For over 30 years, the Ford Explorer has been one of the most popular SUVs. In 2023, over 186,769 Explorers have been sold worldwide, consistently ranking among the top-selling vehicles in the United States. Under the hood, one of the key components of any Ford Explorer is the Ford Explorer catalytic converters. This exhaust emission control device is crucial in reducing harmful pollutants from the vehicle’s exhaust.
This comprehensive guide will provide an in-depth look at catalytic converters in Ford Explorers. We’ll examine these emission-lowering devices’ history, function, types, maintenance, repairs, upgrades, and environmental impact. Whether you drive an older model or a brand new 2023 Explorer, read on for essential information on catalytic converters to keep your vehicle running cleanly and efficiently.
Key Takeaways From Ford Explorer Catalytic Converter
- Catalytic converters reduce harmful emissions from the Ford Explorer’s exhaust.
- Earlier Explorers had fewer, less advanced converters compared to newer models.
- Proper maintenance is key to maximizing a catalytic converter’s lifespan.
- Converters should be replaced with OEM parts to maintain compliance and performance.
- Upgrading to a high-flow converter improves performance in modified Explorers.
- Converter placement and design are engineered for each Explorer generation.
- Catalytic converter theft is increasing – take preventative measures.
- Diagnose and fix converter issues early to avoid larger problems.
- Explorers have added more converters over time to meet stricter emissions standards.
- Responsibly recycling old converters reduces their environmental impact.
The Role and Importance of Catalytic Converters in Ford Explorer
Catalytic converters are emissions control devices installed on all gasoline-powered vehicles sold in the United States since 1975. This includes all generations and models of the Ford Explorer. Catalytic converters are in the exhaust system, usually between the engine and muffler.
Inside the catalytic converter, a honeycomb-shaped structure coated with precious metal catalysts triggers chemical reactions that convert harmful pollutants into less toxic gases. Specifically, it converts carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide and hydrocarbons into carbon dioxide and water. This significantly reduces the emissions coming from the vehicle’s tailpipe.
Own a Ford F150? Read our blog for How Many Catalytic Converters Are in Ford F150 Trucks?
Over the decades, emissions standards have become increasingly strict. Catalytic converters have become increasingly efficient, allowing Ford Explorers to meet the most recent standards. For example, the 2020 Ford Explorer met Tier 3 Bin 50 Emission Standards thanks to its high-performance quad-converter exhaust system.
Without a properly functioning catalytic converter, a Ford Explorer would spew out 10-50 times more pollution than legally allowable. Catalytic converter maintenance and repair are essential for keeping Explorers running clean. The converter also plays a role in engine performance, which we’ll discuss later.
History of Catalytic Converters in Ford Explorers
The first Ford Explorers in 1991 came equipped with a single-stage, “two-way” catalytic converter. It only converted carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrocarbons (HC) into safer compounds. Two-way converters were common on vehicles of this period.
In the mid-1990s, Ford introduced more advanced “three-way” catalytic converters on the Explorer. The three emissions it converts are CO, HC, and oxides of nitrogen (NOx). This led to reduced emissions of smog-forming NOx.
The 1999 Ford Explorer gained a second rear catalytic converter to meet stricter emissions regulations. As standards tightened even further, models from 2004-2010 upgraded to four catalytic converters. Modern Ford Explorers like the 2022 Explorer now come standard with six catalytic converters!
Advancements in catalyst chemistry and converter design have allowed Explorers to meet standards while maintaining performance. Read on to learn more about these different converter types.
Types of Catalytic Converters Used in Ford Explorers
There are a few main types of catalytic converters used across generations of Ford Explorers:
- Two-way catalytic converters – Found on early 1990s Explorers. Converts CO and HC only.
- Three-way catalytic converters – Introduced in the mid-1990s. More efficient at also reducing NOx emissions. Became the standard converter type used.
- OEM catalytic converters – These are the original converters installed by Ford at the factory. OEM converters are built specifically for Ford Explorers.
- Aftermarket catalytic converters – Third-party converters built by other manufacturers as replacements. They are cheaper but not as well-integrated into the Explorer’s exhaust system.
- High-flow catalytic converters – Aftermarket converters are designed to boost engine performance while meeting emissions standards. Useful for modified Explorers.
The OEM Ford catalytic converters are the best option for most Explorer owners seeking to replace their converters. They are engineered to seamlessly fit into the vehicle’s exhaust and emission control system. Aftermarket and high-flow converters can be hit-or-miss regarding quality, durability, and emissions compliance. We’ll explore converter replacements more in a later section.
