missing sections in your exhaust system.
If your catalytic converter has been stolen, you should get it replaced as soon as possible. Not only is driving without a catalytic converter loud — it’s often also illegal.
Your best bet to replace the catalytic converter is to visit a respectable muffler shop or automotive repair facility. You can go to the dealer as well, but you may pay quite a bit more money.
Signs of a faulty catalytic converter
If your catalytic converter is still in place but you suspect that it’s not working properly, there are several signs you can look for to see if it’s faulty:
- Poor fuel efficiency: If a catalytic converter gets clogged, it can cause a backup of airflow coming out of the engine. This will lead to a drop in efficiency that you can see at the pump.
- Check engine light: One of the purposes of your vehicle's electronic control unit (ECU) is to monitor your vehicle’s systems. The ECU measures air-to-fuel ratios regularly, and if this ratio is out of whack, it will trigger a “check engine” light. Although this is not a guarantee the catalytic converter is at fault, certain engine fault codes usually indicate a problem with the catalytic converter.
- Rotten egg smell: If a cat is clogged up or becomes damaged, the smell of rotten eggs can waft into your car. This happens due to the partial conversion of nasty pollutants, which manifests as sulfur dioxide.
- Poor performance: Due to a lack of exhaust gas movement, a clogged catalytic converter can have a major effect on performance. Since the exhaust gases must escape, the back pressure may cause your engine to stall or completely shut off.
- Failed emissions tests: Most people find out their catalytic converter has bit the dust when the vehicle fails an emissions test due to high levels of pollutants being emitted.
What’s in a catalytic converter?
Catalytic converters contain a dense honeycomb ceramic grid that is infused with rare metals like platinum, rhodium and palladium.
How long does it take to replace a catalytic converter?
Replacing a catalytic converter is a relatively straightforward process for mechanics that should take about two hours to complete.
Do extended car warranties cover catalytic converters?
Most extended car warranties do not cover defective catalytic converters. However, they may cover the issue that caused the converter to fail.
- Article sources
- ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. Specific sources for this article include:
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Frequent Questions related to Transportation, Air Pollution, and Climate Change.” Accessed Oct. 3, 2022.
- National Insurance Crime Bureau, “Big spike in thefts of catalytic converters is hitting Dallas vehicle owners.” Accessed Oct. 4, 2022.
Did you find this article helpful? |
Share this article
The national cost for a catalytic converter replacement with CarAdvise in 2023 is between $230 and $2394 with an average of $1023.Do 2023 cars have catalytic converters? ›
Since 1974, Catalytic converters have been standard in all vehicles. Thieves can make more money by selling stolen catalytic converters to scrapyards and metal recycling facilities.Is a catalytic converter expensive to replace? ›
For direct-fit options, a replacement can cost anywhere from $300.00 to $2,500.00, depending on the model, for just the cost of the part. You should also think about labor costs, which could cost between $70 and $130 an hour to install the converter.How much does it cost to replace a catalytic converter on a 2013 Ford Explorer? ›
The average cost for a Ford Explorer Catalytic Converter Replacement is between $1,298 and $1,354. Labor costs are estimated between $172 and $217 while parts are priced between $1,126 and $1,137.How much does it cost to replace a catalytic converter on a 2013 Ford Taurus? ›
The average cost for a Ford Taurus Catalytic Converter Replacement is between $2,492 and $2,533. Labor costs are estimated between $156 and $197 while parts are priced between $2,335 and $2,336.Can you drive without catalytic converter? ›
Can you drive without a catalytic converter? Yes, you could temporarily drive without a catalytic converter, and it won't damage a modern car or engine. But in the long run, it'll emit harmful gas, sacrifice your car's engine performance and fuel economy, and possibly get you in trouble with the law.What cars are being removed in 2023? ›
- Chevrolet Spark.
- Ford EcoSport.
- Ford GT.
- Ford Mustang Shelby GT500.
- Honda Insight.
- Hyundai Accent.
- Hyundai Ioniq.
- Hyundai Veloster.
Left unchecked, however, it will eventually degrade and collapse, plugging the exhaust, which will choke vehicle performance and limit the life of the motor. Lou Trottier is owner-operator of All About Imports in Mississauga.How long can I go without replacing a catalytic converter? ›
Catalytic Converters are estimated to last at least 10 years, but they don't need to be swapped out as soon as those 10 years are up.Is it a big job to replace a catalytic converter? ›
Since replacing a catalytic converter can be such a big job, you may end up paying higher labour costs. The car needs to be lifted off the floor, and if the converter is welded or bolted to the car the mechanic may need to use specialist tools.
The average catalytic converter is designed to last about 100,000 miles, so if your car is nearing six figures on the odometer, chances are you need to give some thought to your catalytic converter.How many hours does it take to replace a catalytic converter? ›
On average, how long does it take to replace a catalytic converter? It all depends on the vehicle and the converter. Some take an hour while some might take 3–4 hours or more, especially if there are rusty bolts or if everything is welded together.Why are replacement catalytic converters so cheap? ›
Aftermarket catalytic converters are very inexpensive compared to the OEM converters because the manufacturers that produce them don't necessarily meet the warranty standards of OEM catalytic converters and do not bear a brand name.How can I avoid replacing my catalytic converter? ›
Keep up with regularly scheduled maintenance, like oil changes, air filter changes, and regular inspections. If you or your technician see anything that needs care, address it right away to prevent possible damage to the catalytic converter. Address the check engine light promptly.What are signs of bad catalytic converter? ›
If you're noticing sluggish engine performance, reduced acceleration, a smell of rotten eggs or sulfur from the exhaust, dark exhaust smoke, or extreme heat coming from under the vehicle, these are symptoms of a clogged Catalytic Converter, and it should be repaired soon.Do all newer cars have catalytic converters? ›
Every vehicle on the road has a catalytic converter — they've been required as of 1975 — meaning every vehicle is also a potential target for thieves. Some cars, however, may be at increased risk simply because of how they're built.What year cars do not have catalytic converters? ›
European cars like Volkswagen, BMW, and Audi have designs like this, like some Hondas. If a car was made before 1974, it doesn't have a catalytic converter (they were implemented as mandatory after the rules on emissions got stricter). Electric cars also don't have converters as they produce no emissions.Do newer cars have catalytic? ›
All cars made after 1974 are required to have catalytic converters to convert these pollutants into less harmful compounds before leaving your car's exhaust system.Are catalytic converters hidden on new cars? ›
Carmakers like VW, Audi, and BMW have their catalytic converters connected to the engine, making it more difficult for thieves to reach. This leaves other car makers like Toyota, Honda at risk. Two of the most popular vehicle targets for catalytic converter thieves are hybrid-powered vehicles and pickup trucks.