Before we answer this question, let’s understand what a catalytic converter is and how it works. An integral part of any ICE-powered vehicle’s exhaust system, it controls and reduces the emissions that come out of the tailpipes.
It uses built-in catalysts to convert toxic hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and nitrous oxides into less harmful gasses such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and steam.
Like many other parts subjected to wear and tear, they have a limited lifespan of approximately 100,000 miles (160,934 km), but the vast majority continue to work properly well beyond that.
They eventually get clogged, and the first sign of this is the presence of a notification or warning light in your vehicle’s dashboard. Other symptoms include increased fuel consumption, loss of power, and dark exhaust smoke coming from the tailpipes accompanied by a smell of sulfur or rotten eggs.
This brings us to the miracle cleaners and treatment products. They are advertised as specially formulated products that remove and prevent carbon buildup inside the cat, clean the entire exhaust system, EGR valve, combustion chamber, and fuel injectors.
But will these products revitalize a clogged cat that should otherwise be replaced? The short answer is no. Using one of these products likely results in ameliorated symptoms, mainly because they contain additives that will clean carbon deposits from your engine’s fuel and exhaust systems. Mind you, they won’t completely eliminate them or magically repair your damaged catalytic converter.
Considering how expensive a new cat is, even on older models, it’s worth giving these products a try before replacing it, right? That’s exactly what companies that manufacture these cleaners capitalize on.
These cleaners might do a good job of mitigating carbon deposits in a fully functional catalytic converter, but don’t expect them to revitalize a damaged one that is well over the 100,000 miles (160,934 km) mark.
If you’re willing to give it a try, too, make sure to buy a premium quality one, just to make sure it doesn’t have a negative impact on your engine and exhaust system. These include Mr. Gasket’s Cataclean, which seems to be the most popular out there, Dura Lube’s Severe Catalytic and Exhaust Treatment, Liqui Moly’s Catalytic System Cleaner, or Hi-Gear’s EZ Emissions Pass and Catalytic Converter Cleaner.
But if you really care about your car and - more importantly - the environment, replace your worn catalytic converter.