Catalytic Converters in Different Model Year Ford Explorers From 1998 to 2023
1998 Ford Explorer Catalytic Converters
- Single converter design
- Used palladium-only catalyst
- Two-way converter (reduced CO and HC)
- Met Tier 1 emissions standards
2003 Ford Explorer Catalytic Converters
- Added second rear converter
- Three-way catalyst (also reduces NOx)
- Matched tighter Tier 2 emissions standards
2009 Ford Explorer Catalytic Converters
- Upgraded to four catalytic converters
- Improved catalyst formulations with platinum added
- Maintained compliance with stricter Tier 2 and Bin 5 standards
2015 Ford Explorer Catalytic Converters
- Introduced six-converter system
- Additional NOx-reducing converters added
- Enhanced converter placement for faster light-off
2020 Ford Explorer Catalytic Converters
- High-performance quad-converter exhaust system
- Significantly lower cold-start emissions
- Meets newer Tier 3, Bin 50 emissions standards
2023 Ford Explorer Catalytic Converters
- Next-generation hex-converter configuration
- Advanced catalyst chemistry and precision manufacturing
- Allows compliance with the latest Tier 3 emissions regulations
New Ford Explorer models have incorporated more converters, improved catalyst chemistry, and optimized converter placement to meet increasingly strict emissions standards. The enhancements transform more pollutants while maintaining or improving performance and efficiency. Ford’s catalytic converter designs will continue advancing in line with tightening regulations.
Explorer Converter Prices
|Scrap Price Est.
|Replacement Cost Est. (Parts & Labor)
|2024 Explorer Hybrid
|2.3L EcoBoost Hybrid
|2023 Explorer Hybrid
|2.3L EcoBoost Hybrid
|2022 Explorer Hybrid
|2.3L EcoBoost Hybrid
Read More: Selling Your Ford Catalytic Converter Scrap in 2024
Protecting Your Ford Explorer’s Catalytic Converter
Unfortunately, catalytic converter theft has been on the rise in recent years. The black market for stolen catalytic converters is booming due to the high value of the precious metals they contain. Ford Explorers have become a popular target for thieves who can remove the converter in under a minute.
Here are some tips for protecting your Ford Explorer’s catalytic converter from theft:
- Install an aftermarket security device like a cage or plate that blocks access
- Have the converter welded to the chassis or exhaust system
- Etch the VIN onto the converter to deter thieves
- Paint the converter a high-visibility color to make it stand out
- Add surveillance cameras, motion sensor lights, and No Trespassing signs to your parking area
If your Explorer’s converter gets stolen, file a police report for insurance purposes. You may also want a technician to add theft deterrents when installing the new converter. This criminal activity is best combatted by making your Explorer a more challenging target.
Read More: Keeping Ford Mustang Catalytic Converter Stampeding in 2024
Identifying Catalytic Converter Problems in Ford Explorers
Catching catalytic converter issues early is key to avoiding expensive damage down the road. Here are some of the most common symptoms of a failing catalytic converter in a Ford Explorer:
- Reduced fuel economy and acceleration
- Misfiring, sputtering, or knocking sounds from the engine
- A sulfur or rotten egg smell from the exhaust
- Glowing red converter or hot exhaust
- Rattling heat shields or exposed exhaust components
Problems like oil consumption, ignition issues, or oxygen sensor failures can mimic converter failure symptoms. Having a mechanic thoroughly diagnose your Explorer can help identify whether the issue stems from the catalytic converter or another engine part.
Professional diagnosis typically involves computer scans to check for diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs). This can detect problems in sensors, ignition, fuel system, or emissions controls. A technician may also use a 4 or 5-gas emissions analyzer to measure tailpipe emissions. Excess CO, HC, or NOx indicates converter failure.
Replacing a Faulty Catalytic Converter in Your Ford Explorer
Replacement is necessary if you determine your Ford Explorer’s catalytic converter is malfunctioning properly. Here are some key steps for the replacement process:
Inspect Other Components
Before shelling out for a new converter, ensure the issue isn’t caused by a bad oxygen sensor. Fix any other problems first.
Choose an Authorized Shop You Trust
Converter replacement is not a small job. Have a qualified technician you trust to handle the installation. Check for National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification.
Select a Factory OEM Converter
Stick with a factory original converter for your Explorer’s make, model, and engine. Save on a generic aftermarket one.
