Understanding the Importance of Catalytic Converters as an Automotive School Student

Vehicles are great for getting us from one place to another, and for the auto enthusiast, they can be plenty entertaining as well. Unfortunately, the convenience of gasoline-powered vehicles comes at a cost in the form of pollution. Vehicle exhaust systems emit gases which can pollute the atmosphere, and as a result, vehicles are held to certain emissions standards by many governments in an effort to control these pollutants. But how are a vehicle’s emissions controlled? 

Thankfully, the catalytic converter was invented in the 1970s for this very purpose. This important device converts harmful emissions produced by a vehicle’s engine into less harmful gases, which can safely be released into the air. If you’re considering a career as an auto mechanic, read on to discover more about what a catalytic converter actually does, and why it’s such an essential component in a vehicle.

The Purpose of a Catalytic Converter Explained for Those with Auto Mechanic Training

In an engine combustion system, engines generate many harmful gases in the process of powering a vehicle. This happens because gasoline itself contains over 100 different chemicals including both hydrocarbons and additives, and when burned, gasoline and the additives within it produce pollution. Pollution produced by engines includes volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides, and carbon monoxide. The purpose of a catalytic converter is to transform these harmful gases into those that are less toxic.

Catalytic converters prevent harmful exhaust gases from entering the atmosphere

Catalytic converters support a vehicle’s exhaust system. If you’re interested in attending auto mechanic school, it’s important to note that these devices can be found between the vehicle’s engine and its exhaust pipes. Catalytic converters function by taking in the polluted gases produced by the engine’s cylinders and converting them to gases that are safe enough to be passed through a vehicle’s tailpipe and into the atmosphere. 

How a Catalytic Converter Does Its Job

While you might be familiar with the basic function of a catalytic converter, it can be difficult to fully understand how these components convert harmful gases into those that can be safely emitted. Within a catalytic converter, engine gases pass through a ceramic honeycomb structure covered with catalysts. Catalysts are chemicals that speed up a chemical reaction, and are composed of platinum or similar metals such as rhodium or palladium. These catalysts are responsible for converting the gases they come into contact with, and in a typical catalytic converter, two different types of catalysts facilitate two stages of chemical reactions.  

The honeycomb structure of a catalytic converter’s insides allows catalysts to convert gases at a faster rate

In the reduction stage, one type of catalyst converts nitrogen oxide pollution by removing oxygen, transforming nitrogen oxides into oxygen and nitrogen gases that aren’t harmful.  In the oxidation stage, a catalyst converts carbon monoxide by adding oxygen. Oxidization allows carbon monoxide to be transformed into carbon dioxide, a less harmful gas. 

Tips for Maintaining a Vehicle’s Catalytic Converter

For professionals with auto mechanic training, it’s not only important to know what a catalytic converter does, but how to monitor and maintain this device in order to ensure that it’s functioning properly. Catalytic converters require unleaded fuel to work, as lead in other fuels can contaminate the catalysts and prevent them from correctly converting exhaust gases. Additionally, it’s important to choose as clean a fuel as possible to prolong the longevity of a vehicle’s catalytic converter, as additional contaminants can put excessive stress on the converter, making it work harder to produce cleaner gases. 

While catalytic converters typically last for around ten years, they may occasionally need replacing sooner. In order to best assist clients, auto mechanic professionals should familiarize themselves with the signs of a bad catalytic converter. If a driver notices a significant drop in their fuel economy, has trouble starting their vehicle, or their vehicle is unable to pass standard emissions tests, these could all be signs that the catalytic converter needs attention. When working properly, these devices are invaluable in preventing the emission of harmful gases into the air.

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