The catalytic converter is an important element of a modern vehicle exhaust system. It uses the catalytic action of precious metals to convert combustion pollutants into naturally occurring gases, reducing emissions of hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide to low levels.
Two Important Design Parameters
The minimum temperature at which a catalytic converter begins to function, called the light-off temperature, is 600-700 degrees F.
Vehicle manufacturers usually minimize the distance between the engine and catalytic converter. This reduces the time required for the converter to reach operating temperature, which in turn reduces cold-start emissions.
Normal Temperatures and Beyond
The ideal operating temperature range of catalytic converters is 900-1,000 degrees F, although they can, and often do, operate above this range.
However, when a converter operates above 1,300 degrees F for prolonged periods, catalysts and converter components begin to melt. The result is a gradual and usually permanent degradation in performance.
High Converter Temperatures Spell Trouble
A converter temperature can rise dramatically when an engine is badly malfunctioning or for some other reason producing an excessive amount of heat and pollutants. In such cases the catalyst temperature can exceed 2,000 degrees F. When this happens the converter becomes deactivated and conversion efficiency approaches zero.
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