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If you own a car, you probably already know that a catalytic converter has an important role. It filters and burns up harmful byproducts from your car’s exhaust. This reduces toxic emissions as well as improves gas efficiency. All cars and trucks manufactured after 1974 are required to have catalytic converters – as are many RVs.
Here we will cover all the basics of RVs and catalytic converters, including theft and prevention.
Do RVs Have Catalytic Converters?
Drivable RVs – those with engines such as Class A, B, and C motorhomes – have catalytic converters. Catalytic converters reduce the emissions from internal combustion engines on a vehicle, hence why 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.
Catalytic converters are required by law on all motor vehicles in all 50 states of the US.
Theft of catalytic converters is a big problem. The equipment contains precious metals – such as platinum and palladium – that are a target for thieves. If your motorhome does not have a catalytic converter, it was likely removed at some point and needs to be replaced.
If this sounds overwhelming, don’t worry! I will cover all of this in this article. Keep reading to learn more.
For more resources about your RV, visit the resources page or start with these ones:
What Is a Catalytic Converter?
A French mechanical engineer named Eugène Houdry created the first catalytic converter in 1950. It was designed to purify the exhaust from automobiles.
Catalytic converters help internal combustion engines emit less pollution. Fuel in these engines does not burn completely and there isn’t enough oxygen to completely oxidize the carbon fuel. Thus, the catalytic converter converts the harmful exhaust chemicals (carbon monoxide, nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide, and hydrocarbons) into carbon dioxide and water. This reduces the hazardous byproducts that are generated.
Around 1975, catalytic converters became widely used as governments began to implement laws to minimize air pollution from automobiles. However, many cars ran on leaded gasoline. A catalytic converter can get clogged with lead 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 a Catalytic Converter Located on an RV?
An RV’s catalytic converter location can be found 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, like steam, by a catalytic converter. It uses a chamber called a catalyst to create the reaction.
The catalyst looks like a ceramic honeycomb enclosed in a metal shell. A mixture of platinum (Pt), palladium (Pd), and rhodium (Rh) coats 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?
Any RV with an engine should have a catalytic converter. 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.
In addition, your rig may have more than one catalytic converter based on its size and capability. Catalytic converters are standard equipment on Class A, B, and C rigs 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 – and illegal – to drive a vehicle without them. Many RVs use diesel fuel; these may have a more complex diesel catalytic converter depending on the 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.
Here are some common reasons catalytic converters may fail:
Associated parts not working. 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.
Overheating. 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.
*Excessive load on the engine also causes overheating – in other words, don’t be a lead foot with your poor motorhome.
Fluid leaking in. 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.
External damage. 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.
Lead. 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?
Changing a catalytic converter is expensive, so you want to keep it in good operating order. So, how can you preserve it in prime 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.
In addition, routine maintenance such as oil changes, air filter replacements, and inspections should be done regularly. 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.
Pro-tip: Don’t leave your motorhome dormant for long periods. If you let it sit too long, your catalytic converter may not have a chance to properly clean itself. This can result in excessive buildup and a possible blockage.
Make a point of going on a few longer excursions so that your converter can burn off any deposits that may have accumulated. Once every couple of weeks, spend at least half an hour driving to attain optimal operating temperature.
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 converter clean and will extend the life of your vehicle.
If you have a problem with your catalytic converter due to a lack of regular maintenance, there are a few things you can try. Stronger cleaners are available to aid in restoring your converter to its original state. You can also try a fuel additive, like this DuraLube Severe Catalytic and Exhaust Treatment.
However, if other options don’t help, 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 but completely plugged, your engine may run but will become damaged.
Symptoms of a bad catalytic converter include:
- Check engine light is on
- Reduced engine performance
- Odd or rotten-egg smell
- Abnormal noises or rattling in the engine
- Stalling or losing acceleration
- The engine misfires
Your motorhome will run without a catalytic converter, so you can still safely drive it to the repair shop. However, continuing to drive without it is against the law in the United States. 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 often 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 the inner ceramic structure contains valuable metals such as platinum, palladium, and rhodium. These can be worth several hundred dollars.
Drivable RVs and motorhomes are frequently left in storage or unattended for long periods, making them prime targets for theft. Catalytic converters can be taken from a brand-new RV on the lot – or even in your driveway!
