Catalytic Converter Theft: Tips to Keeping Your Car Safe

Every day, thieves continue stealing catalytic converters from cars from Atlanta to Eugene, Oregon. Few communities in larger metropolitan areas seem immune from this type of vehicle theft.

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, 1,298 Americans told their insurance company that their car’s catalytic converter had been stolen in 2018. By 2020, catalytic converter theft was up to 14,433. In just the first six months of 2021, it jumped to 25,969.

NICB reports that last year, 26 states proposed bills to help curb the theft of these devices, including Maine, New Mexico, Ohio, and Oregon. Of these states, 10 states passed legislation or strengthened existing laws.

Catalytic converters are an expensive, easily removed part in every car and suddenly you need to know how to protect yours. Thankfully, if you take these easy steps it’s unlikely that the catalytic converter in your vehicle will get stolen.

RELATED STORIES: Catalytic Converter Theft Wave Growing Worse

What is a Catalytic Converter?

A catalytic converter is a sort of chemical filter made of rare metals. It’s part of your car’s exhaust system. It keeps harmful pollutants from entering the atmosphere by passing hot exhaust gases through a honeycomb of rare metals like palladium and rhodium. Chemical reactions convert some of the harmful gases into harmless gases.

A catalytic converter lasts about 10 years, depending on how much you drive your car. A small one is about the size of a loaf of bread, while a large one can be three times that. They’re mounted on the bottom of cars, easily found on the exhaust system, which is part of the problem.

Why Do Thieves Steal Catalytic Converters?

There’s a significant black market trade in catalytic converters because the rare metals that make them work started soaring in value.

Palladium sold for about $500 an ounce five years ago. These days, it’s trading above $2,000 per ounce. Rhodium sold for $640 an ounce five years ago. As of this writing, it goes for a jaw-dropping $18,600 per ounce.

How Do Thieves Take Them?

Unfortunately, stealing a catalytic converter is very easy to do. Thieves usually slide underneath a car with a battery-powered reciprocating saw and cut it right out of the exhaust line. It takes about 2 to 3 minutes and makes as much noise as any other power tool.

Why Are Catalytic Converters Expensive?

Source: Why Are Catalytic Converters Expensive

What Cars are Targeted for Catalytic Converter Theft?

There is no reliable count of which cars catalytic converter thieves target most often. But law enforcement and insurance experts say a few patterns have emerged.

One is that hybrid cars seem to be at particular risk. The valuable metals in a catalytic converter degrade as they pull pollutants out of exhaust gas. Hybrids have lower emissions than purely gasoline-powered cars. So the metals in their catalytic converters tend to last longer.

RELATED STORIES: Thieves are After Toyota Prius Catalytic Converters

For the same reason, newer cars are at greater risk than older cars.

Thieves also target cars they can easily get under quickly. So, police reports show that trucks and SUVs are at particular risk. Why? They’re higher off the ground and easy to slide under. Thieves can get in and out quickly.

The most expensive catalytic converter on the market is found in the Ferrari F430, and every F430 has two of them. But good luck fitting under a Ferrari quickly. They’re less than 5 inches off the ground.

A full-size truck, however? Most thieves can get under one of those easily in any parking lot. Some car dealers have had to install security cameras because thieves have targeted lots full of brand-new pickup trucks and made off with a fortune in rhodium in a few hours.

But no car is safe. Last week, one enterprising thief in Connecticut cut catalytic converters out of 18 school buses in one night.

How Do I Protect My Car?

Catalytic converter replacement costs typically run up to $3,000 on average. In 2020, J.D. Power estimated the cost to replace the Ferrari F430’s two catalytic converters would run at least $7,540 plus labor.

Thankfully, these simple tips can help protect your car’s catalytic converter from thieves. As with most crimes, the key to staying safe is to make the crime a bit harder, so thieves move on to an easier target. That means you don’t need to take elaborate steps to protect yourself.

Law enforcement experts recommend the following:

  • Get your catalytic converter etched. Many police departments and some muffler shops will happily etch your license plate number onto your car’s catalytic converter for free. Thieves have a much harder time selling a converter if it can be tied to a particular theft, making it almost worthless to them.
  • Park indoors if possible: What thief would break into a garage when there are easier targets outside?
  • Look for cameras: Choose parking garages and parking lots covered by cameras when you need to park the vehicle.
  • Park in a well-lighted area: Thieves are less likely to steal where they’re more likely to be seen.
  • Consider installing a dash camera. Some dash cams use motion sensors and will record anyone close enough to your car to get to the catalytic converter. The presence of a camera can be enough to scare thieves off to find easier prey.
  • Install an anti-theft device. Some car shops offer shields designed to make a catalytic converter harder to remove. We’re aware of no studies on how well these devices work, but it seems logical that thieves might move on to cars without them.

We should note that painting your catalytic converter with identifying information doesn’t often work. Catalytic converters get hot enough in daily operation to burn off anything other than high-heat paint.

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