P0420 code definition
Catalyst System Efficiency Below Threshold (Bank 1)
What the P0420 code means
The purpose of the catalytic converter is to break down harmful pollutants that are created during the combustion cycle. By using fine platinum and gold meshes to filter exhaust fumes, the catalytic converter is able to reduce the emissions expelled from the exhaust pipe.
The catalytic converter has two oxygen sensors. One oxygen sensor is positioned in front (upstream) of the catalytic converter and the other oxygen sensor is positioned at the rear (downstream).
If the upstream oxygen sensor is working properly, its readings should fluctuate from when the car is at operating temperature and when running in a closed loop. If the downstream oxygen sensor is working properly, and there isn't an issue with the catalytic converter, its readings should remain steady.
When the oxygen sensors have readings that are similar to each other, it is an indication that the catalytic converter is not working as intended. If the voltage of the downstream oxygen sensor decreases, and begins to fluctuate like the upstream oxygen sensor, it means that the oxygen levels are too high and the Powertrain Control Module (PCM) will store the P0420 trouble code.
What causes the P0420 code?
- Damaged muffler or leaks in the muffler
- Damaged exhaust manifold or leaks in the exhaust manifold
- Damaged exhaust pipe or exhaust pipe leaks
- A misfire in the engine
- Oil contamination in catalytic converter
- Faulty catalytic converter (most common)
- Faulty engine coolant temperature sensor
- Faulty front oxygen sensor
- Faulty rear oxygen sensor
- Damaged oxygen sensor wiring
- Oxygen sensor wiring that is not properly connected
- Damaged oxygen sensor connectors
- A fuel injector that is leaking
- Fuel pressure that is high
- Use of the wrong kind of fuel (using leaded fuel instead of unleaded fuel)
What are the symptoms of the P0420 code?
- No noticeable symptoms or driveability problems (most common)
- Check Engine Light is on
- Lack of power after vehicle warms up
- Speed of vehicle may not exceed 30-40 mph
- Rotten egg smell coming from exhaust pipe
How does a mechanic diagnose the P0420 code?
Uses an OBD-II scanner to retrieve trouble codes stored by the PCM.
Views the live data of the downstream (rear) oxygen sensor. The downstream oxygen sensor voltage reading should be steady. Make a determination as to whether the downstream (rear) oxygen sensor is working properly.
Diagnoses any other codes that could be causing the P0420 trouble code.
Repairs misfires, ignition problems, and/or fuel system problems if necessary
Inspects the rear oxygen sensor for damage and/or excessive wear
Test drives the vehicle while viewing the freeze frame data to determine whether or not the downstream (rear) oxygen sensor is working properly.
Checks for available updates of the PCM if the catalytic converter is faulty. After the catalytic converter is replaced, updates to the PCM will be required.
Common mistakes when diagnosing the P0420 code
The most common mistake is replacing the oxygen sensors before completing the diagnostic process. If another component is causing the P0420 trouble code, replacing the oxygen sensors will not fix the problem.
How serious is the P0420 code?
It is common for a driver to experience no driveability problems when the P0420 trouble code is present. Other than the Check Engine Light being on, the symptoms of this trouble code may go unnoticed. However, if the vehicle is left in error without addressing the problem, serious damage could be caused to other components.
Because there are no driveability issue symptoms associated with the P0420 trouble code, it is not considered serious or dangerous to the driver. However, if the code is not addressed in a timely manner, the catalytic converter could be seriously damaged. Because the catalytic converter is expensive to repair, it is vital that the P0420 trouble code is diagnosed and repaired as soon as possible.
What repairs can fix the P0420 code?
- Replace muffler or repair leaks in the muffler
- Replace exhaust manifold or repair leaks in the exhaust manifold
- Replace exhaust pipe or repair exhaust pipe leaks
- Replace catalytic converter (most common)
- Replace engine coolant temperature sensor
- Replace front or rear oxygen sensor
- Repair or replace damaged wiring to oxygen sensor(s)
- Repair or replace oxygen sensor connector(s)
- Replace or repair fuel injector(s) that are leaking
- Diagnose any repair any misfiring problems
- Diagnose and repair any other related trouble codes that have been stored by the Power Control Module (PCM)
Additional comments for consideration regarding the P0420 code
Problems with the ignition system, fuel system, air intake, and misfires can damage a catalytic converter if they are not addressed quickly. These components are most the common cause of the P0420 trouble code. When replacing a catalytic converter, is it a good idea to replace it with an OEM unit or an oxygen sensor replacement that is of high quality.
It is common for aftermarket oxygen sensors to fail, and when they do, the P0420 trouble code may return again. It is also a good idea to contact the manufacturer to see if your vehicle has a manufacturer warranty on parts that are related to emissions.
Need help with a P0420 code?
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This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as P0420 OBD-II Trouble Code: Catalyst System Efficiency Below Threshold (Bank 1) and was authored by Jamahl Walker.