2004 Saturn Ion 2: Does the catalytic converter *have to be* so much?

Good day to all.

The check engine light came on so I took my car in. My mechanic whom I’ve used for years told me the following: the catalytic converted had started to come off, in the process it pushed the oxygen sensor up against the body of the car and shorted it out. The total damage is that the O2 sensor and the cat has to be replaced. The line-item estimate was $104 for a sensor and $650 for a cat, plus labor. Total: $1000. Now, I’m looking online and seeing cats that work on my car for far less ($200-400 depending). I talked to another mechanic on the phone who verified cats don’t have to be $650. My mechanic said they only use top quality parts with warrantee, etc. But the other mechanic said that for a car that he wants to get moving again, a cat is a cat and any new part will, of course, come with a warrantee. So… what should I do? Is $1000 too much? If I go with the mechanic who says he can get me down to $700, will that be cheap work on my car? It has 108K miles, and I’d like to get at least another few years out of it.

Thanks in advance!

‘‘Started to come off’’ ??
That could change a lot, depending on how much pipe is needed.
A universal cat can be had for a hundred ( add welding to the labor )
but a 'direct fit '( from Auto Zone ), plus normal parts mark up would be that 650.
If YOU buy from Auto Zone there’s two direct fit cats, one 350 and one 450…neither is california compliant.
But when the shop is paying that much , the WILL mark it up. That’s just normal business.
( don’t YOU mark up from your cost to your selling retail ? or do you give stuff away ? )

How different will either shop’s labor be if they let you carry in your own parts ?

Right. I totally get the business. I definitely mark up hardware that I sell when I’m doing service. It’s totally fair, and I’m not complaining about that. I’m just surprised they’re unwilling to use a less expensive part. They said that it can’t be worked with how it is, so they have to get a new one, direct fit. Even so, the second mechanic said around $400 for the part, all the rest being equivalent. The first mechanic said they will not allow me to bring in my own part “for warrantee reasons”. That sounded like fluff to me. The car is out of warrantee and the part, if new, will come with its own no matter who gets it. The second mechanic, I’m pretty sure, would let me buy my own part. They’re really trying to build a client base.

Defiantly time for another opinion. If the o2 sensor was damaged replace it first, and do impromptu repairs for the cat. My guy welded a split cat together for 10 bucks, if the cat is not bad fix the pipes. We have seen failures on after market cats on this board, so if you need a new one probably better not to cheap out.

I will only say one thing . . .

Don’t expect too much from a cheap cat

What they’re probably suggesting is a universal catalytic converter be installed. And a person with welding capabilities can install this type of cat at a lesser price than a direct fit type of cat.

I used to can, install, and test prototype catalytic converters for their performance on different engines. And believe me, if you want to sell cats on the market, the EPA is watching your ass.


What about something like this one? It’s not $50, but it’s not $700 either. It says “direct fit” and it comes with a warrantee. I would like to think I could go for something like this rather than the one they quoted me at $650. Or this? It’s running even less?

If it’s a direct fit for that price go for it.

Don’t forget to also order any gaskets required.


Are gaskets costly? I imagine not. Is it common for a mechanic to refuse to install customer-purchased parts? The whole “warrantee reasons” doesn’t seem to work for me.

I would go to a mechanic who will show you your damaged (?) cat and explain WHY it needs to be replaced…Perhaps a shop that specializes in exhaust system work can refit the existing converter…

Maybe your mechanic knows something you and the other mechanic don’t. Sure, every new part comes with a warranty, but maybe your mechanic has had experience with a cheaper catalyst failing under warranty and ended up having to do the job over again. Warranty or not, having to re-repair a car is bad for everyone.

There are specific brands of parts that I just won’t use because I’ve had them fail in the warranty period at a rate unacceptable to me.

Your mechanic may not be trying to sell you expensive parts, he may just be trying to do the most professional quality work possible.

Many shops will not install customer-purchased parts because it’s a poor business model. Don’t take it personally.


Do you live in California?

Does your state adopt California emissions standards?

Does your car have California emissions?

If the answer to ANY of these questions is yes, you may not be legally allowed to install that cat

Another thought on owner-supplied parts. I will NOT guaranty the part will work. I will NOT warranty my labor. If the part doesn’t work, you’ll pay me the additional labor time to remove and replace it. If the part fails prematurely, I will not give you priority to get you back on the road.

It’s not that I’m being mean, but you cannot expect me to take a risk on my business for parts I cannot vouch for. The parts I source are from suppliers I trust and know will work. And have full confidence in backing up.

I certainly don’t believe anybody is being mean. And, in my business, I have my parts preferences as @asemaster suggested. However, I do think with the ubiquity of cats I’m seeing on the market that are direct fit and that come with solid warrantees, my mechanic should be willing to do a little shopping with me - to have a more comprehensive conversation. I’m not running around looking for the cheapest part. I’m doing research and looking for comparable parts, and my mechanic is totally unwilling to entertain anything other than charging me his retail price. It’s because I know the business that I’m not into playing entirely that way. Saying that “in general” those cats aren’t any good doesn’t work for me. If I show him specific cats and they can say, “That one isn’t good for this reason”, then I’ll start believing it. They don’t even want to look. So, consider that the car won’t be in worse shape if I drive it around a bit, I think that, at the least, I’m going to get a second opinion. As @Barkydog mentioned, it might be possible to weld a busted cat back together, replace the O2, and call it a day. Maybe it isn’t possible, but my mechanic is unwilling to discuss really anything since they’ve changed ownership. I think I need to look for options.

@BustedKnuckles, want to share some of those parts leads with me then? Where would you get a cat from? What brands of cats would you stand by? Are there any not around the $650 retail mark?

I know an unemployed man whose front brakes were metal to metal, and he did not have money to pay for a complete brake job at a shot.

Alas, he could not get the rotors off. He called all the recommended mechanics listed on this URL, and not one would take off the rotors. The whole brake job at their costs, for money he did not have, or go away. He had no choice.

He went to Tractor Supply and found a puller that did the job. And, it is unlikely if he becomes employed he will ever go their shops.

I see their point, sort of. But, I also see in his pickle he will long remember.

Assuming you’ve had a prior and satisfactory relationship, I’d be inclined to trust what your mechanic said at first. His experience with the less expensive cats may be that the customer often returns within 500 miles with exhaust restriction problems. If I were putting a replacement cat on my car, I’d insist on one guaranteed to meet OEM specs for the car, not just “direct fit”. A 2004 Saturn should have a lot of miles left in it.

If you don’t trust the mechanic, find one you do trust. Ask friends, co-workers etc for recommendations.


Every great once in awhile, I will provide free labor to people I know, provided they’re paying for the parts.

Call it a good deed, if you will

But I won’t provide free labor to strangers

He didn’t want free labor. He wanted just to pay to have the rotors taken off not hundreds of dollars for high priced parts he already had. The good news was he got it done by himself which was optimum.


Thanks for clarifying

But what you described is how many shops and mechanics operate

They want to do the whole job, and they’re choosing the parts.

Many mechanics . . . myself included . . . have gotten burned using parts that the customer supplied