Install Heat Shields
Ensure to replace any heat shields or protective plates during installation. This protects the new converter and your vehicle.
Follow Up with Emissions Testing
Once the new catalytic converter is installed, have the shop run tests to confirm your Explorer’s emissions are within acceptable limits. This ensures the repair was successful.
While a professional installation is recommended, some Explorer owners can tackle a DIY replacement if they have automotive experience, tools, and the ability to work safely under the vehicle. Those going the DIY route can save hundreds of dollars in labor costs.
When selecting a replacement catalytic converter, factory OEM tends to be the ideal option for Ford Explorers. These converters are specifically engineered for your Explorer’s make, model, and engine. OEM converters integrate seamlessly into the vehicle’s emissions and exhaust systems. Their quality design means they tend to last longer as well.
Aftermarket and universal fit converters can be significantly cheaper upfront. However, their lower-quality materials and less precise fit often mean shorter lifespans, higher long-term costs, and potential compliance issues. Spending a few hundred dollars more on the OEM converter is worth it for the higher quality and reliability.
Properly Maintaining the Catalytic Converter System in the Ford Explorer
Regular maintenance is crucial for maximizing the lifespan of your Ford Explorer’s catalytic converter. Here are some tips:
- Follow the maintenance schedule in your owner’s manual.
- Fix any oil leaks and stop oil burning before it contaminates the converter.
- Address minor engine issues before they turn into bigger issues.
- Use only the specified grade of motor oil to avoid converter contamination. Lower-quality oils can clog and damage the converter over time.
- Keep your gas cap properly sealed to prevent fuel evaporation issues.
- Avoid extended idling, which can cause converter overheating.
- When modifying the engine, upgrade the converter and oxygen sensors accordingly.
- If check engine or emissions-related codes appear, address them immediately.
- Have your Explorer’s emissions tested periodically to catch converter issues early.
- Never ignore symptoms of a failing converter, like power loss or unusual exhaust smells.
- Avoid damaging the converter by not hitting curbs and debris that could dent the exhaust.
By properly maintaining the Explorer’s engine, oxygen sensors, and other emissions components, you’ll maximize the lifespan of your catalytic converter. Follow Ford’s recommended intervals for converter inspections to catch deterioration before failure occurs. A well-maintained converter should last over 100,000 miles.
When to Upgrade Your Ford Explorer’s Catalytic Converter
Upgrading to a high-flow catalytic converter is a great option when modifying your older Ford Explorer for more power and performance. Here are common reasons an upgrade makes sense:
- The converter needs to be replaced anyway due to old age or failure.
- You’ve added a cold air intake, performance chip, new headers, or other mods requiring increased airflow.
- Towing heavy loads long distances requires lower back pressure.
- Off-road use exposes the converter to damage from debris, requiring sturdier housing.
- You want to maximize your modified Explorer’s horsepower and torque output potential.
Many aftermarket high-flow converters are designed to work well with modified Explorers while still meeting street-use emissions regulations. CARB compliance is mandatory for passing California smog testing. Make sure any converter upgrades are 50-state legal.
When upgrading, look for a high-flow converter with a less restrictive honeycomb structure and larger diameter tubing. This reduces back pressure for optimal flow. A steel or stainless housing stands up better to off-road damage. Expect to pay $200 to $400 for a quality CARB-compliant high-flow converter explicitly designed for the Ford Explorer.
Proper Catalytic Converter Placement on Ford Explorers
The Ford Explorer utilizes a carefully engineered exhaust and catalytic converter system design. Understanding the positioning and purpose of each component leads to better maintenance and performance.
On rear-wheel drive Explorers:
- The first converter is closest to the engine for the fastest light-off and best CO/HC reduction.
- The second converter further downstream maximizes NOx reduction once the exhaust is hotter.
- A third converter may be positioned just ahead of the muffler as an additional NOx reducer.
Newer front-wheel drive Explorers have two or three converters in one assembly behind the engine. This keeps the emission-cleaning process closer to the engine for rapid light-off. FWD Explorers may also have an additional downstream converter/muffler combo unit.
Proper placement ensures the different converters reach optimal operating temperatures quickly while utilizing the specific catalyst materials needed at each process stage. Keeping the converters close together also improves exhaust flow. Damaging or relocating the converters can reduce their conversion efficiency.
Explorers with EcoBoost engines may have slightly different converter configurations optimized for that engine’s exhaust profile. Regularly inspect all emission control components to ensure they are functioning as intended. Contact Ford or a certified technician for guidance on converter placement if doing an engine swap or exhaust modification.
