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If you own a car, you probably already know that a catalytic converter has an important role. It converts harmful compounds into your car exhaust and makes it harmless. But, just like regular vehicles, do RVs have them? We cover all the basics of RVs and catalytic converters, including theft and prevention.

Do RVs Have Catalytic Converters?

RVs with an engine, like Class A, B, and C motorhomes have catalytic converters.  Catalytic converters reduce the emissions from internal combustion engines on a vehicle so only drivable RVs have one. 

Travel trailers are not drivable and therefore, do not have a catalytic converter.  However, the tow vehicle is required to have one.

In the US, catalytic converters are required on all motor vehicles.

Theft of catalytic converters is a big problem. The equipment contains precious metals that are a target for thieves. If you do not have a catalytic converter on your motorhome, it was likely removed and needs to be replaced.

No worries, I cover all of this in this article!

Like I always say, it’s not required that you memorize everything about your RV. But it’s good to know the basics in case of an emergency.

For more resources about your RV, visit the resources page or start with these ones:

What Is a Catalytic Converter?

new exhaust system with catalytic converter
catalytic converter under a new vehicle by deepblue4you via

A French Mechanical Engineer named Eugène Houdry created the catalytic converter in 1950. It was used to purify exhaust from automobiles.                    

Catalytic converters help internal combustion engines emit less pollution. Basically, the fuel does completely burn and there is insufficient oxygen to completely oxidize the carbon fuel in these engines. The catalytic converter reduces the engine exhaust from carbon monoxide, nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide, and hydrocarbons into carbon dioxide and water. This reduces the hazardous by-products are generated.                        

Around 1975, catalytic converters became widely used as governments began to minimize air pollution caused by automobiles. However, many cars ran on leaded gasoline, and a catalytic converter can get clogged with Lead (Pb) because it may coat a surface that typically interacts with exhaust fumes.         

Today, however, lead is no longer added to regular gasoline or diesel.      

Modern catalytic converters are highly efficient and reduce emissions of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxides from the engine by 90%.

Where is the Catalytic Converter located on an RV?

A close up shot of a repair recreation of a catalytic converter
BanksPhotos via

The catalytic converter is located underneath the motorhome and connected to the exhaust system. It can be found in plain sight, between the engine and the muffler.

The catalytic converter reduces the toxic gases with a chemical reaction and a catalyst.  

The hazardous chemicals from an engine’s exhaust are converted into harmless gases, such as steam, by a catalytic converter. It employs a chamber called a catalyst to create the reaction. 

A ceramic honeycomb is enclosed in a metal shell where a mixture of platinum (Pt), palladium (Pd), and rhodium (Rh) is used to cover this honeycomb.

Toxic gases are blasted over the catalyst, which triggers a chemical reaction that breaks down the contaminants. The less-harmful gases now exit through the second output pipe, linked to an automobile’s tailpipe.      

The entire system is designed to withstand oxidation, corrosion, and all of the toxins emitted by an automobile engine.

What RV Types Use Catalytic Converters?

A gray and white Class A RV by a mountain side road with a few trees behind.
Class A motorhome by a mountainside road ©benkrut via

The sort of rig with a catalytic converter is a rig with an engine, as you may have imagined. If you have a vehicle that has to be towed like a fifth wheel, then your vehicle lacks a catalytic converter; why? Because your vehicle has no engine.         

You may have more than one catalytic converter based on the size and capability of your rig. Catalytic converters are standard equipment on Class A, B, and C rings linked to an automobile’s tailpipe, and you’ll find them in every other van or truck on the road.                       

Catalytic converters are required to run every vehicle with an engine, as it is hazardous to drive a vehicle without them. Many RVs use diesel fuel; therefore, you may have a more complex diesel Catalytic converter depending on your rig.

What Problems Occur with Catalytic Converters?

According to the US EPA standards, catalytic converters must last 8 years or 80,000 miles. Although catalytic converters should last the lifetime of the engine, 10 years or 100,000 miles, failure can occur earlier than that. Problems may arise, and it might perform poorly or be damaged permanently.                  

A catalytic converter generally fails due to another part or system in the engine not operating properly. The most common problems come from overheating, fouled substrate, or structural damage.

Excessive quantities of unburned gas generated by a misfiring spark plug or a faulty exhaust valve can cause catalytic converters to overheat. Furthermore, a defective oxygen sensor might result in overheating.

Exessive load on the engine also causes overheating. (Don’t be a lead foot with your poor motorhome).

Engine coolant can seep into the combustion system due to a broken cylinder head gasket. Engine oil is another pollutant that can clog a catalytic converter, making it impossible for exhaust gases to flow through.                                   

Apart from that, catalytic converters are situated under your vehicles, making them open for possible damages caused by external factors like debris on the road.

It is worth noting that leaded gas, will damage catalysts, but it is not used in the United States or Canada.

How do you Maintain a Catalytic Converter?                

Because changing a catalytic converter is costly, you want to keep it in good operating order. So, how can you preserve it in peak condition?                     

The first step is to clean your catalytic converter with a catalytic converter cleaner regularly. This will aid in removing any carbon deposits or buildup.

Even more importantly, regular maintenance, such as oil changes, air filter replacements, and inspections should be done on your vehicle. If you notice anything that requires attention, take care of it as soon as possible to avoid further damage.         

If you’re concerned about your catalytic converter, look for the following signs:

  • Start-up is difficult, and noise is louder than usual 
  • Unusual odor, similar to rotting eggs
  • Gas mileage, acceleration, and power perform poorly.

