What do prices of catalytic converters vary so widely?

I see cats being sold from $100 to $1000.
Why is there such a range?
I was told Infiniti G35 has to take a dealer/OEM cat for $1000/ea.
I understand cheapo sensors that don’t work, but what’s the story with cheapo aftermarket cats for $100?

Somestimes it can reflect cheap construction and sometimes it can reflect a huge markup on the dealer price.
A converter company may manufacture a cat that is sold for 200 dollars in the aftermarket and that same company may provide the same cat to a car manufacturer on the cheap in massive volume.

The car manufacturer then bumps the price way up to the dealer (the so-called dealer cost and which may be 8 times more than what the car maker paid for it) and then the dealer adds on top of that.

Probably one of the most glaring examples I remember and this was not a cat but a CV joint.
The normal dealer cost on the joint was 65 dollars with a retail of 95 to the customer. It was learned that the car maker was getting those joints for 6 dollars and change a pop so the markup to the dealer was almost a 1000%. The aftermarket part over the counter at the parts house was 68 dollars. That puts some perspective to it.

Anything from a dealer is expensive, likely the highest price you will ever see. I shopped for a set of winter rubber floor mats for my Mazda. The cheapest(flimsy) were at Walmart, to be trimmed for fitting, at $19. The most expensive were ar the dealer at $160!!!, custom fitted. We ended upwith an excellent set of Michelin mats from Costco at $29.95. These have deep channels to catch all that snow and also keep your pant legs dry.

Years ago the back leaf springs on our Ford Granada broke, and the dealer wanted $700+ for a new set. We had it done at Midas for $350, and the springs outlasted the rest of the car by far.

The low end converters are generic and require fitting and welding into place and may fail to pass emissions testing while the dealer’s part is a factory fit. If a muffler shop is your choice verify that they guaranty their work to include emissions and if additional work is required it will be at their expense.

Here is the real reason:
Catalytic converters use rare metals to transform harmful combustion byproducts and make it safer for the environment. These rare metals makes them expensive. For obvious reasons the cheaper converters have less of this stuff inside.
Now if you buy a cheap one here is what will happen: first it will not last as long as the factory unit, second because it is not as effective will start turning on the check engine light for low catalytic converter efficiency. Because the discrepancy between the first and second O2 sensor reading the ecu gets a mixed signal and the engine will not run properly.

@252525 is on the money on this one, at least that too is my experience for the cheaper priced cats. I always try to buy one that says it meets OEM specs. Not from the dealer if possible, as a dealership has higher mark-ups.

The rear o2 normally will just set the code for a failed cat. It does not do fuel trim in any system that I am familiar with but I do not know a wide variety of systems. Any cat replacement should consider the rear o2 as contaminated or at least replaced as to prevent premature engine codes. If the oem cat has failed the age/use life of the rear o2 has likely been exceeded.

@euryale1 you are right, it does not affect fuel trim, on it’s own, but has to work in tandem with the first o2 sensor. Essentially there are no sensors in the cat that says “hey i am not efficient any more…”. You are right, what sets the code is the second o2 sensor. If there is to big of a gap between the readings of the first and second sensors’ set values then the ecu with other relevant inputs like coolant temp sensor data, etc. will try to adjust the fuel.

The $100 ones are designed to try and pass your next emissions test and that’s it…They usually have a 90 day warranty …Get another year out of the old road-oiler…I mean, you don’t put a $1000 cat on a car that’s only worth $600…

When I had cat problems on my 2002 Sienna, which eventually went away and have not come back, I read on many mechanic pages that most cat failures are not cat failures, but bad sensors. The lesser mechanics will instantly try to sell you the most expensive part. And, perhaps add on the sensors as part of the bill.

Let me add here the rear sensor does not technically set any codes. The computer, after warm-up, compares the gases before the cat to the gases after the cat, and if the after gases are not less than the before gases, assumes the cat is bad.

Clearly, a bad sensor can make it look like a bad cat when it is not.

I also learned that good sensors on a properly running car will start failing somewhere over 100,000 miles. That means some of us we will have a bad sensor at around that time, though it also means many will not have a bad sensor for a very long time.

And, any car problems, such as excessive oil consumption, may induce failures sooner.

My cat showed a failure after running 17 miles downhill on the Mexico-Puebla toll road, using engine braking in second gear. Since my car apparently (based on live data on my scanner) shuts off fuel when running like that, my theory was the cat cooled down and let oil or something coming out of the motor clog up the catalytic materials.

Anyway, it eventually cleared up okay. Amazing.

Not to be negative towards @252525 's post, but the price of a converter is not necessarily correlated to the amount of precious metals put into the converter.

A few years back, there was a flurry of announcements from various manufacturers bragging about how much they had been able to reduce precious metal use with no impact on performance. Toyota made a claim, then Nissan, then Mazda, then Ford - all of them one-upping the other. For example, the 2010 Mazda3 has 70% less precious metals in its catalytic converter than the 2009, the last model sold with the older technology. Not only are they developing alternatives, but the key for a catalytic converter is not so much how much platinum, palladium, or rhodium there is in the converter, but rather the surface area of those metals. A 0.1 micron thick coating over a 1 sq. cm plate is every bit as effective as a 10 micron thick coating. You just have to learn how to make thin coatings that bond well and maximize your surface area.

But how much platinum is really used? Well, in 1988, they used about $25 worth of platinum per car, according to the NY Times. That was with platinum prices around $560 per ounce. Today platinum costs $1614 per ounce, so assuming that emissions requirements didn’t change sizing requirements and no technological improvements, that’s $72 today. From what I’ve seen, average precious metal use per vehicle had increased to around $200 before the latest tech changes, thanks to increased engine size and tighter emissions requirements.

But then 70% off of $200 would give you $60… Realistically, I think you’re looking at $250-300 in true costs before markups to get a quality converter. The catch is that those markups are likely to be huge, so that $300 part would likely be $900+ from a dealer, maybe $350-400 on the low end from a parts store, but knowing whether it was a quality part sold cheap or a lousy part sold for more than its worth would be the hard part.

You made some excellent points, eraser. We tend to not entirely unjustky blame the 'precious metals", when in fact much of the cost is also the ceramic substrate and the sputter plating of the metals onto it. And remember also that the high heat pretty much means that stainless steel is the only practicall canister option.

Platinum at $700. A fraction of the 2012 cost.

For many years headlights were an industry wide required standard common part that was a much safer and cheaper situation than today

but that standard was dropped due to lobbying by the manufacturers for the sake of styling. The same considerations that resulted in standardizing the headlights all those years ago could be used to require that catalytic converters are standardized to fit vehicles within ranges determined by displacement and performance options such as turbo chargers. Complete headlight assemblies were less than $5 not long ago while today just the bulb alone is over $8 and the lens and housing are from $50 to the $ky.

In my NSHO the lights, converters and many other parts are 2 bit efforts by the manufacturer to pressure owners to return to the scene of the original crime for continued pocket picking.

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