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P0420 OBD-II Trouble Code: Catalyst System Efficiency Below Threshold (Bank 1)

Check Engine Light

P0420 code definition

Catalyst System Efficiency Below Threshold (Bank 1)

What the P0420 code means

The catalytic converter pulls in the pollutants that are expelled by the cylinders and uses oxygen to break up these harmful pollutants. Therefore, the catalytic converter is able to reduce the emissions expelled from the exhaust pipe.

This is the purpose of the catalytic converter. The catalytic converter has two oxygen sensors. One oxygen sensor is positioned in front of the catalytic converter and the other oxygen sensor is positioned in the rear.

The upstream oxygen sensor is located in front of the catalytic converter. If the upstream oxygen sensor is working properly, its readings should fluctuate when the car is warm and when in closed loop. The downstream oxygen sensor is located behind the catalytic converter. If the downstream oxygen sensor is working properly, its readings should remain steady.

When the oxygen sensors have a reading that is similar to each other, it is an indication that the catalytic converter is not working as efficiently as it is 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 Power Control Module will then 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 Power Control Module (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 Power Control Module (PCM) if the catalytic converter is faulty. After the catalytic converter is replaced, updates of the Power Control Module (PCM) will be required.

Common mistakes when diagnosing the P0420 code

The most common mistake is replacing the oxygen sensors before completing the diagnosis 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. If the code is not addressed in a timely manner, and 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?

Additional comments for consideration regarding the P0420 code

Problems with the ignition, fuel, intake, and misfires can damage a catalytic converter if there are not addressed quickly. These components are most commonly the cause of the P0420 trouble code. When replacing a catalytic converter, is it a good idea to replace it with an original equipment manufacturer (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?

YourMechanic offers certified mechanics who will come to your home or office to diagnose and repair your vehicle. Get a quote and book an appointment online or speak to a service advisor at 1-800-701-6230.

The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details
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