Fouled plugs can cause unburned fuel to overheat the converter and melt the catalyst to a solid mass. If the O2 Sensor is not functioning properly it will give the ECU incorrect readings of exhaust gasses. The faulty sensor can cause an excessively rich or excessively lean condition. If the mixture is too rich, the catalyst can melt down. If the mixture is too lean, the converter is unable to convert the hydrocarbons into safe elements.
Oil or antifreeze entering the exhaust system can block the air passages by creating heavy carbon soot that coats the catalyst. These heavy carbon deposits will cause two problems. First, the carbon deposits prevent the catalytic converter from reducing harmful emission in the exhaust flow. And second, the carbon deposits clog the pores in the ceramic catalyst and block exhaust flow, increasing backpressure and causing heat and exhaust to back up into the engine compartment. Your engine may actually draw burnt exhaust gasses back into the combustion chamber and dilute the efficiency of the next burn cycle. The result is a loss of power and overheated engine components.
Catalytic converters can be physically damaged as well. The catalyst contained inside a catalytic converter is made from a lightweight, thin-walled, fragile material. It is protected by a dense, insulating mat. This mat holds the catalyst in place and provides moderate protection against damage. Broken support hangers can cause the converter to bounce around and the result can be breakage of the mat. Rocks or other road debris can also hit the converter, causing the internal mat to break also. Off road vehicles often suffer this type of converter failure. Once this mat starts to break up, it will collect in the smaller passages and clog the converter.
The catalytic converter should last the lifetime of the vehicle it is installed in. if it does fail, it is most often a symptom of another problem. This problem must be identified and repaired or the new converter will fail in the same manner. You can keep it running well by keeping the ignition system in top shape and to prevent any unburnt fuel from entering the catalytic converter.
Here is an important safety reminder: Do not park your car over tall grass or piles of dry leaves. Your cars perfectly running catalytic converter gets very hot enough to start fires!
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