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How To Maintain Your Catalytic Converter

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How to Maintain your Catalytic Converter

To maintain your catalytic converter in proper working condition, it’s important to break it in properly, to avoid any overheating, and to prevent leaks. By following these three conditions you’ll be able to maintain your catalytic converter for many years with a minimum effort, thus avoiding unnecessary costs. When you properly maintain your catalytic converter, it continues to work as it should and delivers the emissions reliability required by law through a long service life.

Breaking in a new catalytic converter

To maintain a catalytic converter, one needs to undergo a proper break-in procedure. If the converter is not warmed-up, or broken-in, properly the substrate which pads its inside could be adversely affected and eventually cause the catalytic converter to fail prematurely.

The best way to avoid this issue, and any warranty issue that may arise, is to include the warm-up period as a key part of your overall catalytic converter installation procedure.

The maintenance of a catalytic converter starts with the few steps for a proper break-in or warm-up:

  • Start the engine but do not touch the gas pedal
  • Idle the engine and allow it to warm-up slowly
  • After five minutes, increase the engine speed to 2,500 rpm
  • Hold the engine speed at 2,500 rpm for two minutes
  • Allow the engine to cool down
  • Road-test the vehicle to confirm correct installation

This inside pad of a catalytic converter is made from vermiculite, a mineral held together by a fiber mat and an organic binder. This matting is wrapped around the catalytic converter’s ceramic brick and installed in an unexpanded state. During the first heat up, the fiber mat and binder burn off, and the matting gets looser before it expands to fill the converter cavity and hold the ceramic brick in place. If that warm-up is not done properly, the brick can come loose and get damaged.

This problem typically occurs when someone installs the catalytic converter and immediately returns the vehicle to its owner without breaking it in. The owner drives away and runs the car for a long distance or lets the vehicle idle for an extended period. Under these conditions, the matting, which is intended to secure the substrate, will not expand properly and hold it in place.

Avoid Overheating

To maintain a catalytic converter, one must avoid overheating your vehicle’s engine. Not only would overheating shorten the engine lifespan, but it would also induce misfires and detonation, which can melt the ceramic substrate inside the converter and cause its matting to fail.

If your vehicle’s engine runs a lot hotter than others like it, it experiences a cooling issue that needs fixing. If you ignore it, your catalytic converter—as well as your head gaskets or engine—will fail.

Exhaust leak upstream in the pipes cause external unmeasured air to enter the exhaust stream, which then dilutes the air/fuel ratio. The additional oxygen causes higher-than-normal temperatures within the catalytic converter. Also, a faulty EGR valve causes higher than normal exhaust temperatures will result in burning the catalytic converter. To best maintain your catalytic converter, correct your exhaust leaks and check your EGR valve for proper operation.

Sometimes, silicone or Teflon used to seal exhaust manifolds, headers, or O2 sensor threads will burn when exposed to high temperatures. They produce outgassing, the process by which a gas that coats the surface of the O2 sensor causes incorrect oxygen reading, believing the mixture is leaner than it is. The vehicle’s ECU, in turn, will adjust tuning resulting in an overly rich condition that will raise the catalytic converter temperatures. No silicone or Teflon product should ever be used on the exhaust side of the engine. By avoiding this you’ll maintain the catalytic converter in proper condition through its operating life.

Check for Leaks

To maintain a catalytic converter, one must avoid oil, fuel, or coolant leaks. The leaks lead to fouling the catalytic converter and result in plugging, internal damage, inefficiency, and shorter life span. Your vehicle will not pass the smog check as a result.

When piston rings, valve seals, or valve guides allow oil to burn inside the engine, the oil pass through the catalytic converter, and blue smoke comes out of the tailpipes. Regular oil changes using a quality name brand oil of the correct viscosity will maintain your catalytic converter and your engine in good shape. If you fear engine wear, run a compression test or a leak-down test.

Leaky fuel injectors or high fuel pressure cause raw, unburnt fuel to escape the combustion chamber, flow downstream, and ignite upon contact with the converter. Black soot results and clogs your catalytic converter. By inspecting your fuel injectors and your fuel pressure regularly, you’ll avoid this issue and maintain your catalytic converter in its best condition while lengthening its useful life.

Sometimes a blown head gasket, a blown intake-manifold gasket, or a cracked head, create an antifreeze leak into the combustion chambers. The antifreeze will exit through the exhaust manifold, travel downstream, and coat the surface of the substrate. The catalytic converter will no longer be able to efficiently scrub the exhaust. The main symptoms are coolant in the oil, a milkshake-like texture, or white smoke from the tailpipe. Proper engine maintenance will help avoid these leaks.  

Ready To Replace Your Catalytic Converter?

For the best performance and a longer product life, we recommend maintaining your engine and your catalytic converter on a regular basis. Shop our premium brands including Magnaflow, Bosal, Walker, and more, at unbeatable prices.

Need help picking the right catalytic converter? Our mechanically trained experts are ready to help you every step of the way. Our customer service team is available through phone, chat or email Monday – Friday 5 am – 5 pm (Pacific Time).

Call us today at: 855-592-9378.