Did you know that your car’s catalytic converter is made from a highly valuable precious metal, platinum? But that’s not the only attribute that makes this automotive component so valuable. When it comes to vehicular safety and performance, a catalytic converter is more of a precious asset rather than a precious metal.
Continue reading to learn more about catalytic converters, including their primary purpose and how they work.
Source of Harmful Automotive Emissions
Vehicles use fuel, usually gasoline or diesel, to operate. These fuel sources are made from petroleum, and contain more than 150 different chemicals, including hydrocarbons and additives. When burned in the engine of a car, they create harmful gases and emissions that are threatening to our environment, and planet as a whole. These include carbon monoxide, which is a highly poisonous gas, as well as volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), and nitrogen oxides (which cause smog).
A Little Back Story
Catalytic converters weren’t always an automotive standard. In fact, they weren’t made a standard in the automotive manufacturing industry until 1975, after laws changed regarding cars and air pollution. Today, catalytic converters are on all automotive assembly lines, as they play a vital role in meeting national emissions control standards since many states actively govern the amount of emissions permitted for a car to be registered.
So How Do They Work?
Catalytic converters are exhaust emission control devices that serve the sole purpose of transforming harmful emissions produced by a car engine, into less harmful pollutants. They “convert” toxic gases and pollutants before they leave a car’s exhaust system by using two types of catalysts. A catalyst is a chemical that causes a particular chemical reaction to speed up without itself changing in the process. In the case of a catalytic converter, the chemical reaction to speed up is the removal of the harmful emissions.
As mentioned, catalytic converters are made primarily from platinum, but they can also contain palladium or rhodium. These metals make up the two catalysts used to convert harmful gases and emissions produce by the engine. The first catalyst uses a chemical process called reduction, which just means oxygen removal, to attack nitrogen oxide pollution. It does this by breaking down the nitrogen oxides into nitrogen and oxygen gases, which are less harmful.
The second catalyst uses an opposite chemical process called oxidation, which adds oxygen, thus turning carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide. Although two catalysts are used to make safe conversions, there are actually three chemical processes going on to accomplish the entire job. The third is another type of oxidation that turns unburned hydrocarbons in the exhaust into water and carbon dioxide.
Two-Way and Three-Way Converters
Some cars will have two-way catalytic converters, which use the first two chemical processes of reduction and oxidation. Then there are other vehicles that have a three-way catalytic converter, which means they use all three chemical processes to change harmful gases and emissions into less harmful ones.
Catalytic Converter Maintenance and Repair
The responsibility of ensuring your catalytic converter is in optimal condition at all times is a vital one. Be sure you are taking good care of your vehicle, and taking it in for regular inspections and factory scheduled maintenance. Refer to your owners’ manual for instructions on your vehicle’s recommended maintenance schedule. Talk to a trusted Indianapolis auto mechanic about your questions and concerns.