What is a catalytic converter, and what makes them so valuable?

 

Starting in the mid-70s, various governments wanted to reduce harmful emissions and lower the air pollution coming from our car. After about 20 years, the catalytic converter became essential for every vehicle exhaust system. The catalytic converter takes toxic gases and transforms them into a less harmful form. 

Poisonous or harmful gasses such as carbon monoxide, sulfur oxide, and nitrogen oxide release into the atmosphere during the combustion process. The catalytic converter is a metal box located underneath your vehicle, usually attached to the exhaust pipe. The part gets its namesake from the scientific reaction taking place inside. A catalyst is any substance that causes a chemical reaction without being affected. Noble metals inside the converter, such as platinum, rhodium, and palladium, act as the catalyst in this case. These metals accelerate the chemical reactions, so it's much safer for the environment by the time it hits the air. 

Several chemical relations are happening simultaneously, but on a superficial level, converters use the process of reduction and oxidation to reduce the impact of harmful gasses. Reduction removes oxygen, turning nitrogen oxide into just nitrogen, and oxidation adds oxygen, turning carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide. There's even an additional oxidation process that transforms hydrocarbons in your exhaust into carbon dioxide and water.

As we mentioned previously, catalytic converters contain valuable metals. Platinum, rhodium, and palladium all carry high value, especially rhodium. In the current climate, the demand has risen even higher. Converters can command hundreds and, in some cases, even thousands of dollars. These prices have led to a rise in theft!

The catalytic converter has transformed the quality of our air and vehicles alike. An issue with yours can trigger a check engine light. If you have any questions or concerns, don't hesitate to call an ASE-certified shop such as Ferber's Tire and Auto today!