What is a Catalytic Converter?

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  • Written By: J.Gunsch
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 22 October 2019
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A catalytic converter is a device installed in automobiles that is designed to reduce harmful emissions released from the vehicle’s exhaust. In the United States, all vehicles produced after 1975 are required to have one as part of an attempt to reduce air pollution.

The emissions from automobiles consist of noxious gases such as carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxide. When these gases are not treated, they are emitted from automobiles and become the largest source of ground level ozone. Ground level ozone is responsible for smog, respiratory problems, and damage to plant life. A catalytic converter uses metallic catalysts, usually platinum, rhodium or palladium, that cause a chemical reaction with the noxious gases, converting them into less harmful ones.

The catalytic converter was developed in the 1960s, and by the 1970s, most vehicles were equipped with one. In 1975, the United States’ Clean Air Act required a 75% emissions reduction on all new model vehicles, which was to be achieved with the use of the device. It is constantly being improved upon and is now more efficient than ever. In the US, these improvements are in accordance with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) more stringent amendments to the Clean Air Act.


Although the catalytic converter has been very successful in reducing the dangerous pollutants released by automobiles, particularly ground level ozone, it has fallen under criticism. It may help to solve one serious environmental problem, but its use is a trade-off at the expense of increasing global warming. The converter creates and releases gases into the atmosphere that are responsible for global warming. Carbon dioxide, which is released along with the noxious gases from the vehicle’s exhaust system, is increased by the system. Carbon monoxide, which is transformed into carbon dioxide, is responsible for absorbing the sun's infrared waves and causing the planet to warm up.


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Post 7

When I push the gas pedal, the truck bogs down and dies. How do I know it's the converter?

Post 6

My car failed the emissions test. Can it be because of the catalytic converter?

Post 5

My class is studying these objects, and what is a constant is oxygen from the engine through the c.c.and to the muffler.

Post 1

As I recall, catalytic converters were phased in later for light duty trucks - do you know what year they were eventually required for light duty trucks?

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