Here’s Some Hilarious Bullshit About Catalytic Converters

Every now and then you see an article written about cars from a position of authority, and yet the author seems to have learned about cars from a website written by a sentient hoagie who only knows about cars from what they inferred from the collective writings of Nathan Lane’s dog. The Federalist just ran such an article, and it’s like the Sistine Chapel of automotive idiocy.

The article is titled All You Need To Know About Catalytic Converters Is They Shouldn’t Exist, and is subtitled “Oh, the stories cars could tell about the foolish consequences of government overreach.” Now, let’s marvel at the stupid, misinformed shit being smugly said in this article.


First, I do realize the author does not claim to be an automotive expert, but he does say that

I am not an expert on any of this, I just know more than the average bear. I’m also not writing policy regarding automobiles. That is being handled by those who probably know less than the average bear.

For someone who doesn’t claim to be an automobile expert, the author, Rich Cromwell, sure spends a lot of time explaining how cars and car parts work, and why he knows what’s best.

His first claim is that catalytic converters are useless, because the production of those converters takes precious metals, and all of the resources expended to mine, process, and manufacture the converters somehow negates any positive effect these converters may have.


I’d be more inclined to believe him if he didn’t describe the way catalytic converters work as

The converter takes regular exhaust, mixes it with excess gasoline sent in by the fuel pump so it can burn, and burns it, thus eliminating most pollutants.

just in case it gets edited, here’s a screenshot

Now, I’m pretty sure that’s not how cats work. At all. In fact, if anyone can show me a catalytic converter that has a dedicated fuel line to get “excess gasoline” from the fuel pump, I’d love to see that. What he’s describing sounds like a cross between an EGR valve and one of those Eberspacher gas heaters you sometimes see on old Volkswagens, and sounds like something designed to set your car on fire.


He dismisses the whole category of catalytic converters pretty much completely, even though there’s really no denying that, compared to the pre-cat era, air quality is much, much better.


This study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that the air in Los Angeles in 2012 has 98 percent less of a specific type of automotive pollutant (volatile organic compounds) than 1960. And that’s with many more cars on the road.

Cars are incredibly cleaner than ever before, and if, somehow, the production of the tools needed to make cleaner cars is doing more harm than good, you sure as hell can’t tell in any major American city. Cars produce fewer pollutants thanks to catalytic converters, and that’s a good thing. Besides, nobody is stopping Mr. Cromwell from buying a pre-cat car if he doesn’t trust the chemical black magic so much. I have three myself.


Okay, if the benefits of clean air feels a little too politicized for you, hang on, we’re about to focus on some good, nonpartisan automotive ignorance here.

Mr. Cromwell has decided he needs to let us know how awesome V8 engines are. I have nothing against V8 engines, but I love all manner of engines. Cromwell seems to have gotten this strange, mythical idea that somehow only a V8 is the right engine for any red-blooded American to have, and, keeping true to form, his reasons are completely wrong and refreshingly moronic.


While many of you may have V8s as your favorite engines, I’m pretty sure your understanding of how those engines work is not as Cromwell describes it:

Again, here’s a screenshot in case the idiocy gets edited out

For this discussion, we only need to know the basics about cylinders. Inside them are pistons, and those pistons pump oil into the crankshaft. The more cylinders, the more pistons, the more power. But to generate and transfer that power to the wheels, it takes a little more fuel.


Wow. Wow wow wow. “Those pistons pump oil into the crankshaft,” makes absolutely no sense in any context. Where does one get such strange and deeply wrong ideas about cars? I can’t really blame Cromwell for this entirely, since he links to the website where he read this inane shit, a site called, comically, YourMechanic.

The YourMechanic website reads like it was Google-translated from its native Moron. Look at this description from that website:

How cylinder numbers impact performance

Each cylinder has a piston inside which pumps the oil into the crankshaft. The more cylinders on a vehicle, the more pistons are pumping. The result is more power being generated in a shorter amount of time. The engine doesn’t have to work as hard to reach higher speeds. A vehicle with higher cylinder numbers will be better equipped to carry heavier loads, such as a V6 or V8. The number of cylinders also impacts how much weight can be towed behind the vehicle with more cylinders carrying added weight.


