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Welcome to P0420.com, the place dedicated to that DTC (diagnostic trouble code) P0420. The P0420 code is a very popular one and that's why there's a site dedicated to that specific trouble code. If your car's check engine light is on, get that code read in case it's a P0420.
A P0420 code is a trouble code on OBD-II equipped vehicles. All vehicles from 1996-newer sold in North America support this generic powertrain code. This code is a pretty common one and this site is here to help the average do-it-yourself (DIY) car owner (like you) troubleshoot, diagnose, and fix their vehicle themselves when presented with a P0420 code, saving money.
If your car has multiple trouble codes (DTC's), it's always a good idea to fix them in the order they come up on the code reader. For example, if you have these codes - P0300, P0420, P0171, then you're going to want to tackle the P0300 Random Misfire code first (resolve it), and then tackle the P0420 code, etc. The reason for that is that the first code could be causing further DTCs to be set.
If you've come to this site you most likely already know that you have a P0420 code. To start, we strongly recommend you seek the services of a professional mechanic/technician if you have any doubts as to whether you can perform the repair! Also, be sure to follow proper diagnostic procedures to determine whether a part has failed. If you simply change parts hoping it will solve the problem, you're really just guessing and wasting money. This site is here for information purposes only and is meant to help you learn more about the dtc and decide if you can tackle the repair yourself. It is not intended as car repair advice.
As mentioned above, the code's description is Catalyst System Efficiency Below Threshold (Bank 1). OK, now tell me that again in plain English please.... let's break it down: the catalyst system being referred to is your three-way catalytic converter; so the catalytic converter is not working properly (i.e. it's not efficient). Bank 1 refers to the side of the engine which contains cylinder #1. On inline engines such as 4 & 5 cylinder engines, there is only one bank. So, to really simply things let's just say that the efficiency of the catalytic converter and/or exhaust pipe and/or O2 sensor is not so great.
Great question! A P0420 code will cause no symptoms aside from the MIL (malfunction indicator light) will illuminate. The reality is there is still something wrong and your car needs attention in order to be in excellent running condition. A poorly maintained car will run less efficiently, burn more gas, and cost you more money in the long run. Plus, if your check engine light is on for a P0420 code and you decide not to fix it, another more serious code could be triggered and you'd never know. The MIL lights up whether you have one code or ten! While I have your attention, don't forget to do oil changes as the owner's manual schedules and keep those tires inflated to the proper PSI.
There are a number of things that could be causing this p0420 catalyst efficiency code. The most common thing is the catalytic converter itself is no longer functioning properly. The other likely thing is the rear O2 (oxygen) sensor is no longer working properly. Other things could include exhaust leaks, damaged exhaust pipes, damaged O2 sensor wiring/connectors, plugged catalytic converter, etc.
The easiest thing to do first is a visual check of things. Visually inspect the exhaust system for leaks, check the catalytic converter for dents, holes, severe discoloration, and check for a rattle inside. If any of those syptoms are there, the converter likely needs replacement. Then, visually inspect the downstream O2 sensor (behind the converter). Check for broken wires, obvious faults, etc. If all that checks out, you'll want to check the operation of the O2 sensor. To do that, you'll need access to a scan tool or oscilliscope. Check that the waveform is pretty steady. If the reading fluctuates then the sensor is likely bad and will need to be replaced.
On some vehicles such as some Subaru models an ECM reflash will fix the problem. As you can see a P0420 can be caused by many things, so if you have any doubts as to whether you can fix the problem yourself, please seek the advice of a professional technician. Good luck!
Here are a few links to some other sites with great P0420 articles: