Can You Drive a Car Without a Catalytic Converter?

Many people wonder – can you drive a car without a catalytic converter? This part of the vehicle gets stolen on a regular basis. According to NICB Informer, in 2021, in the USA, thefts increased by 1,215% compared to the previous year. Therefore, many drivers are wondering if they can still drive without one and avoid getting a costly replacement. In this informative guide, we’ll give you all the necessary information.

First and Foremost, What Is a Catalytic Converter and What Does It Do?

Ever since catalytic converters have been installed in every car, there have been less toxic and poisonous emissions coming from the car’s tailpipe. Its main purpose is to convert harmful emissions from the exhaust emissions system, like carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides, into safer elements like carbon dioxide, water, and just nitrogen.

They were included in the automobile design once the United States Environmental Protection Agency insisted on harsher emissions control of vehicles in 1975. The crux of the problem was the burning of oil and fuel by the engine. This process creates pollutants. However, with the catalytic converter, those fumes get converted into less damaging elements.

How Does a Catalytic Converter Reduce the Level of Toxic Fumes Released Into the Air?

First of all, I have to stress that catalytic converters do not eliminate harmful emissions completely. They are effective at lowering the level of toxic fumes, thus not polluting the air to a serious degree like in the past.

Catalytic converters accomplish this with the help of rare metals that are found inside the device. These include palladium (Pd), rhodium (Rb), and platinum (Pt). They react with elements like carbon monoxide and turn them into carbon dioxide. Hydrocarbons become carbon dioxide and water, while nitrogen oxides become just nitrogen and oxygen.

For the reactions to take place, the catalytic converters need ceramic inside that becomes really hot while the vehicle is working, making it possible for elements to react with one another.

Professional car mechanic performing catalytic converter check
Rare metals and ceramic inside converters are needed for the reactions to take place

So, Can You Drive a Car Without a Catalytic Converter?

Now that you are aware of the importance and function of catalytic converters, it’s time to answer the main question that a lot of drivers are struggling with. So, can you drive without a catalytic converter in case it gets stolen or damaged? The answer is yes and no. The truth is that the car can function without the catalytic converter just fine. 

Before 1975, cars didn’t even include this part. You will see many antique and classic vehicles still being driven on the road today, and they definitely don’t include converters. However, you will be polluting the environment more than is acceptable, and in the USA, it’s prohibited to drive without one.

Is It Safe to Drive Without the Device?

The catalytic converter is only responsible for harmful emissions, and it doesn’t have anything to do with the safety of the car. But it is definitely not considered safe to drive around with a broken, damaged, or clogged converter. If you suspect that the device failed in some way, have a mechanic inspect it right away. Don’t drive at night or during the day if you notice signs the component is bad. Just like when a clutch master cylinder goes bad, or the spark plug fails, you will need a mechanic. 

Is It Illegal to Drive a Car Without a Catalytic Converter?

Yes, it’s illegal in every state in the United States to drive a car without this device. Even if you are not required to test the car for harmful emissions, it’s still illegal

The law stipulates that the emissions system needs to be working properly. Since it is illegal to drive without one, drivers caught neglecting this regulation will face fines that can amount to $10,000.There is only one exception to this rule. If you are driving a vehicle that was made before the introduction of the Clean Air Act, i.e., 1963, there won’t be any financial penalties for drivers. This means that you can freely drive some antique and classic cars that were produced way back in the day.

A car stuck in traffic with visible exhaust fumes, concept of Air pollution and Traffic congestion, created with Generative AI technology
Since the Clean Air Act has been passed, controlling toxic fumes is of great importance

What Are the Main Reasons Why It’s Prohibited to Drive Without One?

There are a couple of reasons why the regulations about driving with catalytic converters are taken seriously. Since the device changed the evolution of cars and the history of the automotive industry, it is thought that, until the toxic fumes can be completely eliminated in some way, the converters are the best solution. Here are the main reasons we have to be aware of.

You Are Not Meeting Emissions Standards

The vehicle’s emission system is required to meet standards for making it safe for driving on the road. The standards are in place and demanded by law so as to reduce the emission of harmful fumes. Without the catalytic converters, the exhaust emission system will emit a high amount of poisonous chemicals.

The Pollution of Air

The majority of fumes get released through the tailpipe into the air. Then, we breathe in the toxic chemicals produced by cars which later enter our bloodstream and cause health issues. Different studies have already pointed out the link between childhood asthma and traffic pollution.

The Pollution of Groundwater

When carbon monoxide, for example, gets released into our atmosphere, it mixes with the air, and as a result, we get acid rain which removes nutrients and minerals from the soil. The rain that gets into the soil will eventually contaminate our groundwater.

Violation of Noise Ordinance

Your car will produce rattling noises when the catalytic converter is broken or damaged. But, if you remove it altogether, it will create loud noises during your drive. This is because the converters are found between the muffler and the exhaust manifold. Many places across the USA have noise ordinances, and if your car is louder than what is acceptable, you will violate this ordinance.

