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Help! Is it worth to get new catalytic converter for this car?

Hi! I have a 1997 Subaru Outback with 158,000 miles that has been having a lot of problems. Just got new head gaskets (second set in 50k miles), new water pump, etc. Lots of $$. Anyway, the “check engine” light went on a while back and the dealer said it was b/c of the catalytic converter and that I’d need to replace it before my inspection this month or it wouldn’t pass. At the dealer it is going to be around $1700! Is it even worth it? Is there a cheaper way to go? I am in NH and am sick of sinking money into this car (which I love except for the maintenance). Don’t want to buy a new one. Any suggestions?

The cylinder head gasket probably failed, the 2nd time, because the cylinder head wasn’t milled flat by an automotive machine shop.
Find an independent shop which will do the appropriate checks to determine if the catalytic converter really needs replacing. And, if it does, they can do it for much less than the dealer. Here are the things the repair shop mechanic needs to check for a catalytic converter code:

Let me toss out a possibility on that cat.

A '97 is an early OBD II computer system. I have two '97 BMWs, and when they start reporting a code for “Catalyst efficiency below specifications” what that means is that my oxygen sensors are getting old and slow to respond. My manual says to replace oxygen sensors at 90k miles, and 95 to 100k miles is all I get out of a set of sensors before I start getting a CEL light and code. I replace the O2 sensors and presto - no more catalyst failure codes. My two '97s have about 400k miles combined, both with original catalysts.

If you live in the seacoast area I can recommend at least one Subaru specialized (independent) that will do much better than $1700 for a cat conv.

Alternatively I would find a shop(independent garage) or muffler that will install an aftermarket cat convector that will be far far cheaper. A car that old a dealer is not needed.

Get another opinion from in independent mechanic. You may not really need a new cat.

Thanks hellokit (and yes, I know the first “head gasket replacers” messed up … it was a Subarua dealership in another state and they are now a KIA dealership … I think I’ll still write to Subaru, just because …). Anyway, I have found an independent shop and have printed out the webpage you suggested. Thanks!

Thank you Manolito. Very interesting info and I brought it up to the independent auto shop I called. I hope it’s the sensors! That would be great …! But this particular Subarua is rather “lemonish” so I am not holding my breath. Thanks for helping me sound like I know what I’m talking about with the mechanic!

Thank you andrew j. I contacted a couple shops … one that got rave reviews on this website. They no longer deal with “rebuilt” converters because they discovered that they only lasted 6 months or so because the rebuilts aren’t required to use the same metals as the originals. Sooooo, at that place, it would still be expensive (they said close to the $1700 I was quoted). Another place that I have used in the past thought the part (a new one) would be between $1000-1300, depending on if it was the front or rear converter (didn’t know there were two!) Or maybe the difference was whether it is a California or Federated engine. ??? They said they could look into a rebulit converter, but now I’m hesitant to do that based on what the other shop said. Still not sure which one to pick, but I am not in the seacoast area (Concord).