Since 1975, virtually all cars have had catalytic converters. Well, exactly what is a catalytic converter? Well it’s a device in the exhaust system that reacts with the exhaust coming out of the engine and neutralizes it. Makes it a lot more friendly to the atmosphere.

Alright, now today cars have catalytic converters that look, pretty much like this, on average. And if we take one of them apart we see something like what we have here. Inside the catalytic converter there are these bricks of ceramic material. And here we have one that is out. This is a round one. And in this one, you can see that there are little holes that go all the way through this ceramic. And “ceramic” is the key word, because if you break it up, you make a powder out of it, well it is highly abrasive.

Now here’s where you can get into trouble on a lot of late model cars: the check engine light comes on. You take it some place, you get it checked, and you have a catalytic converter code. Well, that catalytic converter code may mean that one of the converters is going bad.

Now, if that converter happens to be like this one - this is a pre-cat, that is made into the exhaust manifold of the car. Built right into it. Now that means that this medium material, this ceramic, is only an inch or so away from the cylinder head of the car. Now let’s say it starts to break up, and it can on some cars under certain conditions, and because some cars have what’s called a valve overlap, that means that some of this can get drawn back into the engine. So as the converter goes bad, it breaks up into this fine ceramic powder, gets sucked back into the engine, and that means problems for the piston rings, the pistons, and the valves.

Bottom line could be a new engine. So what you need to do is: if you have a catalytic converter problem - a code, a check engine light and so on -  if your car has one of these pre-cats, right up at the exhaust manifold, don’t put it off. Get it fixed right away. And if you have a question or a comment, drop me a line, right here at MotorWeek