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How Much Does a Catalytic Converter Replacement Cost?

In your history of car-ownership, chances are you’ve run into a problem or concern on your catalytic converter. Whether it’s a converter that’s rusted through, making a rattling noise, or plugged up, damage to your catalytic converter can set you back with a big-cost repair bill. Often, you’re left wondering exactly what in the world it does in the first place. For all of that, we’ll explain.

What it Does

In simplest terms, a catalytic converter shares a similar size and shape to a small muffler in your exhaust and lives in the exhaust system just like a muffler. In some ways, it also helps to mute exhaust sounds, but that’s not its purpose. Catalytic converters were first introduced in the mid-1970’s as a way to contain and help fully combust and convert items within the exhaust that prior to those times, were simply exiting into the atmosphere.

A converter is composed of a metal can, much like a muffler. Inside that can is a metallic honeycomb element that works to convert these hot exhaust gases into items that are less harmful to the environment as they move through the exhaust and out into the air. In cars built after 1995, a downstream oxygen sensor helps to monitor and make sure the converter is performing properly.

Over time, a catalytic converter can lead a rough life to failure. In Northern climates, salt spray and rust can lead to a complete corrosion of the body of the converter, and because of that, many now are made from stainless steel. This failure causes a massive exhaust leak, where many times one of the connecting flanges fails, giving you a complete exhaust leak and waking up every neighbor in your neighborhood when you start your car in the morning! On the inside, the honeycomb material can break down and fracture, causing a knocking or rattling sound from within the exhaust. This material can also become clogged and contaminated with soot, burned oil or antifreeze, and eventually cause a massive exhaust restriction or complete blockage. In all of these cases, a new catalytic converter will be needed, and often times, a Check Engine Light will accompany this.

Types of Cat Converters

There are a few fitment options when it comes to catalytic converters:

There are also a few options as far as performance goes:

  • Federal: These devices function according to the specifications laid out by the Federal Government and meet emissions standards in most states. 
  • California or CARB: These devices are built to meet the more stringent emissions standards laid out by the California Air Resources Board (CARB). These are needed in California and a few other states including New York, Colorado, and Maine. 

Make sure to get a catalytic converter that meets your state’s emissions guidelines, otherwise you won’t pass emissions.

How Much Does a Catalytic Converter Replacement Cost?

Part of the scare and frustration of catalytic converters is the fact that prices for replacement vary wildly. The main difference in lies within direct-fit vs a universal fit unit. For many vehicles, a muffler shop can easily weld in a universal replacement converter for $2-300.00. This is accomplished by cutting out the old converter from the exhaust section and welding or clamping in a new one. On many newer vehicles, the converter is often incorporated into either an elaborate down-pipe section from the engine, or incorporated into the exhaust manifold itself, and in these cases, a direct-fit converter is the only option.

Direct-fit converters are generally bolt-on items, that are replaced by unbolting the flanges that attach it and bolting in a new unit. Because they are more complex, they are often very costly compared to their universal counterparts. 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. The time it takes to finish the job will vary depending on the specific vehicle involved.

If you do this job yourself, you will save the labor costs, but many times, the actual cost of the catalytic converter is the expensive portion. While the job can take some time, it’s often not too difficult, especially if you buy a direct replacement catalytic converter.

Bad Catalytic Converter Symptoms

Like any part, component, or accessory on a car, the catalytic converter won’t last forever. It’s important to recognize the warning signs that this part is dying and no longer doing its job effectively. If you need a new one, you can start researching the catalytic converter replacement cost, and explore different manufacturer’s options. 

Some signs it is time for replacement include:

  • Exhaust leak directly under the cabin of the vehicle or near the firewall. 
  • You hear a rattling sound directly under the cabin when your car is idling. 
  • The check engine light is on
  • You smell a foul rotten egg odor coming from the exhaust. You may notice this as you drive, while you’re in idle or when you’re standing outside of your vehicle while it’s running. 
  • Loss of power or acceleration in the vehicle. 
  • A mechanic diagnosing these issues may notice that the catalytic converter is hot or even glowing red.

What Happens if You Ignore Problems

Anytime you realize the catalytic converter may be suspect, you need to take your vehicle to a mechanic right away. Don’t let the catalytic converter repair cost scare you. This is not an issue you can put off for a long period of time. Other signs may come in other forms. For example, you may notice a big drop in your vehicle’s fuel economy.

Continued problems can lead to a sluggish engine, engine damage, and engine failure. Many times, engine codes like PO420 show that the Catalytic Converter isn’t functioning properly, but issues with engine performance could be causing this. Addressing the concerns right away could save you a lot of stress and money. Even if you’re lucky enough to avoid major engine problems, you can’t legally drive a vehicle with a bad catalytic converter in many states. In order to register your car, most states require an emissions or smog test. Your car will fail this test if the catalytic converter is not in good shape. 

To help with any catalytic converter problems, you can search here for Preferred Shops in your area that can help diagnose and repair. If you want to tackle the repair yourself, AutoZone carries a selection of universal and direct-fit converters for replacement.  

Advice, how-to guides, and car care information featured on AutoZone.com and AutoZone Advice & How-To’s are presented as helpful resources for general maintenance and automotive repairs from a general perspective only and should be used at your own risk. Information is accurate and true to the best of AutoZone’s knowledge, however, there may be omissions, errors or mistakes.

Be sure to consult your owner’s manual, a repair guide, an AutoZoner at a store near you, or a licensed, professional mechanic for vehicle-specific repair information. Refer to the service manual for specific diagnostic, repair and tool information for your particular vehicle. Always chock your wheels prior to lifting a vehicle. Always disconnect the negative battery cable before servicing an electrical application on the vehicle to protect its electrical circuits in the event that a wire is accidentally pierced or grounded. Use caution when working with automotive batteries. Sulfuric acid is caustic and can burn clothing and skin or cause blindness. Always wear gloves and safety glasses and other personal protection equipment, and work in a well-ventilated area. Should electrolyte get on your body or clothing, neutralize it immediately with a solution of baking soda and water. Do not wear ties or loose clothing when working on your vehicle.

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