March 26

2006 Volvo XC90 – Catalytic Converter



Mark: Hi, it's Mark from TLR. I'm here with my good friend, Bernie Pawlik, Pawlik Automotive in Vancouver. Vancouver's best auto service experience. 23 times. I might even have some news about that. 23 time winners of best auto repair in Vancouver as voted by their customers. We're talking cars. How are you doing Bernie?

Bernie: Doing well. 

Mark: So 2006 Volvo XC90 had a catalytic converter problem. What was going on with this  vehicle? 

Bernie: Yeah, so the vehicle came to our shop. Customer had a few concerns. One was a rattling sound in the exhaust system. So yeah, that's basically the bulk of it, but that was the biggest concern.

Mark: So what kind of diagnosis inspections did you do? 

Bernie: Well, because this client was new to us and they had a number of concerns besides the rattling and exhaust. We did a comprehensive inspection. So it's a full vehicle inspection and then looked at the exhaust. We could hear the rattling sound.

We basically do a visual inspection to see if there's anything loose, you know, wiggle things around, sometimes we'll use rubber hammers on things. Variety of things sometimes just running it with one person in the vehicle, getting the right speed or, you know, until cause of vibration, this is what we do. We have different listening equipment, whatever it takes. And what we found is that the catalytic converter had a rattle inside, internally. 

Mark: So how does, leaving aside the fact that you're using rubber hammers, which my wife likes to use on me. How does the catalytic converter rattle internally?

Bernie: So what happens is the way catalytic converter, it's basically got a shell body. We'll look at a picture in a minute and inside of it, there's this it's like a sort of metal honeycomb grid, it's all welded together, very compact. And usually there's some kind of fireproof lining that goes around that.

And eventually over the years as cars, you know, it's 15 years old, it's got a fair number of kilometres on it. Things will rattle around. Sometimes people will actually hit them depending on where it's located. They might bottom out and hit it. That wasn't the case with this vehicle. But sometimes if you were to hit the converter, you know, hard to say on a rock or something, or go over something that could cause it to come loose. Sometimes just over time, the metal expand and contract, expand and contract over the years, happens a lot. You know, eventually things will kind of get loose and start to shift around inside. 

Mark: So, how does that affect the performance of the catalyst in the converter? 

Bernie: Well, it eventually will degrade the performance because the exhaust, to be effective of course the exhaust has to flow through the substrate with all the precious metals causing a chemical reactions with the exhaust.

And so any exhaustive bypasses that, which it can eventually, especially if the rattle gets severe, will definitely degrade the performance of the converter. And you'll know that because the check engine light will come on, at least on a converter of this age, because it's anything after 1996, the converter is monitored for its efficiency. So that hadn't happened yet on this vehicle, but it certainly would at some point. 

Mark: So, are there other reasons, other than someone's stolen it, that catalytic converters require replacement? 

Bernie: Well, it's funny you talked about the stolen one, cause I was going to talk about that, but let me just share a picture for a second while we're talking about that.

There's our 2006 XC90. Still in good shape for a 15 year old car. 

2006 Volvo XC90 - Catalytic Converter
2006 Volvo XC90 - Catalytic Converter

And there's the catalytic converter assembly itself. So you mentioned stolen. So these things, on this particular vehicle, this part of the flange just sits against the turbocharger. There's a flexible pipe. And this is actually a failure item on a lot of exhaust systems will cause loud exhaust, and we can usually replace these. We can buy the flex couplings and weld a new one in. 

There's the catalytic converter right there. That's the body of the cat. And inside is that substrate. This one is located under the vehicle and people will slide under there or jack it up or whatever means they have with a SAWZALL, like a portable reciprocating saw. It's nice and easy to do nowadays because there's so many battery options available, and they'll just slice it out and you'll get out one morning, start your car. And it's super loud and catalytic converter's gone. 

But other reasons for failure is basically, you know, they're not supposed to ever wear out, but they will wear out eventually. And it's just when, who knows. I mean, I had a 2001 suburban I sold last year, had almost 400,000 Ks. Cats were still original and working fine. As I say, you, you just don't know how long they'll last. You know, a lot of times, they might get hit if they're underneath the car or the substrate will work loose and rattle. So those are really the reasons they'll need replacement.

Oh, we'll give another thing. They can get plugged. You know, if you have an engine that's misfiring, often the check engine light will blink. That's something you really need to fix. A check engine light that's on solid is fix it soon. A check engine light is blinking. That's a serious concern.

It indicates a catalyst damaging misfire. What happens is, an engine misfires it dumps a lot of raw gasoline down into the cat. It gets very hot and it will actually melt the substrate. So that's another reason for replacing these. They'll get plugged, you'll lose power. And that needs to be repaired.

Mark: So the chemical reaction that's taking place in there with the platinum, and I don't know what else is in there. 

 Bernie: Palladium rhodium platinum. Those are usually the materials. 

Mark: I was going to guess that. Okay. Sorry. They react with the exhaust gases and pull the pollutants out of the air, basically. So the exhaust is cleaner coming out of the tailpipe?

