'96 TBird Cat. Conv.

I got a call from the dealer that does my servicing, and it appears as though the "check engine" light that I keep clearing (Code: p0430- catalyst efficiency below threshold - bank 2) is the catalytic converter
telling me that it's time for a replacement. The service advisor told me that on my car the whole head pipe assembly would have to be replaced (apparently, they didn't plan on people driving these things 140k miles) at a cost of about $1600 (parts+labor). I told him to put that part on hold and just bill me for the diagnostics.
My question for the group: What (if any) are my options? (besides just forking over the cash) Are there any other sources for these parts besides the junkyard and dealer, such as performance shops, etc? If I wanted to depart from "stock" parts on my car and start looking into customizing it, what are the pitfalls?
The bottom line is that I'm not ready to get rid of this car. As far as I know, this is the only problem it has. I have taken extremely good care of the mechanical parts of the car (engine, trans, brakes, etc.), although I have let its exterior degrade a bit (it needs to be waxed and carpets cleaned bad).
Any words of wisdom would be appreciated-
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Brian Steele opined in

You cant buy one from a junkyard. It's illegal for them to sell it..
BUT you can buy exhaust pieces from a guy who is parting out a car... but a pro cant install it.
Shop around.. even (hawk, ptuuui!) Midas.
Shop at various Ford PArts counters... some sell parts reasonable, most use full list.
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Backyard Mechanic wrote:

Just got a call back from Midas- they want $800 - $825 to replace the whole assembly. That's quite a difference in cost- about 50%. Does Midas do something different that I should know about, or will I get hit with the ever-increasing bill?
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Brian Steele opined in

Naw... they are STILL making a good profit. Now call tuffy and meineke or whoever ELSE is big in your area.
Here's what you do... get the quote in writing, make it clear you WILL not accept "ups and extras".
BTW, there are STILL a few good filling station/garages around.
If you didnt have a bad injector or cylinder or bank related problem in the past.. consider replacing both. You may be able to get that done cheaper at same time than waiting for the other shoe to drop.
If it's a failure without a previous mech problem, it was either due to bad gas or from - the -bottle additives.... well thats the same thing actually, additives either way.
Can you figure out who sets the gas prices in your area? Meaning the leading seller! Only buy that brand and only at a high volume station... do not use fuel additives!!!!!
It only takes ONE fill of miss-mixed gas to ruin your cat.
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Backyard Mechanic wrote: [snip]

I thought it was only a coincidence, but when I filled up at Amoco, I seemed to get more P0430 codes. That makes sense, though. Normally, I only use QT or Sam's Club.
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Some replacement aftermarket converters will not last as long as the factory version. You might want to ask them how long they warrant the converter.
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