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Brand X Catalytic converters for VW Passat's

I have an 02 VW Passat 4Motion Wagon with 170K on it. It has had lots of repairs in the last two years. It still drives great, but the CEL is on all the time now, probably because I may need new Cats for which VW wants $2500.00 for the pair. I have so much invested in repairs now that I want to fix it but wonder if off brand (not VW) catyltic converters are available for much less money, and if I use them will they be compatible with the VW sensors that light up the CEL, that is, will the light go off once the off brand converters are installed.

In that regard, I have had the VW dealer tell me each time something is fixed, that there must be something else wrong when the CEL doesn’t go out after the repair. And it burned me up a bit to learn that the computer diagnosis cost me $100 just to confirm the problem, and that they think that is the problem the CEL is indicatin, but can’t be sure. What’s that about? Why can’t they read their own diagnostics?

I learned on CarTalk that the diagnosis may be confirmed by a burning smell when the car is idling that goes away once the car is moving. I thought it was an oil leak for a while, and paid dearly for several repairs for that problem and finally the dealer said it must be the Cats.

What produces that smell? Why doesn’t the smell go out the back exhaust when the car is idling instead of seeping up into the passanger compartment? (The smell is strongest on the driver’s side if that means anything?)

Is it toxic? Is the car dangerous to drive?

There are two catylitic converters on this car. Do i have to fix both? Do I have to fix this problem at all?

Anyone out there with experience installing off brand catylitic converters on a Passat? Any one with advice? Any one know a good VW mechanic in the Boston area, North shore, or So. NH, especially one who has diagnostic equipment that he can actually interpret correctly from the printout.

I drive fast, but mostly highway driving , and I have babied this car as far as oil changes and every possible repair over its life. Would love to get 200, or 250K miles out of it.

Why are you visiting the dealer for repairs or maintenance? Surly you can find an independent mechanic that can do that work for you and likely better than your dealer, which seems incompetent or worse.

Yes after market converts are available and are fine for your car.  Since you dealer does not seem to be doing any real diagnosis and instead is just replacing parts when the CEL comes on, you may not even need a converter.  

[i] Why can't they read their own diagnostics?  [/i] 

 Maybe incompetent, or maybe worse.   I suspect the reason you have had a lot of repairs is the dealer not the car.

Try European Auto Service in Rye NH if you want VW mechanics who are reasonable and know what they are doing. I used them 15 years ago and they still remain.

I send everyone there I know who owns VW/Audi and they find pleasant ownership of these products. These guys know what is going on and are reasonable.

Good luck.

We mention it many times but I will do it again just in case,there is a 8yr 80,000 mile Federal warranty on catalytic converts,do you think you qualify?

Now I see your mileage,sorry

I second the aftermarket converter

Google something like “Volkswagen Passat 2002 direct fit catalytic converter” to get an idea what the things will cost. At a guess, after markups and labor you’ll end up paying about twice what they cost on the internet for each. It’ll still be way less than $2500.

If someone else comes up with a different number, believe them.

Similar to the original poster, I have a 00 VW Passat V6, but with only 79k miles. My mechanic did the diagnostics and claims the catalytic converter is warming up slowly (3 min vs. 1 min) and thus needs to be replaced for $2500. I have previously smelled a burning smell after the car goes up a steep hill, but not at idle.

Unfortunately, I live in CA and the car is over 8 yrs old. Thus the emissions system is now out of warranty. And when I did the recommended search for “direct fit catalytic converters” and note that while significantly cheaper ($600-800) they all say not legal for use in CA.

Am I stuck with the $2500 dealer service? Or are there other options I should consider?

Thanks!

Update–,my mechanic kindly provided me the engine fault codes:
16805 Warm Up Catalyst Efficiency Below Threshold Bank 1
16815 Warm Up Catalyst Efficiency Below Threshold Bank 2

The mechanic also suggested that the smell after driving uphill was likely simply leaky valves and unrelated to my catalyic converter issue.

Update 2–I found service bulletin 01 07 07 Jan 22, 2007 2010372 “Update Programming for Catalytic Converter System” The description of this is “On-bard diagnosis (OBD) for the catalytic converter system may be set too sensitive causing fault codes with out a defect in the catalyst system.”

When I showed this to my mechanic he claimed it was not related. I am skeptical as the bulletin explicitly lists fault codes 16805 and 16815.

Should I get a dealer to perform this programming update, then check out the system?

Update 3 - looking through maintenance records, it turns out I had both rear O2 sensors replaced just 8 months ago to resolve the last round of check engine / emissions workshop lights.