Bernie: Yeah, essentially that's what they do. They take any excess hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and oxides of nitrogen. They basically convert that into CO2 and water. That's basically the ideal reaction.

So we're basically pumping more CO2 into the air. But less harmful noxious type of pollutants. You know, that cause other diseases. Like carbon dioxide and oxides of nitrogen are particularly bad hydrocarbons. 

Mark: We're getting rid of the kill you now stuff. But increasing the kill you later stuff.

Bernie: Exactly. Exactly. And we're doing a really good job of that because it's amazing how little of those other pollutants really come out of a tailpipe of a car that's been built in the last 20 years. 

Mark: So what kind of replacement options are available for this catalytic converter on a Volvo?

Bernie: Well, there's a couple. There's an aftermarket pipe and catalyst assembly. We sometimes will do custom work where we'll actually weld in a really high quality universal converter or you can buy a new converter from the dealer. We've talked to the customer with different options.

In this case, we actually went with the dealer converter. This is  actually an OEM Volvo catalytic converter. So the OEM converters cost a lot more money generally than the aftermarkets, but they are much better. They have a full catalyst load in them. And which is why they cost a lot more money.

You're not just paying for the name because it's from Volvo or from wherever you're buying. It actually is the best quality unit you can buy. But often the price can just be enormously expensive, but in this case, it was a lot more, probably about $900 more to use this dealer converter over an aftermarket. But clearly this will last for, if these people keep this car for another 15 years, which is doubtful ,it'll last for 15 years. Unless you have a misfire problem which can wreck the catalytic converter pretty fast. But as long as you keep the car in good running shape, it'll last definitely for the life of the vehicle if these people will keep it for. 

Mark: So is it possible to buy a used converter? And would that be a good idea? 

Bernie: Well used is a bit dicey. You know, I've actually seen auto wreckers that won't sell catalytic converters. I remember there's one said, you know, federal law won't allow us to sell one, which seems kind of ridiculous. And that could be an American thing. A company that used to be American company that used to sell a lot of used parts here, but we have bought used converters. We rarely ever do that because it's kind of risky. You don't know how long it's going to last for, and you don't know if it's going to be any good until you actually install it in the vehicle. 

I mean, we can bang with a hammer and make sure it's not rattling, but you don't know whether it's plugged or whether the efficiency is low until you actually install it. So it's a very risky item to do. You know, if you do it and it doesn't work, then you've got a lot of labor to pull it back out again, to fix it.

Mark: And probably now with the price of palladium, rhodium, platinum, that why people are stealing catalytic converters. A lot of wreckers aren't going to be selling the converter because it can get more money by recycling the precious metals. 

Bernie: Well, no, I would say that you could still, it's still worth more money as an intact item. I mean, if you consider a lot of auto wreckers, some of them have a, there's sort of a policy of selling it for half the price of new.

So I mean, this converter could, you know, they could potentially sell this pipe for six or 700 bucks or more even if someone would pay that for it. But then, you know, that's almost approaching the price of an aftermarket new converter. So you think, well, which way is worth it.

And if it only has a 90 day warranty, it's kind of hard to legitimize, but  I mean as a piece of scrap metal, that catalytic converter is probably worth a hundred bucks.  

Mark: There's gotta be an easy way to make a living. So how many kilometres run this vehicle? 

Bernie: Yeah, so this vehicle had about 277,000 Ks actually. So it was quite up there. Ran really nice.

Mark: So how are XC90s overall and how are they for reliability? 

Bernie: Pretty good vehicles. You know, we've talked a lot about Volvos over the years. Certain quirks rear differentials wear out. They do have some transmission issues and some model years, the drive belt system on some of these is rather strange and expensive to fix, but overall I'd say they're pretty good.

And I think sometimes you have evaluate a car, you know, it's 277,000 kilometres it runs great. You know, needed a few thousand dollars worth of repairs, including this converter, but now the car is in good shape and it'll go for quite a while, I would say without any further issues. So, you know, overall a good car, but you will spend more money on these to fix them, but it is a, you know, kind of a top level European SUV vehicle. Good safety and comfort, creature comfort. So there's more to go wrong, a little more expensive to fix, but definitely a decent vehicle. And I think this one's proven itself over time with the mileage on it that it's a pretty good car. 

Mark: If you're looking for service for your Volvo in Vancouver, BC, Canada. The guys to call are Pawlik Automotive. You can reach them at (604) 327-7112 to book your appointment, you have to call and book ahead. They're busy. Check out the website. You can book your appointment there. They'll call and confirm everything with you ahead of your appointment. 

Or check us out on YouTube. There's hundreds of videos on there about all makes and models over nine years worth of doing this. Pawlik Auto Repair. And of course, thank you so much for watching and listening. We really appreciate it. Thanks Bernie. 

Bernie: Thank you, Mark. Thanks for watching and listening. We really appreciate it.

About the author 

Bernie Pawlik

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