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What is a Car Catalytic Converter and How Does it Work?

  • Author :
  • TATA AIG Team
  • Published on :
  • 29/04/2024

In the modern world, machines are irreplaceable. No matter how hard we try to be eco-friendly and natural, there will be machines involved in the process. These machines benefit us, and there is no doubting their usefulness. However, they also harm nature and the environment.

If we cannot replace these useful mechanisms, the least we can do is reduce the damage these man-made machines do to nature. An engine exhaust catalytic converter is one way of doing that.

Every modern car nowadays has this device installed in it, which makes it important to know about a car catalytic converter.

Government regulations set emission limits for motor vehicles, primarily fuel-powered ones. These limits keep pollution under control, which has led to an increased use of catalytic converters in cars at production levels.

Catalytic Converter: Meaning

A device that helps a car to reduce the levels of harmful emissions, the catalytic converter is fitted in the exhaust systems of automobiles. It converts the harmful chemicals and gases created in the engine into less harmful solutions at the time of emissions.

The conversion procedure takes place during the combustion before the chemicals are released into the air and atmosphere. As we can guess by the name, the machine uses different catalysts to make the conversion process happen easily.

Let us understand the catalytic converter’s functions by understanding how this inconspicuous device works!

Catalytic Converter: Working

So, primarily, the process involves converting harmful gases and chemicals into something less harmful at the time of emissions. This process will help you understand how the catalytic converter and exhaust system work towards making the emissions less harmful.

Explaining Emissions

The first step is when the engine excretes exhaust gases as a result of the combustion process. Combustion is when the engine churns petrol to produce energy for the vehicle's functioning. The processed gas is filled with pollutants and harmful chemicals like hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, and carbon monoxide. These are very harmful to nature (and nature includes humans).


The catalysts in the catalytic converter are the most important part of the structure. These catalysts make a honeycomb-like structure to stop the gas flow and begin the process of conversion. The exhaust gases pass through the honeycomb structure which is coated with different catalyst materials.

Primarily, there are two types of catalysts that deal with two different functions of a catalytic converter.


One catalyst focuses on the reduction of harmful gases. This catalyst mainly deals with nitrogen oxides. The nitrogen oxide is reduced into nitrogen and oxygen, making the solution harmless to the human system. This is because nitrogen and oxygen are readily existing in the air around.


The other catalysts work on oxidising the gases to reduce their harmfulness. This procedure converts carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide by adding oxygen to the solution. The process also converts hydrocarbons (that are not burnt) into water and carbon dioxide.

The above mentioned procedures take place simultaneously.

Final Emissions

The catalysts in catalytic converters convert harmful chemicals into normal ones. Once this process is completed, the catalytic converter exhaust system allows the cleaner versions of the gases to exit. The converter plays a vital role in the betterment of the environment and reduction of pollution.

The continuous use of catalytic converters can wear it out. Let us see how!

Catalytic Converter: Wear and Tear

Catalytic converters are not immune to wear and tear over time. There are many reasons why your catalytic converter goes bad. Primarily, converters wear out due to the accumulation of contaminants and pollutants in the system. The converters work as long as the engine is running. This translates to high churning time and accumulation.

The pollutants coat the catalysts and reduce the effectiveness of the entire system and the conversion procedure. The process also creates high levels of heat and that might create stress and damage to the catalytic converter.

There are possibilities that the converter gets damaged because of external factors, like faulty engines, bad spark plugs, faulty sensors, and short-duration trips. Sometimes, the accumulated unburnt fuel enters the exhaust system and causes overheating. This leads to melting or deformation of the ceramic substance of the converter, further rendering it ineffective.

Clean Your Car Catalytic Converter

A catalytic converter helps clean the emissions produced by your car, so cleaning the cleaner becomes essential. However, it is not something that one must consider a DIY project. It is recommended to seek professional expertise to clean your catalytic converter.

You will see the need to clean your converter. You just need to catch up on the signs as early as possible. The following are signs that you have to clean the converter:

  • When your car is deemed to be unfit for a PUC certification. (Pollution Under Control certificate.)