The next tip is: Don’t leave your dormant for long periods of time. Make a point of going on a few longer excursions. Once every couple of weeks, spend at least half an hour driving to attain optimal operating temperature.                       

If you leave your motorhome sitting too long, your catalytic converter may never properly clean itself, resulting in the excessive buildup and perhaps a blockage.                         

As a result, make sure you take your motorhome on longer trips frequently so that your converter can burn off any deposits that may have accumulated.                

Lastly, use high-quality fuel with detergents and additives to clean your engine. Low-quality fuel does not work well and leaves more deposits in your engine and exhaust system. Using high-quality gasoline can keep your Catalytic Converters clean and extends the life of your vehicle as well.                                 

You can do several things if you haven’t been conducting normal maintenance on your catalytic converter and now have a problem with it. Stronger cleaners are available to aid in restoring your converter to its original state. If that choice does not work, you may need to consider another alternative.                     

You may need to replace your catalytic converter if it is beyond repair.

Can You Drive an RV Without a Catalytic Converter?

While it is possible to drive an RV without a catalytic converter, it is not legal in the US. Your motorhome will drive rough and may smell bad. If the catalytic converter is attached and completely plugged your engine may run but you will damage it.

Symptoms of a bad catalytic converter include

  • Check engine light is on
  • reduced engine performance
  • Odd or rotton egg smell
  • Abnormal noises or rattling in the engine
  • Stalling or losing acceleration
  • the engine misfires

Your motorhome will run without the catalytic converter, so you can still safely drive it to the repair shop. However, continuing to drive without it is against the law in most places. Furthermore, you will lose performance in your engine. So this is not recommended.

Can Catalytic Converters Be Stolen from RVs?

Similar to any car or truck, catalytic converters can be easily stolen from any motorhome. Since RVs are left unattended for long periods they make easy targets for catalytic converter theft.

When sold to metal scrappers, catalytic converters have significant profit potential because of valuable metals such as platinum, palladium, and rhodium in the coating of the inner ceramic structure that values several hundred dollars. 

Since RVs and motorhomes with catalytic converters are frequently left in storage or unattended for long periods, they are prime targets for theft. Catalytic converters can be taken from a brand-new RV on the lot or even in your driveway!

It takes fewer than 10 minutes to steal it and much less time if you’re a pro. Because so many have been stolen, new regulations have been enacted and continue to be enacted in an attempt to deter these thieves!

Note: Your catalytic converter theft is likely to be covered if you have comprehensive RV auto insurance. 

But worry less, as there are ways to prevent these thieves from getting your catalytic converter from your RV.

How to Avoid RV Catalytic Converter Theft

The best way to secure a catalytic converter from theft is to park in a well-lit area that has 24-hour security or security cameras. Welding it to the frame would make it more difficult to remove.

Also, make sure you have adequate insurance coverage to replace a catalytic converter in case of theft.

Depending on your financial circumstances and desire to avoid theft, you can take a variety of safeguards. 

Park in a secure well lit area

Catalytic converters for RVs have been taken in a variety of locations, including driveways and parks. When at all feasible, park in a well-lit area. When parking in a public lot, park close to the building entrance or the closest access road.

When you don’t need your automobile, park it in your closed garage.

The objective is to make it more difficult for thieves to take for a fast profit. If your car is parked in a secure garage, the ability of the theft to get close to your RV is reduced.

Use a security camera to monitor your RV

Security cameras can easily be installed in your driveway or garage if you store your RV at home. Otherwise, choose a storage facility that has security cameras in place.

Weld the catalytic converter in place

The converter can be fitted with security measures that make it more difficult to steal. It’s also more difficult to remove a converter that’s welded to the automobile frame.  Some people have been known to install a skid plate over the exhaust system.

Add a security system where vibration triggers it.

The loud alert should deter a thief because these alarms are sensitive. You can keep the alarm on while your RV is in storage.

I don’t advocate keeping them armed while inside your RV but having one, though, isn’t a terrible idea, especially considering the reasonable price. It’s affordable, loud, and simple to set up. Just don’t forget about removing it before hitting the road; why? Because again, it’s sensitive!

Engrave your vehicle identifying number (VIN) or contact information.

It is also highly advisable to engrave your vehicle identifying number (VIN) or contact information outside the catalytic converter.

It might alert a scrap merchant that it was stolen, making it simpler to track down the owner. Thinking of just using a sticker is unlikely to work because a large part of the catalytic converter’s job is to generate a lot of heat and might just melt the sticker.

How Much Does it Cost to Replace a Catalytic Converter

Replacing a catalytic converter on a motorhome will cost between $1,000 and $2,700 dollars including part and labor. The parts will be most of the expense because labor is estimated between $150 and $200.

Final thoughts on Catalytic Converters

Catalytic converters aren’t found in every RV only motorhomes. Remember they only deal with engine exhaust, but understanding that you have one and what it means for the life of your RV is critical.

Take care of your catalytic converters from maintenance to being stolen if you own a motorhome or other equipment with an engine, as they are important more than you think!

To end it all, I’d like to invite you to take a look at my Etsy Store just in case you need planners and journals to jot down your RV camping experiences and sights.

For more RV resources, here are some of my posts that you can check out:

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    Shauna Kocman founder Family Travel Fever
    Shauna Kocman founder of Family Travel Fever

    Hi, I’m Shauna – Welcome to Family Travel Fever.  We are a large family, that was bitten by the travel bug!  I take the kids by myself because I don’t mind flying or driving solo with my crew to discover the coolest places.

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