About a month and a half ago, just before I was to take an 8 hour trip, the check engine light on my 2001 Mazda 626, 120k, came on. To be safe, I took it to my mechanic, who scanned the computer and told me that the catalytic converter was either bad or clogged (he couldn't tell which without taking the part off which would cost me app. $300) and that it needed to be replaced.
He recommended me to not drive long distances and to have it replaced soon. Since it will cost around $1500 and I haven't had the money, I haven't had it fixed yet but have been driving it, only around town though.
My question is the following (and as I know nothing about cars, please excuse my ignorance)... Is there any way to know if the cat is actually clogged. (Btw, I've noticed no change in the car's performance, no loss of power or change in gas mileage.) Is it dangerous to continue to drive the car? If there was a serious problem with the cat, would the check engine light not come back on? (It went off after a few days the first time it came on and hasn't come back on since.)
I need to drive about 1300 miles home for Christmas and could have the cat replaced there for MUCH cheaper by a mechanic who's a family friend if it is necessary. But I'm not sure if it's wise to make such a long trip. At the same time, now that I've been driving it for awhile with seemingly no problems or symptoms, I'm wondering if something really is wrong...?
A little background on the car... I bought it in 2005 with 60,000k from someone that had owned it for a few years. It was in good condition and had been well-maintained. Since I've owned it, the car has had regular maintenance - regular oil changes, fluid levels checked frequently, fuel and air filters changed, timing belts replaced, new spark plugs, new brakes, and last year, the transmission (unfortunately) had to be completely replaced.
Any advice or comments would be greatly appreciated. THanks in advance!