  • The decrease in throttle response at ignition as well as when the overall performance on acceleration is weak.

  • Reduced mileage and petrol efficiency.

  • Loose internal parts of a converter make a sound from the underside of the car. It signifies a broken or damaged catalytic converter.

When you observe these signs, you can get your car to a professional cleaner. Since the catalytic converter is a significantly expensive part, you do not want it to get completely damaged by waiting out the repair and cleaning process. Be diligent in your maintenance process, and your car will offer a better experience.

Types of Catalytic Converter

Two-Way Catalytic Converter

A basic converter that deals with the reduction and oxidation of the initial emission is a two-way catalytic converter. It is the most basic converter that you might find in older vehicles.

It primarily handles two pollutants: hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide. The catalysts work towards converting pollutants with the reduction and oxidation process. That way, the pollutants become carbon dioxide and water.

Three-Way Catalytic Converter

The three-way catalytic converter is the most common type of converter. It is found in modern gasoline-powered cars.

We discussed the 3-way converter in the blog earlier, where we discussed how it simultaneously reduces nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, and carbon monoxide into different, less harmful solutions and harmless compounds.

Diesel Oxidation Catalytic Converter

The default version of a catalytic converter is usually meant for petrol-powered vehicles. However, this diesel oxidation catalyst converter helps diesel cars reduce the harmful chemicals in their emissions.

A diesel oxidation catalyst reduces hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide into water and carbon dioxide. However, when it comes to nitrogen oxides, the diesel oxidation catalyst can prove to be ineffective.

Catalytic Converter: Importance

Is a catalytic converter important for every car? Yes!

A catalytic converter is a cornerstone of advancements in the mechanical field. Engineers are coming up with a new technology every day. However, this technology is still considered one of the most important mechanisms.

Well, it is accurate!

Car emissions have long been a leading contributor to air pollution in urban areas worldwide, leading to a range of respiratory diseases. With the increasing population and its heightened reliance on the use of vehicles for their day-to-day convenience, the harmful emissions would have skyrocketed along with the diseases today.

In order to keep such challenges under control, the adoption of such technologies is paramount.

They provide significant support to balance the two sides: convenience and nature. Mitigating the difficult path of eco-friendly life-style and modern ease becomes easier with catalytic converters since they reduce the guilt behind using cars!

Tata AIG’s Comprehensive Cure For Vehicle Uncertainty

Every responsible car owner ensures the maintenance of a catalytic converter. Likewise, they must also consider safeguarding their four-wheeler with a car insurance policy. Car insurance ensures financial support, be it repairing accident damages, paying for third-party loss, or maintaining your catalytic converter.

With Tata AIG, you can buy car insurance online using a premium calculator to save yourself from the hassle of manually choosing a policy. Moreover, you can reach out to our customer service executives to help you with your queries regarding the buying, renewal, claim and more.

Tata AIG’s customer service solves any and every doubt, like “What is NCB in insurance?” or “What is the IDV in insurance?” All you need to do is ask!

Final Words

Catalytic converters are one of the many examples of human innovations. It stands as a testament to environmental stewardship and serves as a barrier between vehicular emissions and nature’s health. It is important to use such innovations and ensure the least possible harm to the environment!

As mentioned in the blog, maintaining your car’s catalytic converter is paramount. It reflects your car’s health and symbolises your commitment to a healthier and safer planet.

Have a happy drive!


Do catalytic converters need maintenance?

Definitely! Catalytic converters are among the more expensive parts of your cars. They need and demand maintenance regularly, especially cleaning!

Can a bad catalytic converter affect your car’s performance?

Yes! A broken or malfunctioning catalytic converter can hinder the overall performance of your car due to its negative impact.

Is there any alternative to a catalytic converter?

While there is no direct replacement for the reduction and oxidation of pollutants in your car, there are a few indirect alternatives. Electric vehicles (EVs) are effective ways to reduce carbon emissions in the air. One can also try hydrogen fuel cells to replace petrol and diesel and reduce pollution.

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