How to Pass a Smog Test With an Old Catalytic Converter

Updated on April 11, 2018
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Daniel writes on any subject based on his actual experiences and those of others as well as topics founded on facts established by research.

There are dozens of websites, articles and blogs giving advice and recommendations on tips and tricks on how to pass a smog test or what is also known as an emissions test. I won’t add one more article to these lot of recommendations as I believe there are already enough out there.

Different Types of Catalytic Converters
Different Types of Catalytic Converters

Instead I will talk about a simple, no-cost technique on how to pass a smog test if your vehicle has already undergone one and failed because of a bad catalytic converter. Replacing a catalytic converter is expensive. This simple home remedy will avoid having to buy one and won't cost a penny.

Incidentally, this method can also be used before going for your first smog test to ensure that you pass the test the first time around.

If you have an old vehicle and you suspect it might fail a smog test because of its age, then you definitely should follow the suggested technique described here before going for the smog test. If you know a smog test service that offers a free pre-test to determine whether or not your vehicle will pass then, by all means, you should use such service before actually having the test done. If there is no pre-test service available near you, a friendly neighborhood mechanic will more than likely do a pre-test for free using an OBD2 scanner gadget.

Dirty and Clean Emitting Exhaust Systems

What I will present here is just one and only one simple technique I’ve used numerous times to pass smog tests on my old Toyota Highlander SUV. I discovered this technique when I first failed an emissions test done on this vehicle. After the first failed test, I took my SUV to my neighborhood mechanic to make the necessary repairs or whatever was needed to pass the emissions test.

After going through a series of diagnostic procedures and various analysis the mechanic found the problem. It was my old catalytic converter which was still the original one installed in the vehicle. Apparently it was no longer doing its job as effectively as it should. The mechanic said that this happens frequently on old vehicles; even though the catalytic converter is still doing its intended job, it is not doing it as strictly as smog equipment requires.

Out of curiosity I picked up my smart phone and asked Google what the cost is to replace a catalytic converter. Here is what the smart phone told me:

“Installation takes about an hour average, depending on the vehicle; total cost for parts and labor can be $300-$3,000 or more. CarMd.com names replacing a catalytic converter as the third most common car repair related to a “check engine” warning light, and estimates the average cost for parts and labor at $1,029.”

What the Mechanic Told Me

The mechanic then proceeded to reveal to me a secret method of how to go around and trick the smog machine into passing the vehicle without having to do a costly converter replacement. Here is a person that just saved me over a thousand dollars in repairs with a simple trick that he didn’t have to tell me. He could have just as easily told me that the converter needed replacement, and he would have made some good money out of the work. Instead he chose to be honest, a rarity in the auto repair industry.

When I expressed concern that I really didn’t want to contribute to more pollution by continuing to drive with the old converter, he replied thus:

“Catalytic converters will continue functioning and doing their job pretty well until they die completely. Smog test equipment is calibrated so sensitively as to detect even a minor inconsistency ...and that is how a still functioning converter will fail a test even though it’s still good for many years’ usage.”

— expert emissions mechanic

When it has reached its final days of usefulness a catalytic converter will not pass a smog test no matter what kind of trickery is used to deceive the smog machine.

I have used this trick to deceive smog equipment year after year for four consecutive years until I replaced my vehicle with a new one. I’ve also recommended this method to people I know with old vehicles and they have told me it was successful in almost every case at every smog test. The few exceptions that it didn’t work was when the problem was not related to catalytic converter malfunction or the converter had reached its final days.

At this point in this article you must now really be impatient at my dilly-dallying before proceeding to the main subject. Forgive me. I felt it was important to give you a little background on how I came to learn about this very useful trick.

Steps to Ensure Passing an Ordinary Smog Test

I’m sure you already know the tips and tricks on how to pass a normal smog test (that is with a normal functioning catalytic converter). But just so you understand the trick I’m about to reveal to you, let me once again list the different tips for passing a smog test under ordinary circumstances. I won’t go into details to explain each tip since I believe you’ve already done your homework on this.

Here they are:

  1. Change Engine Oil – Cleaner oil in the engine helps considerably in a cleaner exhaust.
  2. Warm up engine – Run your car for at least 20 minutes prior to a smog test.
  3. The use of fuel additives can be good and bad: Good if used consistently over many months prior to a smog test, Bad if you use the additives only for a short period before a test.
  4. Avoid a smog test on a hot day, or do the test very early in the morning when the temperature is still cool.
  5. Prior to a smog test do a general service update: change your air filter, spark plugs, and engine oil and filter. If your vehicle is really old, say over 100,000 miles, you may also use a heavier grade oil only until you’ve completed the smog test, returning to your normal oil grade afterwards.
  6. You may want to use a fuel injection cleaner a few weeks before the smog test. Don’t use it too soon before the test or it will contribute to failure of the test.
  7. Do not disconnect the battery or have a jump start immediately before the smog test. This will surely make the vehicle fail.

All the above tips are moot and useless if you have already failed a test due to your catalytic converter being old. You can overcome an old converter problem (short of replacing it) only with the trick mentioned below.

While many websites, articles and blogs say that battery disconnection is a frequent reason for failing a test, and this is in fact true, it is also the big SECRET of this entire article. Disconnecting the battery is the trick on how to pass a smog test. But it has to be done correctly or it will surely cause the vehicle to fail.

Correct Procedure to Pass a Smog Test When Catalytic Converter Performance is Suspect

  1. Plan ahead – Know well in advance when you need to have a smog test. Plan to disconnect the battery long enough in advance to allow you to then drive your vehicle for at least 150 miles.
  2. Disconnect your battery the night before you start the 150 mile run. This will erase the internal monitors on the vehicles computer.
  3. Reconnect the battery next day. This will re-start the computer’s internal self-test monitors and re-calibrate all systems. If your commute to work is 30 miles per day round trip, then you need to do about 5 days of commuting to rack up the required mileage.
  4. Reset your odometer to zero and start monitoring your mileage.
  5. Start your 150 mile run.
  6. At the end of the mileage run you are ready for a smog test. Avoid doing the test on a very hot day and do so early early in the morning when the temperature is still cool. Run your vehicle for at least twenty minutes to warm up the engine prior to the test.

You will be surprised how you can do this repeatedly every year around the time of your annual vehicle registration date.

© 2018 Daniel Mollat

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