As an automotive enthusiast and mechanic, I’m often asked whether aftermarket catalytic converters are a viable option when a replacement is needed. Catalytic converters play a crucial role in reducing harmful pollutants in car exhaust. But when the original converter fails, is it okay to use an aftermarket one?
Aftermarket converters provide an alternative to more costly OEM converters from automakers. However, there are trade-offs regarding emissions compliance, longevity, and performance. In this guide, we’ll explore what aftermarket catalytic converters are, their potential benefits, drawbacks to be aware of, and expert tips for making the right replacement choice.
What are Aftermarket Catalytic Converters?
Third-party companies produce aftermarket catalytic converters as a more affordable and widely available alternative to OEM converters. Here are some key characteristics:
- Not made by the original vehicle manufacturer
- A generic replacement option fitting multiple makes and models
- Uses less expensive materials and manufacturing methods
- Range of quality levels based on brand and price points
- Offered in different configurations for performance gains
While the OEM converter is tailor-made for your exact vehicle, aftermarket converters take a more one-size-fits-many approach. Let’s look at why car owners may choose aftermarket when replacement is needed.
Why Consider Aftermarket Catalytic Converters?
There are two primary motivations for choosing aftermarket catalytic converters instead of OEM:
Aftermarket converters range from $150 on the low end up to $800 for premium units. OEM converters often cost $800 to $2500+ from the dealer! This significant upfront cost savings of aftermarket appeals to many repair shoppers.
Aftermarket converters are manufactured by many companies and stocked at almost all parts stores for standard vehicle makes and models. OEM converters may be in particular order or dealer-only. The convenience and inventory of aftermarket converters make finding the part more straightforward.
The lower price and easy availability lure many consumers. But are there any trade-offs? Let’s examine the potential benefits of aftermarket converters first.
Pros of Aftermarket Catalytic Converters
For many owners, the lower upfront cost of aftermarket converters outweighs all else. Saving hundreds compared to OEM can make the repair affordable. This motivates shops to suggest aftermarket options.
Easier to Source
Finding a direct-fit aftermarket converter is typically easier than locating the specific OEM unit. Parts store shelves are stocked with aftermarket choices ready to purchase. OEM may require special ordering and waiting.
Some aftermarket converters are engineered explicitly for increased exhaust flow and performance gains. High-flow aftermarket converters cater to vehicle enthusiasts seeking added horsepower.
Depending on needs and budget, these benefits may make an aftermarket converter the preferred choice over OEM. But the other side of the equation deserves careful consideration.
Cons of Aftermarket Catalytic Converters You Should Know
Aftermarket converters range from cheaply produced economy models using inferior materials to higher-grade units built to closer OEM standards. It’s hard to assess durability and longevity.
Emissions Compliance Risks
Many aftermarket converters underperform in emissions reduction compared to OEM converters. This results in increased air pollution. Using a subpar aftermarket converter also risks fines and failed emissions tests.
Cutting corners on housing, internal substrates, and catalyst coatings leads to early failures in some aftermarket converters. While they cost less upfront, reduced service life leads to repeated replacement expenses.
Engine Management Problems
The different exhaust backpressure and oxygen storage characteristics confuse the engine computer programming tuned for an OEM converter. This degrades performance and fuel economy.
California Emissions Standards
California regulations require aftermarket converters to be CARB-approved. Using non-approved converters violates California emissions laws. Other states are starting to adopt California standards as well.
These potential drawbacks demand careful evaluation before pursuing aftermarket converters.
|Pros of Aftermarket Catalytic Converters|
|Affordable Cost||Significant cost savings compared to OEM converters make repairs more affordable.|
|Easier to Source||Readily available at most parts stores, reducing waiting times for replacement.|
|Performance Offerings||High-flow options for enhanced exhaust flow and increased engine performance.|
|Cons of Aftermarket Catalytic Converters You Should Know|
|Quality Inconsistencies||Wide variability in quality from low-grade to high-grade units, affecting durability and longevity.|
|Emissions Compliance Risks||Some aftermarket converters underperform in emissions reduction, risking legal and environmental issues.|
|Shorter Lifespans||Reduced service life due to cheaper materials can lead to repeated replacement expenses.|
|Engine Management Problems||May disrupt engine computer programming, resulting in degraded performance and fuel economy.|
|California Emissions Standards||Non-CARB-approved converters violate California emissions laws, with other states adopting similar standards.|
Essential Considerations When Choosing Aftermarket Catalytic Converters
Select Reputable Brands
Stick with well-known aftermarket manufacturers like Bosal, Walker, and Eastern Catalytic that adhere to high standards and quality control. Avoid no-name converters with questionable origins.
Verify a Precise Fit
Ensure any aftermarket converter matches the OEM unit’s size, inlet/outlet configuration, and mounting points it replaces. A sloppy fit leads to leaks and issues.
Confirm CARB Certification
Opt for CARB-approved aftermarket converters containing executive orders (EO) numbers. This proves emissions reduction capability meets California’s strict standards.
Comparison Shop Professionally
Have multiple aftermarket options inspected and quoted by professional mechanics. They can assess quality and fitment to recommend the best replacement choice. Don’t just buy on price alone.
Have Post-Installation Inspections Done
Following aftermarket converter installation, have the vehicle emissions tested and scanned for engine trouble codes to catch any problems the new converter may be causing.
Being an educated consumer helps ensure satisfactory aftermarket converter function when OEM is cost-prohibitive.
When OEM Converters Are Worth the Investment
Certain situations demand paying extra for OEM converters:
- If emissions compliance is required to pass vehicle inspections
- In states that have adopted California emissions standards
- When replacing under warranty to avoid denied claims
- If an identical fit or engine computer integration is critical
- For newer low-mileage vehicles where longevity is important
Consult experts on whether your vehicle indeed requires an OEM converter. Sometimes, the extra cost brings peace of mind by avoiding headaches.
DIY Installation Considerations
Another way to potentially reduce costs is trying DIY aftermarket converter installation. Some key considerations:
- Ensure you have the proper tools and skills for a safe, leak-free install. Don’t cut corners.
- Be prepared to clear engine codes and re-program oxygen sensors afterward.
- Have the completed work inspected by a professional to catch any issues?
- Inspect welds and seals thoroughly – exhaust leaks are hazardous.
- Improper installation often voids warranties. Weigh risks vs. cost savings.
DIY aftermarket converter installation is possible for some applications but is best left to experienced mechanics in many cases.
Conclusion on Aftermarket Catalytic Converters
Aftermarket catalytic converters offer convenient availability and upfront cost savings that should not be ignored. However, thoroughly vet the quality and confirm CARB compliance to avoid performance or legal issues. Consider having a professional assess if an OEM converter is advised for specific applications.
With diligent product research and expert consultation during selection, aftermarket converters present a viable option over remanufactured OEM. But also weigh long-term impacts like lifespan and engine integration against initial price discounts. By understanding the pros and cons, you can make the optimal choice when catalytic converter replacement is needed.