Catalytic converters are a type of emission control device. They’re able to prevent the release of toxic fumes by catalyzing a redox reaction (something you won’t’ have to worry about if you drive a Tesla).
By initiating this reaction, they’re able to convert them into harmless emissions.
But are catalytic converters even necessary in modern, eco-friendly vehicles?
New gas and diesel-powered vehicles still use catalytic converters to reduce emissions. This component has been required by law since 1975 in the United States. However, all-electric vehicles do not need to have catalytic converters since they do not produce the same emissions as gas and diesel vehicles.
The first place where catalytic converters hit the consumer market was the US. Today, nearly all gas-powered machines have them in their designs, reducing their emissions.
Do All Modern Cars Have Catalytic Converters?
Catalytic converters became part of the law in 1975 after Congress wrote them into it. This was in response to an EPA recommendation that asked them to create a mandate to force them in new cars.
Anything built after 1975 had to pass strict emission standards.
This forced carmakers to install two-way converters into all their cars.
They’ve used a design that’s able to combine oxygen and carbon monoxide to create water.
The only other product that’s a result of this reaction is carbon dioxide. A new converter became available in 1981 with the introduction of three-way models. These also neutralized nitrogen as it exited the exhaust system, rendering it harmless.
Most modern automobiles have catalytic converters in them, but they’re also found elsewhere. You can take a look at a forklift, and you’ll probably find one of them in it. They’re even part of most locomotives and motorcycles as well.
Generally, three-way converters are what you’ll find in modern passenger vehicles.
The only place you’ll find a two-way model is inside a lean-burn engine, nowadays. Government regulations have made them rather ubiquitous since they were first introduced.
Catalytic converters contain a core that’s made of ceramic, usually. They’ve got a honeycomb design, using squares instead of hexagons.
This is the converter’s substrate. They’ve designed them to maximize the surface area that’s exposed to the air.
Sometimes, they’ll use metal if they’re trying to find a substrate for high temps.
All converters have something called a washcoat as well. This is where they’ve put the catalytic materials that spark the redox reactions.
A variety of metal oxides may be useful for this application, including titanium.
Whatever catalytic material they’re using goes onto the core’s surface with the washcoat. Another way they’re able to maximize surface area is by choosing materials that are rough.
There’s a catalyst placed onto the washcoat to catalyze redox reactions. Most of the time, they’ll use a metal that belongs to the platinum group. Many converters use platinum itself for this role.
Platinum is capable of catalyzing both reduction and oxidation reactions. Rhodium is another material that’s common in converters. But, it only catalyzes reduction reactions, making it less versatile.
Palladium has also seen some use as a catalyst in converters. It’s got some utility if you’re trying to catalyze oxidation reactions.
You can use it in combination with rhodium to take care of both reaction types.
What Year Did Cars Start Having Catalytic Converters?
The first major law that mandated catalytic converters passed in 1975.
That year, the Environmental Protection Agency released a report recommending them. Congress followed up the report with a flurry of laws, including one about converters.
They’ve been around since the end of the 19th century, though. The first converter prototypes showed up in France toward the close of the century.
It wasn’t until the mid 70s until they were in widespread use.
The majority of converters used in 1975 were two-way models. This didn’t do anything about nitrous oxides and related products.
Congress updated their laws in 1981 to mandate three-way models whenever they’re available.
These run more efficiently when they’re in a rich fuel environment. So, they may require injectors in the engine to run how they’ve been designed.
Do Diesel Cars Have a Catalytic Converter?
Diesel engines also use converters to minimize their emissions whenever you’re driving them. However, they’ve got different designs because of their chemistry.
A diesel oxidation catalyst has to be part of the convert’s material if you’re driving a diesel engine.
Most of the time, they’ll use palladium as the catalyst when you’re building one for a diesel.
Light-duty vehicles began to use them in 2010 after they changed emission requirements.
Since then, they’ve spread to most consumer diesel engines. They’re able to convert particulate matter released by the engine when you turn it on.
Plus, they’re able to convert hydrocarbons at 90% efficiency in a lot of cases. That’s even more efficient than a lot of converters in regular engines.
Why Did Car Companies Hide the Catalytic Converter?
Car companies didn’t think about where they placed converters. However, there has been a rash of theft that’s made them rethink their decisions.
A lot of companies have started to hide their converters, so they’re not easy to find.
That’s because they’ve become such common theft targets. You don’t want it to be easy for someone to find them in your car.
Otherwise, you might not have one of them for long.
Why Are Catalytic Converters Stolen?
The main reason they’re a target for thieves is because you’re able to sell them for quite a bit secondhand. Selling them on the open market could net you up to $200 in scrap.
Most of the time, they’ve got valuable minerals inside as part of the catalyst. Platinum and palladium both command high prices if you sell them as commodities.
That’s why they’ve been on everyone’s mind, too. A lot of places have experienced a ton of theft, targeting catalytic converters.
How Can You Tell if Your Catalytic Converter Has Been Stolen?
Driving a car that’s lost its converter creates a lot more noise than usual.
So, you can try listening to see whether your car sounds like it’s making more noise. If so, then it may have lost its converter.
This sound should get louder the more you’re pushing down on the accelerator, so you can check that way. You may even notice the car isn’t driving as smoothly as it usually does. Sputtering noises might come out of its engine when you’re changing gears, too.
You can also get down on the ground and take a look at your exhaust system to see if it’s gone.
If there’s a gaping space in the middle of your exhaust, someone stole the converter.
Prevent the likelihood of theft by parking your car inside the garage when you’re home.
It’s way tougher for someone to steal them if you’re able to keep the car inside.