A catalytic converter is an essential part of your vehicle’s exhaust system that can potentially clog over time, but can it unclog itself?
A catalytic converter cannot unclog itself. You can attempt to unclog the catalytic converter by using a specialized cleaning product or by soaking the component in degreaser. If the catalytic converter is severely clogged, the only realistic option is to replace the part entirely.
Although a catalytic converter cannot unclog itself, there are methods you can use to try to fix the issue before having to replace it entirely.
What Is a Catalytic Converter?
A catalytic converter is a fundamental component of your vehicle’s exhaust system that converts harmful exhaust fumes into less harmful pollutants. It’s a well-known fact that cars are bad for the environment and release a substantial amount of pollutants into our atmosphere.
One of the most ground-breaking innovations in automotive technology that has helped reduce our carbon footprint is the catalytic converter.
Before the widespread implementation of catalytic converters, pollution levels were rampantly increasing as the automotive industry was taking off. This component has single-handedly reduced our car emissions by about 70%, drastically improving urban air quality worldwide.
How Does a Catalytic Converter Work?
As carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and nitrogen oxides pass through your vehicle’s exhaust system, the catalytic converter turns these pollutants into water vapor and CO2.
While CO2 may still be a greenhouse gas that is harmful to the environment, it is far less damaging than the pollutants that the catalytic converter breaks down. The chamber of the catalytic converter is called a catalyst, and it contains rare metals that filter harmful gases through a chemical reaction.
How Do Catalytic Converters Clog?
A common issue that many drivers encounter is that their catalytic converter becomes clogged. It’s important to understand that a catalytic converter is not built to last forever. Much like the rest of your car’s components, the catalytic converter will eventually break or clog.
With that said, there are a number of different factors that cause a catalytic converter to clog. Some are easy to fix, whereas others may be a lost cause. These are the most common reasons that a catalytic converter clogs:
- Oil or anti-freeze in the exhaust system
- Faulty oxygen sensor
- Unburned fuel enters the exhaust system
- Bad spark plug or spark plug wires
Although the component will clog or break eventually, you can extend the lifespan of your catalytic converter by maintaining your vehicle regularly.
Driving your car frequently and getting it serviced are the best ways to avoid issues with your catalytic converter. Many drivers who like to go off-roading commonly experience malfunctions with their catalytic converter due to excessive wear and tear.
At the end of the day, this is a sensitive part of your vehicle and it needs to be handled with care.
How to Tell If a Catalytic Converter is Clogged
Before you start taking apart your car’s catalytic converter, you should try to confirm if the component is clogged in the first place. Running diagnostics and looking for certain symptoms is the best way to confirm your suspicions so that you know what action to take.
If you notice any of the following symptoms, your catalytic converter may be clogged:
- Reduced acceleration
- Dark smoke from the exhaust
- Sluggish engine response
- More heat than usual under the car
- Rotten egg smell from exhaust (sulfur)
You may be able to identify one or more of these issues if your catalytic converter is clogged. If you have any doubts, it’s best to see a professional mechanic so that they can run a thorough check on your vehicle.
Can a Catalytic Converter Unclog Itself?
Although we would all prefer for our automotive problems to magically disappear on their own, that is rarely the case. Unfortunately, a catalytic converter cannot unclog itself.
There are methods to unclog a catalytic converter, but this requires some effort from your end. Without the use of cleaners and products, you could, in theory, unclog your vehicle’s catalytic converter by driving at a constant speed with consistent RPMs.
You will need to drive onto the highway so that you can drive your vehicle without stopping. Once on the highway, get your car up to speed so that the RPMs are between 2,500 and 3,000.
While there is no guarantee that this will unclog that catalytic converter, it may be possible to fix the issue if you can stay at this speed and RPMs for about 30 minutes.
How to Unclog a Catalytic Converter
There are a few different approaches that you can take to unclog your catalytic converter. However, you should keep in mind that there is no guarantee that you will be able to unclog the component, even with the right products.
If the catalytic converter is very old, it may simply be past its prime. In this situation, your best bet is to go out and buy a replacement.
Most catalytic converters last around 10 years. So, if the component is newer than this and you have not had other issues with your vehicle’s exhaust, there is a good chance that you can unclog the catalytic converter. These are some of the methods you can use to unclog your car’s catalytic converter.
Catalytic Converter Cleaning Product
The most straightforward and hassle-free approach to fix this issue is to use a catalytic converter cleaning product.
Most other solutions require you to take apart your catalytic converter, which can be tricky, and you can easily damage your exhaust system if you don’t know what you’re doing.
A quality product will clean your entire exhaust system, including your catalytic converter. Simply follow the instructions for your preferred product and see if it does the job.
If the catalytic converter is cracked, damaged, or completely clogged, don’t expect the product to have the desired effect.
Soak Catalytic Converter in Degreaser
If you are handy with tools and comfortable taking apart your car, then you can try a DIY approach that does not require a catalytic converter cleaning product.
You will need to use a jack to elevate your car to remove the catalytic converter and the oxygen sensors. Once the catalytic converter is removed, follow these steps:
- Pressure wash the catalytic converter (low pressure)
- Soak the catalytic converter in hot water and degreaser
- Pressure wash the catalytic converter again (low pressure)
- Reinstall the catalytic converter and oxygen sensors
This method has been known to fix catalytic converters. However, if you noticed that your catalytic converter was in bad shape and made rattling noises after you removed it, the component should be replaced.
Can You Drive With a Clogged Catalytic Converter?
In most cases, you can drive with a clogged catalytic converter. If your catalytic converter is not severely clogged, you should be able to drive without experiencing performance issues.
Driving with a clogged catalytic converter is not dangerous, so feel free to use your car if it runs.
On the other hand, if the converter is badly clogged, you will start to notice your vehicle’s performance diminish. Once the clog becomes very bad, your car simply won’t run anymore.
How Much Does a Catalytic Converter Cost?
One of the worst things about running into an issue with your catalytic converter is the cost of replacing this component. The catalytic converter is a pricey part of your exhaust system, and you can expect the part alone to cost you anywhere from $300 to $1,500+.
If you can install the catalytic converter on your own, you can save a lot of money. However, if you need professional installation, mechanics can charge you an additional $950 to $2,500 for labor.
This is not a repair job that you want to encounter. That is why the preferred approach for dealing with a problematic catalytic converter is to try to unclog it before you replace it.
Why Are Catalytic Converters So Expensive?
Auto repairs are rarely cheap, but replacing a catalytic converter is particularly costly, which leaves many people wondering why this component is so expensive. The main reason for this is that a catalytic converter requires rare metals in its design.
These metals are expensive and can be hard to track down. In addition, their costs have fluctuated dramatically over the years, which has made catalytic converters more expensive than they once were.
These are some of the rare metals found in catalytic converters:
The price of these metals has resulted in a huge increase in catalytic converter thefts. If you want to avoid unnecessary replacement costs, keep a good eye on your vehicle.
Key Takeaways to If a Catalytic Converter Can Unclog Itself
A catalytic converter cannot unclog itself.
You can attempt to unclog the catalytic converter by using a catalytic converter cleaning product or by soaking the component in a degreaser.
However, if the catalytic converter is severely clogged, the only realistic option is to replace the part entirely.