Chris Catalano's picture

When an average guy tries to buy catalytic converters for his Ford Mustang in CA

First, I would like to say that California is great for a lot of things. We have amazing landscapes from the coast to the desert to the mountains, and I like clean air as much as any body. However, being just an average guy with an average house on an average street in an average neighborhood, you can't help, but feel like you're being bullied by the state and all its "smog" regulations.

Now, I know this is an old argument "the Hot-rodder vs. pollution." but there is a specific point I'd like to make. Why is it that you can't buy a used set of catalytic converters? I mean if they work, why not? Why is it that 49 states say you can buy aftermarket catalytic converters but CA says no? Yes, there are some aftermarket catalytic converters that you can get IF they have an "E&O" number on them which is an "Executive Order number." What is an "Executive Order Number?" I'm glad you asked! It is the number the state of California stamps on a "smog part" if it isn't an OEM part. You will see it on your aftermarket air cleaner, cold air intake and things like that. Some of which have nothing to do with what comes out of your tail pipe. To me it is nothing more than a "legal extortion number" The cost of getting this E&O is outrageous and most companies won't spend the money to get it unless they know they will get their money back in part sales. The problem with this is that it leaves the average guy with very few options.

I have a 2006 Roush Mustang with a supercharger and my catalytic converters are no longer any good. I cant complain they lasted almost 120,000 miles and I haven't been very easy on this little pony. However, I need to replace them and after hours of talking to tech guys at exhaust companies to no avail, calling the CA Air Resource Board and the Bureau of Automotive Repair, I am left with one option. Buy the Catalytic Converters from Ford for around $2000.00.

Now this is what makes me so angry. I can't buy a used set (illegal), I can't buy aftermarket catalytic converters for my Ford Mustang, which are around $400.00 (illegal) and I can't afford $2000.00. Not to mention that one of the tech's at a major exhaust company told me their catalytic converters would easily pass a "sniffer" but not a "visual" because they won't pay the Thousands of dollars to pay off the state of CA for an E&O number, when they are approved in the other 49 states.

My actual choices

1. Spend $2000.00

2. Go out of state, get aftermarket catalytic converters and hope the "smog tech" turns a blind eye to the missing Extortion number. (illegal)

3. Try to sneak a used set of catalytic converters out the back door of a wrecking yard. (also illegal) Not to mention the junk yard dog close behind!

4. Get an illegal smog. (Yes, you guessed it, illegal)

5. Sell the car. Actually this is not an option. Like most 'hot-rodders" I'm not even going to consider it.

On the bright side the guy at the B.A.R. said I was lucky. I said how's that? He said "at least its not a late model Mercedes Benz or a BMW its over $6000.00 to replace the catalytic converters on one of those and they are OEM replacement only....

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Ugh, it's articles like this that create headaches for shop owners. Customers call them a “rip-off artist” when they quote a price for new-OEM converter replacement when the customer finds some a-hole to install an improper application of an aftermarket CAT.

As a technician, I found the article to be lacking in several critical areas. Ultimately, you do a disservice to your readers by not providing substance to back up your assertions. First and foremost, it is the California Vehicle Code (sections 27156 and 38391) that prohibits making any modifications to a pollution controlled motor vehicle. The E.O. number represents the granting, by the Executive Officer of the Board, of an exemption to those statutes. Please, do tell, where is the "extortion" associated with obtaining a number? You cite the cost as "thousands of dollars" but offer no proof to support it. Perhaps you could share a link to some sort of fee schedule on the ARB website. Historically, for most parts, manufacturers simply had to assert in their applications that their part(s) would not cause an increase in vehicle emissions. For CATs, they have to actually test them prior to submission. Yes, there has to be a fee associated with reviewing and processing the application. How much is it? I don’t know. I couldn’t find the answer. (The fact that you're driving a limited production Roush Mustang proves that the process must not be too onerous or expensive.) Experience has shown that many converters did not perform well in service and had poor service lives. The results were even worse on OBD-II vehicles. One factor that has kept many manufacturers out of the OBD-II CAT business is not cost, but rather the requirement to provide a 5year/50,000 mile warranty. This is a Federal requirement, not State. The only way to be able to do that would be to improve the quality of their product. If you're okay with spending $400 every two years for replacements, more power to you. Because, that’s about how long aftermarket CATs would hold up on a supercharged engine. Also, it is Federal, not State, law that prohibits the sale or installation of used CATs unless they have been tested and certified. This too raised questions of durability and service life so California ceased allowing the sale of used CATs. And in the end, the "smog" regulations you refer to have all come into existence because of mandates in the Federal Clean Air Act of 1975 and its 1990 amendments. It's not bullying on the part of the State. And it has never been about the “hot rodders”. They are a small portion of vehicles on the road but there can’t be special rules for different groups. They have to apply to everybody. “Hot rodders” just tend to be the most vocal.

Your comments about "aftermarket air cleaner, cold air intake and things like that. Some of which have nothing to do with what comes out of your tail pipe.", reveals a lack of understanding of the concept of vehicle emissions. The Federal Test Procedure (used for the original certification of new motor vehicles) gathers EVERYTHING emitted from the vehicle, not just what comes out of the tailpipe. It wasn’t the hideous nature of a vinyl top’s appearance that caused them to go away, at least not entirely. It was hydrocarbons emitted during the FTP. Cold air intakes can potentially affect both PCV and fuel evap systems, which have little to no impact on tailpipe emissions but do have an impact in the total emissions measured during the FTP.

Perhaps a little more research and a little less complaining would be in order for this topic.

I've got a 1999 Toytota 4Runner. It just cost me about $3,000 to replace the catalytic converters! I feel like the State of California just had me robbed. Now, I have to hope my car lasts long enough for me to save enough money for a replacement. Clearly, this is not a "hot rod" problem! :D This is a major problem for ordinary persons driving older vehicles, which don't have lots of cash on hand to buy a replacement vehicle at a moment's notice. State representatives need to be more mindful of how their idealistic actions impact the non-rich. In the very least, they ought to allow persons like myself to deduct the replacement costs.

The fact of the matter is that Federally approved, OBDII compliant converters cost 3x to 7x as much for California vehicles as they do in the other 49 states. Exactly the same converter - or so I am told.

So, why??? I am happy to support clean air and want my car to run clean. But clearly there is some "cost" associated with getting the cat certified to sell in CA that drives the cost up. OR, manufacturers or retailers are taking advantage.

So no, the author didn't do a bunch of research to determine the source of the additional cost, but the fact is it exists. Since the only apparent difference is CA certification it is reasonable to attribute it to that. If not, what? Anyway, I support our state-specific regulations. But our legislators need to take some extra care to ensure that they don't become an excessive burden on our citizens. Paying three to seven times more for the exact same part, only differentiated by some bureaucratic process is ridiculous. (In my case out of state ~$330 for one cat; CA approved ~$850 (approved rebuilt) to $2,024 (new).

All you or someone in your situation would have is find a set of used converters. Look on craigslist or mustang classified ads or forums. Most exhaust shops wont put "used" cats on your car, but there is absolutely nothing mentioned about you doing the work yourself. When i had my 03 gt, i literally would take 8 exhaust bolts out, unplug the 4 o2 sensors, and drop the entire h pipe assembly that went between the manifolds and the mufflers and swap in the stock one for smogging, and when done, install my bbk catless x pipe and do the whole thing again 2 years later when it was time to smog. It only took 20 minutes. Dont let the smog police in california get you down because there are multiple ways to go about it.

One more thing, as long as there are cats there, and itll pass the sniffer test, no smog tech cares what numbers are on the cats, nor will they look. Hope this helps.