Will the State of Colorado Eat its Words?

Posted: January 22, 2012 in Uncategorized
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Lets discuss ‘precious metals’.

No not the one you saved up for to land the Mrs. or get out of the dog house. I’m talking those pricey ones that sit a couple feet underneath your keister in your vehicle’s catalytic converter. These metals (titanium, platinum, rhodium, palladium) have become so precious that petty thieves have even become so brazen as to travel around with portable saws to steal vehicle catalytic converters under the cover of night.

Their function, as the pollutant afterburner for your engine is a legal requirement for all vehicles sold and operated in the United States. In fact, our government feels that these pollution control devices are so important that mechanics who replace them are required to thoroughly document their failure mode and retain the old part for at least six months as evidence of a justified replacement. Of course anything that important has got to be worth some moo-lah. Some modern vehicle designs include up to 4 catalytic converters and their OEM replacement cost can run as much as $1200 each!. You might rest a little easier by knowing that our government also mandates that these babies be warranted for 10 years or 100,000 miles (whichever comes first). The overall message from the ‘G’ being, “Yes, we are going to require them, but we’re also going to make sure that they are made to last”. Score one for the consumer. Thanks uncle S.

But WAIT! What about the rest of us? We proudly display our merit badge that says “My truck has a quarter of a million miles and is still going strong”. After all, any well maintained vehicle is merely middle-aged at 100,000 miles! At some point the rest of us will be buying catalytic converters and of course, as rings true with auto parts everywhere, NOT ALL CATS ARE CREATED EQUAL! That is to say, once motivated by a looming multi-thousand dollar repair estimate a lot of us turn to research and often, the internet and there is no shortage of snake oil on the internet. Sometimes, this type of snake oil can be found at your corner discount auto parts store. Now I won’t name names here but suffice it to say that any mechanic worth your trust has a list of parts stores that he avoids, or at least only goes into with his shirt collar up, sunglasses on, and ball cap down wondering if anyone he knows will see him. What is different about these parts stores? Well, while every parts supplier out there has a discount/economy line as well as a professional grade line, these black-listers carry mostly economy grade parts that are destined to fail you in the very near future, if not right out of the box! In fact, even their professional grade product lines merely masquerade as such and are barely equivalent to the economy lines of say Napa or Car Quest.

While the gradient of quality in the aftermarket parts world can and will likely support a blog of its own, for the sake of this post I will only tell you that it is such a large issue in this business that, once again, our government was compelled to step in. The warning was  about the ‘bad right out of the box’ snake oil that can be found in discount stores and on the internet in the form of catalytic converters. In this instance, the state of Colorado Air Pollution Control Division issued a letter to all Colorado residents who had recently failed an emissions test. The letter explains that you should use a “reputable, professional repair shop”… Okay, we like to hear that… “and install only OE-level converters generally purchased from the vehicle manufacturer”… Hold on Sam, not so fast, you have to know before you blow… It further warns that less expensive, aftermarket catalysts are not required to meet the same performance standards as OEM conterparts and thereby often result in a new part failing the emissions test again… So now we can weed out the misinformation from the good intentions...

Now, let me first say that I commend the state for taking action on what is such a poorly known problem. People DO need to know the difference between the cheapos and the true leaders in the automotive parts world. The turth is that NAPA, for instance, represents an association of the top parts manufacturers who undergo great engineering efforts to not only meet but almost always exceed the OEM’s standard. Anyone who has ever recieved a recall notice, or even watched the news knows that the OEM frequently gets it wrong, and is not always motivated to continue to engineer improvements into past year models where they have no fear of liability. This is where the elite of the aftermarket world pick up the ball and redesign better parts that actually last longer and perform better. The difficult part for the consumer is in knowing the difference between flashy marketing surrounding a snake-oil part and the one from the elite when the only obvious differentiator is the price tag. Acutally, as an experienced technician at a reputable repair business, thats my job, to help with information and professional recommendation regardless of whether you install it or I do.

In this case, Tenneco, the manufacturer of Napa’s catalytic converters was quick to correct and refute the state’s misinformation citing federal and industry test standards, engineering campaigns, and extensive warranty that sets their products a step above those bought at the dealer. The letter, while obviously combed for legal intentions, proved that the problem, while lying in the aftermarket parts world, does not apply to the true dedicated experts.

Needless to say I look forward to seeing the follow up between the state, Tenneco, and any other manufacturers that are likely to chime in.

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