In this article, we explore whether electric cars have or need catalytic converters.
Catalytic converters are a common feature on gasoline-powered vehicles to reduce vehicular emissions. However, electric cars don’t use gasoline, so do they still need them? One might ask this type of question when comparing electric vehicles (EVs) to gasoline-powered ones.
The answer is no, i.e., electric cars don’t have catalytic converters. The reason is that they don’t need them. But why not?
Do Electric Cars Have a Catalytic Converter?
The main question this article addresses is whether electric cars have a catalytic converter. The answer is no because electric cars don’t have catalytic converters.
Hybrid cars are an exception only because they are not fully electric and still contain a combustion engine. However, we will look into why they don’t, and what the implications are for not having a catalytic converter. First, we will need to know what a catalytic converter does.
Note: Although this article focuses on electric cars, whether a catalytic converter is needed and other information about them apply equally to electric vehicles in general.
What Catalytic Converters Do
A catalytic converter is a device that helps reduce harmful emissions from a vehicle’s engine. It is added to the vehicle’s tailpipe as part of its exhaust system. Its outer case encloses a catalyst, which converts the incoming gases from the engine (CO-HC-NOx) to relatively safer gases (CO2-H2O-N2) that are then released into the air (see illustration below). 
The gases produced by the engine are hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, and carbon monoxide. A catalytic converter’s function is critical because carbon monoxide is toxic. The red corpuscles of blood absorb this gas and inhibit the absorption of oxygen, which is essential for sustaining life. 
In short, its purpose is to make vehicle emissions less harmful to our health and environment. The final emitted gases (after catalysis) are carbon dioxide, water, and nitrogen. Carbon dioxide is not harmless either, but it is less so than carbon monoxide.
Having a catalytic converter fitted in a vehicle is a legal requirement if the vehicle has a combustion engine. The requirement is checked during emissions testing to ensure it is present and functioning normally.
The mandatory use of a catalytic converter came into effect in 1972 to control the pollution of air and groundwater from cars. A few more relevant points in relation to catalytic converters are: 
- Modifying, disabling, or removing a catalytic converter from a vehicle is illegal.
- When replacing a catalytic converter, the replacement should be like-for-like.
- Emission testing is required on a yearly basis.
Besides EVs, off-road vehicles are also exempt from the requirement of having a catalytic converter.
Why Electric Cars Don’t Need Catalytic Converters
Since a catalytic converter works to remove pollutants from a vehicle’s internal combustion engine, and electric cars don’t have an internal combustion engine, they don’t emit exhaust fumes. Therefore, electric cars don’t need a catalytic converter.
Other Things Electric Cars Don’t Have
There are several things that electric cars don’t have, which explains why they don’t need a catalytic converter. Among them are:
- No internal combustion engine
- No need for motor oil to lubricate the engine
- No production of toxic pollutants
- Much fewer mechanical parts
Implications of Not Having a Catalytic Converter
Health and the Environment
Not needing a catalytic converter, because electric cars don’t emit exhaust fumes, makes them more environmentally friendly compared to cars that do, at least in terms of emission of toxic fumes.
There is also another reason why not needing a catalytic converter makes electric cars safer. This safety is from a security point of view. Catalytic converters contain expensive metals, such as platinum, palladium, and rhodium. They help in the filtering process to reduce harmful emissions using a honeycomb structure. They catalyze harmful gases, hence the name catalytic converter.
However, the expensive contents make catalytic converters a target for thieves. If a catalytic converter is easy to remove, it makes it a more enticing target. In some vehicles, there is even more than one catalytic converter.
Given the expected rise in demand for electric vehicles, as replacements for vehicles with internal combustion engines, there will be decreasing demand for catalytic converters.
The present drive is toward creating a cleaner environment. Electric vehicles offer an opportunity to maintain a relatively cleaner and healthier environment by constructing cars that don’t emit harmful gases, which eliminates the need for catalytic converters.
It is likely that within a few years, catalytic converters will become a relic of the past era of toxic-fume-emitting vehicles.
Controlling for Harmful Gases with EVs
If electric vehicles (EVs) do not emit harmful gases, and do not, therefore, need a catalytic converter, then why do we still need to control harmful gases? The reason for this is that although EVs themselves do not emit harmful gases, the situation is not the same during the production and charging processes.
EV manufacturers generate a lot of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to construct EVs, and the charging grids for charging EVs also still largely rely on non-renewable energy sources. Consequently, the fact that EVs don’t need catalytic converters does not mean we are completely free of the need to control harmful gases.
We explored whether electric cars have a catalytic converter. We pointed out that they don’t, and then explained why they don’t need one. The reason for EV’s not having and not needing a catalytic converter is that they don’t produce harmful gaseous emissions, as do cars with gasoline-powered internal combustion engines.
The main gas of concern is carbon monoxide. The catalytic converter converts this and the other two gases involved (hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides) into relatively safer carbon dioxide, besides water and nitrogen.
The more harmful carbon monoxide makes it a legal requirement to have a working catalytic converter installed. Since no harmful gases are emitted by EVs, there is no legal requirement.
However, we also showed that although it might appear EVs are safer for our health and environment, the emission of carbon dioxide during their production and for charging them still make it necessary to control harmful gases.
Nonetheless, as the use of EVs is likely to grow in the future, it means that the demand for catalytic converters will continue to fall.
Take a look at some of our related articles below.
 Allan Bonnick & Derek Newbold. A practical approach to motor vehicle engineering and maintenance. 3rd edition. Butterworth-Heinemann, Elsevier. 2011.
 Christie Marlowe & Andrew Morkes. Car mechanic: Working under the hood. Mason Crest. 2020.
 T. K. Garrett, K. Newton & W. Steeds. The motor vehicle. 13th edition. Butterworth-Heinemann. 2001.
 Michelle Seidel. Catalytic converter laws. Retrieved from https://legalbeagle.com/7194804-catalytic-converter-laws.html. Legal Beagle. 2018.
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