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What is an emissions system?

Emission systems are one of the most important components on a car. It is also one of the least understood systems in modern vehicles since the only time most people have to worry about it is during a routine emissions check.


The emission system on modern automobiles is used to reduce the amount of harmful chemicals in exhaust gases. Combustion produces many harmful substances including hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and oxides of nitrogen. These all are bad for both the environment and humans if they are inhaled. Cars outfitted with a modern emission system cut the levels of all three of these chemical compounds to near zero.


How does it work?

The majority of modern cars use a catalytic converter as the main component in the emission system. The catalytic converter looks like a muffler and is installed near the middle or back of the car and is part of the exhaust system. Inside the catalytic converter are pellets or a honeycomb structure that are made of either platinum or palladium. These metals are the catalyst, which speeds up the chemical reaction process of the exhaust gases. The hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide are chemically oxidized and converted to carbon dioxide and water, both of which are harmless to the environment.


The Downsides

The downside to the catalytic converter is it generates a large amount of heat while operating. The more hydrocarbons there are in the exhaust, the more heat that is generated. This is not good for the catalytic converter and if it gets hot too often it will begin to destroy itself. If this happens, the car it is installed in will not pass an emissions test and it can be a pricy repair depending on the model of the vehicle. Catalytic converters are also a popular item for thieves to steal off of vehicles, especially trucks and SUVs which are higher off the ground. This is due to the fact that many of the metals used to make catalytic converters are worth quite a bit of money if they are sold as scrap metal. Unfortunately, there really is not much you can do to prevent this from happening.


Key Takeaways

  • Emission systems are important to decrease harmful chemicals being released into the air.
  • Modern models of emission systems bring the levels down to almost zero.
  • Keep in mind these systems are longed for by thieves, as they have a large value in the scrap metal industry.

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