There were 14,433 reported catalytic converter thefts in 2020 – 325% more than the year before (National Insurance Crime Bureau).
It takes fewer than 10 minutes to steal one, 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. Check out Roamly – insurance for RVers, designed by RVers – for a quote in under a minute.
But you can relax a bit: there are ways to prevent these thieves from getting your RV’s catalytic converter in the first place.
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 also make it more difficult to remove.
Also, make sure you have adequate insurance coverage (be sure to check out Roamly) 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. Whenever possible, 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 rig or tow vehicle, 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 thief to get close to your RV is reduced.
Use a security camera to monitor your RV
To keep an eye on your RV while at home, security cameras can easily be installed over your driveway or garage. Otherwise, choose a storage facility that has security cameras in place.
Weld the catalytic converter in place
Catalytic converters can be fitted with various security measures that make them 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 or a shield guard over the exhaust system.
Add a security system with an alarm
You can find many affordable anti-theft systems for catalytic converters online, like this one from Amazon. The loud alert should deter a thief as these alarms are very sensitive. You can keep the alarm on while your RV is in storage.
I don’t advise keeping them armed while inside your RV, especially if the alarm is triggered by vibration. However, having one for your RV while in storage is a great idea, especially considering the reasonable price.
These are affordable, loud, and simple to set up. Just don’t forget to remove it before hitting the road, because I’m not kidding when I say it’s sensitive!
Engrave your vehicle identifying number (VIN)
It is also encouraged to engrave your vehicle identifying number (VIN) or contact information on the outside of 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 – in addition, a thief will easily be able to remove this.
Add some color
Finally, a simple but effective way to prevent thieves from stealing your catalytic converter is to cover it with spray paint – the brighter, the better. A (smart) thief would want to make sure any stolen converter they’re trying to sell is generic and clean – and has no trace that it’s stolen.
Having to scrape neon green paint off of all the small, hard-to-reach areas of a converter would be too risky and time-consuming for a crook.
How Much Does it Cost to Replace a Catalytic Converter
Replacing a catalytic converter on a motorhome can cost between $1,000 and $2,700 dollars, including parts and labor. The parts will be most of the expense as labor is estimated between $150 and $200.
Final Thoughts on Catalytic Converters
Catalytic converters aren’t found in every RV – only motorhomes that have engines. Knowing if your RV has one and what it means for the life of your RV is critical.
Take care of your catalytic converters – from maintenance to theft prevention – if you own a motorhome or other equipment with an engine. These guys are more important than you may realize!
Finally, I’d like to invite you to take a look at my Etsy Store – here, you’ll find planners and journals to jot down your RV camping experiences and favorite memories.
For more RV resources, here are some of my posts that you can check out:
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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Thanks for a great article on the catalytic converter. I just purchased a new (to me) Class C and the catalytic converter was stolen off of my new unit along with many others prior to my driving it home. What a mess…
I want to just put in a tail pipe and not replace the converter, I know it is against the law, but so is stealing one. Since i cant stop people from stealing mine and i only drive 100 miles or less. will it still run with just replacing it with a tailpipe?
While you can technically drive an RV without the catalytic converter it is not legal. You need to consider which way the exhaust is directed so that it is away from anything that you do not damage the engine or sparks. Some people advise using a “turn down tip” and bolt/clamp it on to limp to the shop. Hopefully your short trip would be to a repair shop or permanent location.
mine was stolen too rv place ,cause it was stolen there,cob jobbed one cut it welded it drilled a hole in to put it on really big mess this should be illegal !!!
I have a 2021 Winnebago, catalytic converter was stolen. Going on a trip soon driving 1600 miles total. Unable to get the catalytic converter replaced in time. If I have some one weld a straight pipe in its place until I get home will it cause a problem with the engine or O2 sensors thank you
I’m sorry to hear your catalytic converter was stolen. Personally, I would not recommend going on such a long trip without a new catalytic converter. It would be illegal, and you are likely crossing state lines with differing laws. Also, with 2021 you could risk causing additional damage to the system and voiding your warranty. Your engine will likley run but you need a downturn pipe and the oxygen sensor and post-cat sensor will have errors.