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The Volvo Parts Specialists Since 1963 The Volvo Parts, Accessories & Performance Specialists Since 1963
The Volvo Parts, Accessories &
Performance Specialists Since 1963

Catalytic Converter Failure on the Rise?

Created on 2019-02-01 by ipd Staff, Last Updated on 2021-06-23

*** Disclaimer; Direct from IPD’s Tech Tip archive!  This tech tip contains information from previous publications.  Products mentioned may not be available or the information may not be accurate due to changes in supply, manufacturing, or part number association.  Please contact IPD Customer Support if you have further questions

We recently had several older Volvos (1981-1990) require new catalytic converters to pass local emissions testing. We've found that the new enhanced emission testing, now performed on a dyno in most states for cars 1981 and newer, is much tougher to pass. Often a new catalytic converter is the only way to get the car to pass. In the past it was possible to pass emissions test with a properly tuned car, however the new procedure tests under load and the catalytic converter must be working properly to reduce emissions to acceptable levels.

Converters function like an incinerator, burning excess emissions, which produces a lot of heat in the exhaust. The converter can handle this as long as there are "normal" amounts of pollutants in the exhaust. When too much unburned fuel or other contaminants enter the exhaust because of a misfiring spark plug, overly rich fuel mixture, or a leaky exhaust valve or head gasket, the converter's operating temperature can soar, causing internal meltdown. This results in partial or complete blockage.

Converters can also fail because of contamination. As a converter ages, the catalyst gets "tired" because of a gradual accumulation of contaminants on its surface. The process can be accelerated by oil burning (worn valve seals, guides and/or rings), internal coolant leaks (cracked head or block, or leaky head gasket), and sulfur deposits normally found in gasoline.

As contaminants build up inside the converter, HC, CO and NOX emissions rise. On a late-model, well-tuned engine with a properly functioning converter, HC and CO emissions should be nearly zero. If an emissions test reveals higher than normal emissions, the converter may need attention. There's no way to rejuvenate a dead or damaged converter, so replacement is your only option.

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