The Environmental Impact of Catalytic Converters
Catalytic converters have reduced the environmental impact of Ford Explorers and other vehicles over the past 50 years. Here are some of their key benefits:
- Reduce carbon monoxide emissions by 80-90%
- Cut harmful nitrogen oxides by 40-90%
- Lower hydrocarbon emissions by up to 99%
- Lower the risk of respiratory issues caused by smog
- Help Explorers meet increasingly strict emissions standards
However, catalytic converters have some environmental downsides as well:
- Require mining of rare precious metals like platinum, palladium, and rhodium
- This leads to increased mining-related habitat destruction and pollution
- Contribute to climate change from mining equipment emissions
Proper end-of-life recycling and disposal of old converters reduces their environmental impact. Salvaging and reusing the precious metals also lessens the need for new mining. When your Ford Explorer’s converter reaches the end of its lifespan, be sure to recycle it responsibly.
FAQs On Ford Explorer Catalytic Converter
What Are the Main Functions of a Catalytic Converter on a Ford Explorer?
The main functions are to convert carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons into water and carbon dioxide, and reduce nitrogen oxides. This helps lower emissions from the Explorer’s exhaust.
How Many Catalytic Converters Are on the Latest 2023 Ford Explorer Models?
The newest 2023 Explorers have six catalytic converters as part of their exhaust systems. Some are focused on CO and hydrocarbons, while others reduce nitrogen oxides.
What Types of Materials Are Inside a Ford Explorer’s Catalytic Converter?
The catalyst materials inside are usually a mix of platinum, palladium, and rhodium. These coated ceramic honeycombs trigger the chemical reactions.
Why Have Newer Ford Explorers Added More Catalytic Converters Over Time?
More converters allow vehicle emissions to be reduced in stages. Each converter can use specific catalysts needed at different temperatures. This improves overall emissions reduction.
How Often Should You Get the Catalytic Converters Inspected on a Ford Explorer?
Ford recommends inspecting the converters at each scheduled maintenance interval, usually every 30,000 miles or 2 years. Check for damage, leaks, rattling, etc.
What Are Signs That the Catalytic Converter on Your Ford Explorer May Be Failing?
Symptoms include reduced performance, poor fuel economy, smells from the exhaust, visible smoke, loud rattling, glowing red converter, and warning lights.
Does Replacing Just One Failed Converter Require Upgrading the Whole System?
Not usually – you can replace the faulty converter with a new OEM one, keeping the rest of the system intact.
Is Repair a Damaged Catalytic Converter Possible, or Does It Need a Full Replacement?
Unfortunately, converters cannot be repaired if the catalyst material inside is contaminated. The entire converter needs replacement.
Where is the Best Place to Purchase OEM Catalytic Converters for a Ford Explorer?
Your Ford dealer would be the ideal place to get the right OEM converter for your Explorer model and engine.
Do Aftermarket Catalytic Converters Void the Emissions Warranty on Ford Explorers?
Using a non-OEM converter that is not certified for your Explorer could potentially void related warranties.
How Much Does Replacing Catalytic Converters on a Ford Explorer Typically Cost?
For OEM converters installed at a shop, plan on spending $800 – $2500 depending on your Explorer model and number of converters needed.
Is It Possible to Upgrade to Higher-Flow Converters on Older Ford Explorers?
Yes, high-flow converters are available for modified Explorers to reduce restrictions while meeting emissions standards.
What Preventative Measures Help Reduce the Risk of Catalytic Converter Theft on Ford Explorers?
Etching the VIN on the converter, locking devices, cameras, motion lights, parking in secure areas, etc, can help deter theft.
How Long Can I Expect a New OEM Catalytic Converter to Last on My Ford Explorer?
A properly operating OEM converter should last over 100,000 miles with proper maintenance of the Explorer’s engine and emissions system.
What Happens if I Delete the Catalytic Converters From My Ford Explorer?
The vehicle would produce highly illegal and harmful levels of emissions. It likely would not pass an emissions inspection either.
Conclusion on Ford Explorer Catalytic Converters
Equipping the Ford Explorer with effective, durable catalytic converters has been crucial to maintaining this iconic SUV’s reputation. As emissions standards evolve, so will the converter designs and chemistry needed to meet targets. Proper maintenance and repair ensure these emission-lowering components continue doing their job and keep Explorers environmentally friendly for years.