Many consider a catalytic converter to be a godsend. With pollution levels ever climbing, the U.S. government acted to reduce harmful pollutants in a step to clean up the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency was formed by the Nixon Administration and the agency was instrumental in passing the Clean Air Act to help America control pollution. Since 1975 virtually every passenger vehicle has come equipped with a catalytic converter.
As helpful as catalytic converters can be, they can be problematic. Besides failure, which generally goes unnoticed until your vehicle flunks its next inspection, it is the intense heat of the unit that can cause problems.
If you work on your own vehicle, you need to let your car cool down completely before working near the exhaust system. Catalytic converters get very hot, as hot as 1800 degrees, and any burn sustained from touching a hot converter can be very dangerous, even deadly.
Motorists have also learned that a catalytic converter can be a fire hazard. For the past three decades police and fire department reports have indicated that many car fires have been started because a motorist parked their car over dry leaves. Even when the engine is off the hot converter can drop a spark which can ignite leaves underneath. If that happens, your car can be engulfed in mere minutes and destroyed by the conflagration.
There are also hazards that occur to the catalytic converter itself. Because the unit burns at such hot temperatures, catalytic converters can suffer rapid thermal deactivation. Some experts suggest switching to synthetic engine oil to help reduce phosphorous contaminants a known contributor to failure.