A Lot of People Lose Their Catalytic Converters to Thieves – Here’s Why

The main reason the catalytic converters thefts have increased in the past years is the precious metals inside the catalytic converters can be sold off. Platinum, palladium, and rhodium are wanted, and they don’t come cheap. The metals are sold later for scraps. 

It is thought that the economic insecurities and the pandemic brought about a huge number of thefts. There were fewer cars on the roads, the majority were parked in the parking lot, and the thieves saw a chance to remove catalytic converters uninterrupted from numerous cars.

What Vehicles Are Usually Targeted for Converter Theft?

It might be surprising, but there is one car brand that is targeted the most when it comes to stealing catalytic converters – the Toyota Prius. It is a star car in the emissions tests since the converters contain large amounts of rare metals. The more metals are inside the converter, the more money a thief will make at the scrap yard. Sometimes $700 is paid for one catalytic converter.

Apart from Toyota Prius, SUVs and trucks are on the list to be most likely to be targeted for catalytic converters. They are easier to dismantle since trucks’ and SUVs’ undersides are more raised from the ground. But it is safe to say that every car can be targeted for this kind of theft.

What Needs to Be Done if the Catalytic Converter Gets Stolen?

First of all, if you suspect that the catalytic converter has been stolen, don’t continue to drive the car for a long time. You might end up paying a hefty fine. Instead, follow our instructions on how this situation needs to be handled:

  • The first step is to reach out to the authorities – The authorities need to be notified right away when you discover the device is missing. The nearby surveillance cameras will be checked, and they will try to find the individual responsible for the theft. Don’t forget that the police report is necessary for insurance coverage.
  • Call the insurance company – Depending on the type of insurance you have, the replacement of the device can be paid for. However, first, you have to check with your agent whether you are insured and that the expenses will be covered.
  • Go to your mechanic I must stress again that you should shy away from driving your car without replacing the component. The mechanic will discuss with you your options based on the insurance coverage. It’s best to replace it as soon as possible and avoid risking getting a fine. Remember that replacing it is not as easy as changing tires, so leave it to the professionals.
Motor car Toyota Prius in the city street.
Toyota Prius’ catalytic converter contains a lot of rare metals, so thieves target it

Is There a Way to Prevent Theft? Yes, Follow Our Advice

You can prevent a victim of theft with a few simple steps. Our main tip is to get a protective device. Protective devices are being sold more and more due to the increase in thefts. They will prevent anyone from sawing off the catalytic converter. 

The only downside of these protective devices is that the installation costs a couple of hundred dollars. But, if your insurance doesn’t cover the damage, you will end up paying more for a replacement later.

Another thing that would be helpful is to have alarms that are triggered by vibration. Numerous modern cars have these alarms that will signalize that something is wrong once the thief begins cutting the converter.

Finally, watch where you are parking your vehicle. You will be less likely to be a victim of theft if you can park in your garage. But, if this is not an option for you, try to find free spaces in brightly-lit parking lots, densely populated areas, and places where there are a lot of surveillance cameras.

hand presses on the remote control car alarm systems at underground parking with car on background
 Installation of protective devices and vibration-trigger alarms will head off thieves

Other Reasons Why People Might Drive Without a Catalytic Converter

Some individuals drive without this device even though no one stole it. Some people remove it so as to improve their horsepower. But, if you remove the catalytic converters on purpose, you will be fined.

Other people end up in need of a replacement because the device got clogged, worn out, damaged, or broken. When there is something wrong with the converter, there will be clear signs when you start the vehicle, such as tattling noises, a rotten eggs smell, illuminated check engine light, and dark smoke coming from the tailpipe. You won’t have to run a test like with the fuel pressure regulator. Always ask for help from your mechanic since they know best what needs to be done.

Car speedometer. Auto car speedometer shows 140 km h or miles.Closeup shot,dark black background.Automobile dangerous speed concept
People decide to remove their catalytic converters only to boost their horsepower

Trying to Find a Replacement? Check Out Our Table With the Best Catalytic Converters of 2023

Since you need to pay a lot to buy a car and, on top of that, pay for a costly replacement when you end up without a catalytic converter, it’s wise to research and find the best version of the device online. A high-quality catalytic converter will be less likely to break down easily.

Here is our list of the pros and cons of the best converters of 2023.

Nissan Altima 2.5L Direct-FitMade up of great materials,
Easy to install,
Maximum efficiency
A few bolt holes do not match
MagnaFlow 51356 Universal Catalytic ConverterEconomical,
Great with the diesel engine.
It cannot be installed on some cars
EvanFisher REPG960301 Silver Powder-Coated Catalytic ConverterEffortless installation,
It can rattle
Flowmaster 2230130 223 SeriesExhaust smells get reduced,
Made up of high-quality materials.
Over time it might begin to rattle

To Conclude – Don’t Neglect the Importance of a Catalytic Converter

The catalytic converter is a vital component of any brand-new or used car that shouldn’t be neglected or removed. It’s illegal in every state to drive without one. Even though you might get fined for this transgression, it should be noted that driving without them will cause irreparable damage to the environment. So, if your component gets stolen or damaged in some way, contact the insurance companies and ask your mechanic for further instructions and a replacement. Do this as soon as possible, and don’t risk getting a fine.