A catalytic converter provides a favorable environment (the catalyst) for the conversion of toxic hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and nitrous oxide into more inert gases by way of platinum, palladium, and rhodium.
By 1968, the federal government had started monitoring and controlling the emissions of automobiles in the United States. Soon, the pollution control measures were adversely affecting fuel efficiency, so the catalytic converter was instituted in the 1970s.
According to Wikipedia, “All modern cars are now equipped with catalytic converters and unleaded fuel can now be found almost everywhere.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vehicle_emissions_control). Hope that answers your question.
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