This, half-heard statements from the author’s mechanic, and, probably, an enchanted, talking otter seem to be the source of the Federalists’ automotive knowledge. We do get to learn some fascinating new facts, like how when towing, “more cylinders [are] carrying added weight.”


Cromwell wants us to realize that he’s a badass who drives fast, and that’s why he needs a V8 and not some puny V6. After, all, as he says

Whereas the standard for greatness used to be the V8—the most American number of cylinders—these days we’re more about the V6.


Based on other statements in the article, I don’t think he realizes that the V stands for the arrangement of the cylinders:

Somewhere on the back of most vehicles or, failing that, in the owner’s manual, you can find a letter, probably V, followed by a number divisible by two or by four. It refers to the number of cylinders in your engine. Generally, cars have between four and eight, with the V6 and V8 being the go-to options for most vehicles that aren’t of the small sedan variety.


He also seems to think that V6s are anemic lawnmower engines, barely able to propel a motor-carriage:

You know why by now.

In the quest to improve fleet fuel economy, we’ve gone smaller and shifted toward the V6. Whereas the standard for greatness used to be the V8—the most American number of cylinders—these days we’re more about the V6. Now, the V6 is great if equipped with some sort of turbo, which can break, or if you drive like a grandma. If you drive like an actual human being, perhaps even hurtling down the interstate at speeds just a smidge above the posted limits, with the plain V6 you quickly discover you’re gonna need to mash down that gas pedal to pass.


There’s so very much wrong here. Dismissing turbos because they “can break” is insipid, since, of course, anything in an engine “can break,” and the idea that a V6 means slow is only true for people who aren’t interested in how the world actually is.

According to Captain Dipshit here, here is a list of some slow-ass six-cylinder cars, including some American cars that aren’t American enough for him: the Ford F-150 Raptor, the Nissan GT-R, the Porsche 911 (a flat-six, but Mr. Cromwell doesn’t know what that is), the Cadillac ATS-V, the new NSX, and, hell, the goddamn V6 647 horsepower Ford GT.


Sure, there’s plenty of powerful V8s out there, but the idea that, universally, V8s are faster than V6s is the sort of thinking six-year-old kids engage in, and that’s only six-year-olds who haven’t had a drive in their uncle’s 1977 V8 Trans Am that makes a ravenous 135 HP.

His thoughts on electric cars, where they get their electricity from, and what to do with their batteries when they’re worn out, aren’t necessarily wrong, but they’re not as cut-and-dry as he seems to suggest. For example, electric cars’ environmental impact varies dramatically based on where they are, and how the electricity is generated; in some places, they’re wildly better, other places worse.


Still, these are hardly new revelations, and he adds nothing to the overall discussion. Also, while I don’t want to get into political subjects too deeply, it’s worth paying attention to how he describes the process of how automotive industry regulations are decided:

Blah blah blah

Then we get to a point where we’ve just always done something that way and somebody somewhere, probably a junior bureaucrat, decides it’s time to mandate that henceforth all cars will come equipped with catalytic converters. One set of experts applauds the decision because of the “evidence” while the other derides it for the same reason. All of us get the benefit of having a stupid part come standard our vehicles.


I’m pretty sure this is not how any of that works. No probable “junior bureaucrat” gets to decide mandates about automobile regulations. There’s a hell of a lot more to this process. I don’t think this is the place to go into it, and, more importantly, I’m not an expert, but I am pretty certain it takes more than just one junior bureaucrat.

There’s also a whole section in the article called “The Death of Expertise,” which is marvelously ironic here. The article does make a good case for the idea that expertise is dead, because the article itself seems to have pretty effectively beaten expertise to death, and then humped its corpse, vigorously, and probably with its tongue hanging out.


Ugh, this article. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so much technical misinformation about how cars work crammed into such a dense, smug, bafflingly confident collection of words. It’s sort of a masterpiece that way.

I’m impressed.

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About the author

Jason Torchinsky

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus • Not-so-running: 1973 Reliant Scimitar, 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!)