P0420 is a trouble code that gets stored in your car engine’s control unit when it recognizes a problem with the catalytic converter‘s efficiency.
There are many different reasons for this, so you need to know how to diagnose this trouble code properly.
Code P0420 Definition
Catalyst System Efficiency Below Threshold (Bank 1)
What does the P0420 Code Mean?
A P0420 Code means that the engine control unit recognizes that the catalytic converter’s efficiency is below the threshold.
The ECM uses two O2 sensors, one in the front and one in the back of the catalytic converter, to measure the efficiency. If the efficiency is low, the P0420 code will be triggered. In most cases, a P0420 code is caused by a bad catalytic converter.
P0420 Code Symptoms
You will probably not have any symptoms except the check engine light with just the P0420 code stored. You may have other problems with your engine damaging the catalytic converter, which can cause symptoms like rough idle, rough acceleration, misfires, and hard shifting. Always fix these problems first.
How serious is the P0420 code?
Low – The P0420 code will in most cases not create any further problems with your car’s engine.
The only thing that can happen is that the catalytic converter is so damaged that the catalytic converter parts come loose and blocks the exhaust pipe, which is pretty unlikely to happen.
The P0420 code makes your car’s emission bad for the environment, though, so you should fix it as soon as possible.
What causes the P0420 Code?
- Damaged catalytic converter (most common)
- Not Genuine catalytic converter
- Wrong placement of the catalytic converter
- Damaged upstream front O2 sensor / faulty wirings
- Damaged downstream rear O2 sensor / faulty wirings
- Exhaust leak
- Intake leak
- Oil burn (damaging the catalytic converter)
- Rich/lean mixture (damaging the catalytic converter)
- Misfires (damaging the catalytic converter)
- A faulty engine control unit (rare)
What repairs can fix the P0420 code?
- Replace catalytic converter
- Replace to a genuine original catalytic converter
- Replace front O2 sensor
- Replace rear O2 sensor
- Repair faulty wirings
- Fix oil burn
- Fix misfires
- Fix lean / rich mixture
- Check the data with an OBD2 scanner from Amazon
- Replace engine control unit (rare)
Common P0420 Code Diagnosis mistakes
The most common mistake is to replace the O2 sensors without doing any proper diagnostics. The cause of the P0420 code is most often the catalytic converter – which may get damaged by other problems with your car’s engine like misfires.
Bad O2 Sensors can cause the P0420 code, but is pretty rare.
Known P0420 Causes by Car Models
The P0420 code is more common in some car models than others. Here is a list of the most common causes per car brand. These car models are known to have a problem with the P0420 code. Remember that these are only general guidelines, and you should be making a proper diagnosis before replacing any parts.
1. Toyota Corolla
The most common cause when you find the P0420 on the Toyota Corolla is a bad catalytic converter. This can often be caused by oil going through the piston rings to get stuck on the catalytic converter if you have a Toyota Corolla that is struggling with the trouble code. Check for vacuum leaks and exhaust leaks first. Then check to see if you notice any blue smoke coming from the exhaust pipe. If so, it’s a sign that you might want to get expert help to find out where the oil is coming from. A standard check is to check the crankcase ventilation.
If you do not notice any blue smoke at any RPM, it is most likely your catalytic converter is worn out.
2. Ford Focus
The Ford Focus usually has vacuum leaks or any broken solenoid, which causes a faulty air-fuel mixture and then causes the trouble code. Check your trouble code memory with a diagnostic scanner to see if you can find any trouble codes about the air-fuel mixture. If everything looks fine, check for exhaust leaks. Replace the catalytic converter if you can’t find any trouble codes or other problems with the air-fuel mixture.
3. Subaru / Subaru Forester
The Subaru usually has the same problem that the Toyota Corollas have. Check for vacuum leaks or other fuel mixture related trouble codes. Check for any exhaust leaks before the catalytic converter. The most common problem with Subaru engines is the catalytic converter itself.
4. Volkswagen (VW) / Skoda / Seat / Audi A4 1.8T / V6 2.4
These VAG cars have some known problems causing the P0420 code. Check the check valves’ function under the intake and make sure the crankcase ventilation is free from dirt, causing the engine to burn oil, which clogs the catalytic converter. Check for exhaust leaks around any flex pipes on the exhaust pipe (common cause). Check for any trouble codes of the O2 sensors. If no problems were found, replace the catalytic converter. It’s a widespread problem on both the 1.8T and the V6 petrol engines. The 1.8T catalytic converter can be pretty difficult to replace if you do not have a lot of experience. The V6 has two catalytic converters, making sure that you troubleshoot and replace the catalytic converter on the right bank.
How to Diagnose the P0420 Code
- Connect an OBD2 Scanner and look for related trouble codes. Repair any related trouble codes regarding ignition or fuel before you try to fix the P0420 code.
- Check the live data to see the front and read O2 sensor signals. The car engine should be scorching – and the front sensor should fluctuate between 0-1 volts, and the rear should be steady at 0.7 – 0.9 volt. If it is not, there is a risk that the catalytic converter is defective.
- Heat the engine and check the temperature at the front of the catalytic converter and then in the rear. If the engine is hot and there is no difference in temperature before and after the catalytic converter – your catalytic converter does probably not work.
- If the catalytic converter is installed easily, it can be worth to remove the pipe from one end of it and check inside the catalytic converter for any visual damages.
- If everything points at a faulty catalytic converter – replace it. If you can’t find any problem with the temperature, voltage, or a visual inspection, you should try to repair other related trouble codes and then clear the codes and try again.
- If you still can’t find any problems. Make sure it is a genuine OEM catalytic converter, and it is installed in the original place. If everything seems fine – replace the catalytic converter.
Estimated P0420 Repair Cost
The estimated cost of repairing the P0420 code is the following. The prices are including parts and labor work at a workshop. The costs does not include diagnosis costs.
- Catalytic Converter Replacement – 500$ to 1500$
- Front O2 Sensor Replacement – 150$ to 300$
- Rear O2 Sensor Replacement – 150$ to 300$
Common P0420 Related Questions
How to fix P0420 code?
To fix the P0420 code, you need to diagnose what is causing the trouble code. Start with inspecting and diagnosing your catalytic converter and continue with checking the O2 sensors.
What causes code P0420?
A bad catalytic converter is the most common cause of the p0420 code. This doesn’t mean that you should replace it, though. Always do proper research before replacing parts to save money.
What does P0420 mean?
The P0420 code means that rear O2 sensors report to the engine control module that the catalytic converter is not doing it’s job properly. The rear O2 sensor is comparing the signal from the front O2 sensor.
How to clear code P0420?
To clear the P0420 code you need to use an OBD2 scanner. Remember that just clearing the P0420 code will most likely solve the problem, you do also have to fix the problem.