Diagnostic code : P0420 ?

I have a 99 escort, 133,000 miles. Check engine light came on and has been on for a week. When the car has been driven a while there is a burning smell
coming from the engine compartment. One time I saw a puff of smoke come out from under hood while at a stop light. Operating temp is in the normal range. I had a friend check the code and it was "P0420". Something about the catalytic converter, but he didn't know what it meant. He reset the service engine light and the smell went away. Any ideas?
Thanks Dave
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endorf wrote:

I had P0420 and P0430 (both sides) in my '96 bird. Kept clearing them and they kept coming back until eventually they were coming on within one drive after I reset them. End solution was replacement of the head pipe assembly. Quite expensive. Don't know how this would work on a 99 escort. Make sure you have a good diagnosis before throwing money at this one- it can be costly.
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