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What Does a Catalytic Converter Do

A catalytic converter is a device installed as a part of the exhaust system of a pretty much any modern automobile. That’s because the converter makes possible for them to pass the emission test while substantially reducing the amount of hazardous compounds coming out of the tailpipe. But what exactly does this part do?

The point is, the chemical composition of the exhaust gases can differ significantly depending on the exact engine, its age, and level of technology. It's almost impossible to stand near some older vehicles due to the terrible smell and thick clouds of their exhaust gases, meanwhile the modern automobiles are much more friendly to the environment. The catalytic converter is one of those parts providing such an advantage.

But even if you don't see or feel the exhaust gases, it doesn't mean they are not harmful. And actually, the catalytic converter greatly reduces the level of invisible harmful emissions, which are typically can be detected with special measuring equipment only. Let's have a closer look at that.

catalytic converters

Image by carid.com

The converter achieves the result by oxidation of some elements and finishing the reaction that starts in the cylinders. Its target is the products of incomplete combustion, CO (carbon monoxide), NOx (nitrous oxides), and CxH2x (partly or completely unburnt fuel) compounds. All of these agents are considered highly hazardous, and their elimination is the exact function of most converters. After coming through the converter, CO transforms into much less harmful gas CO2, NOx into N2 + O2, and CxH2x into CO2 + H2O (water). All these reactions occur thanks to the high temperature and precious metals such as palladium or platinum, which cover the inner honeycomb structure of the converter with a very thin layer (the main reason why the converters are not cheap).

Generally, there are two types of catalytic converters employed by internal combustion engines – the two-way and three-way devices. The principal difference between them is that the two-way converters do not deal with NOx pollutants. For that reason, the two-way converters are no longer in use on modern gasoline-fed automobiles in the U.S. (but they are still employed on diesels where the emissions composition is different).

Although the catalytic converters have proved to be effective and relatively inexpensive as a means of reducing the environmental impact of the internal combustion, their wide application is connected with several problems. In theory, the converter can operate indefinitely long, throughout the whole engine lifespan. The precious metals inside them are not consumed. In reality, the honeycomb inner structure gets clogged with fouling and carbon deposits, which appear due to higher motor oil consumption and some other reasons. When the engine is in good condition and oil consumption is not too high, the hot converter manages to get rid of fouling. But when the converter is already clogged, there is no other way to fix the issue except for the replacement.

How to Replace a Catalytic Converter - Video by YouTube

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