Home Diagnosis and TroubleshootingExhaust System Catalytic Converter Thefts – How Can You Protect Your Car?

Catalytic Converter Thefts – How Can You Protect Your Car?

by Jordan Harris
Catalytic Converter Thefts

Catalytic converter thefts are increasing across the country. This anti-pollution equipment can be stolen in a matter of minutes. The valuable metals it holds can be sold to scrap metal dealers for hundreds of dollars (especially given the high catalytic converter scrap value).

In this article, we examine the reasons for the recent increase in catalytic converter thefts by analyzing statistical data. We also examine some of the motives behind catalytic converter thefts. We’ll also discuss how to keep a catalytic converter from being taken from your car and what to do if it is.

Catalytic Converter

A catalytic converter is a component found close to an automobile’s engine in the exhaust pipe. The emissions the car emits into the atmosphere are cleaned up using it. It functions by using a catalyst substance, which is often composed of platinum, palladium, and rhodium.

Carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and nitrogen oxides – all of which pollute the air and cause illness are changed into less hazardous carbon dioxide, water, and nitrogen by the catalytic converter. Catalytic converters are still the most generally used component in motor vehicle exhaust systems today.

Catalytic Converter Thefts

They were first widely introduced in 1975 on production automobiles in the US market. It was done in order to meet the increasing EPA restrictions on auto pollution. Generator sets, forklifts, mining machinery, lorries, buses, railroads, and other equipment with engines all employ catalytic converters.

Due to growing concerns over emissions, this is why you can’t undertake removing the catalytic converter and driving without it. The catalytic converter was developed at Trinity College, (Connecticut).

Catalytic Converter Location

Because they lessen emissions of hazardous substances contained in the exhaust, catalytic converters are an essential part of your car’s exhaust system. They are bolted to the exhaust pipe located underneath your car. For more insight, check out our guide on where is the catalytic converter.

Catalytic Converter Metals

The precious metals are coated on the inside of a catalytic converter’s honeycomb structure (to learn more, check out our explainer on does my car have a catalytic converter). They serve as a catalyst to break down harmful pollutants and transform them into less damaging emissions (fun fact, check out our write-up on the catalytic converter precious metal prices).

Modern catalytic converters normally have two stages. The reduction catalyst in the first stage removes nitrogen oxide. On the other hand, the oxidation catalyst in the second stage removes carbon monoxide and unburned hydrocarbons. To find out more, check out our explainer on what’s a catalytic converter.

Typically, these stages are supported by ceramic honeycomb catalyst structures and cerium catalyst structures (to learn more, check out our guide on what do catalytic converters do and what does a catalytic converter do). These structures are coated with the pricey precious metals that burglars are after. This is why the price of a catalytic converter is so high.

Platinum, rhodium, and palladium are the three precious metals that are most frequently found inside catalytic converters. Prices for all three increased as COVID spread and international supply networks lagged (this also explains why are catalytic converters stolen and the importance of learning how to prevent catalytic converter theft).

According to Kitco.com, the spot price of rhodium increased from $2,300 per ounce in January 2019 to over $14,000 per ounce by December 2020. Rhodium prices continued to rise after 2020, reaching a peak of $27,000 per ounce in April 2021. Today, they are still significantly higher than they were in 2019, at over $11,000 per ounce.

Hence, it is not surprising that the NICB recorded thefts in the triple digits. The price hike of platinum and palladium were less pronounced. But spot prices are still higher than those of 2019.

The price of palladium approximately doubled from the start of 2019 to the end of 2020. Palladium prices have somewhat stabilized now. But they are still higher today than they were at the beginning of the year by more than 30%.

Catalytic Converter Theft

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), nearly 14,500 catalytic converters were stolen nationwide in 2020. That number increased to 50,000 in 2021. According to State Farm, the nation’s largest motor insurer, nationwide claims for stolen cats totaled 43,219 from July 2021 to June 2022. This is a 109% rise over the year prior. Also, check out our guide on does insurance cover catalytic converter theft.

According to a recent NICB study, 1,298 claims for catalytic converter theft were made by drivers in 2018. 3,389 such claims were filed in 2019, more than tripling the previous year’s total. In 2020, drivers reported 14,433 catalytic converter theft claims, a roughly 325% increase, and insurers saw that figure soar.

According to Waste Advantage Magazine, the average catalytic converter includes three to seven grams of platinum, two to seven grams of palladium, and one to two grams of rhodium. In June 2022, platinum costs about $30 per gram. Palladium costs about $60 per gram, and rhodium costs about $440 per gram.

Catalytic Converter Thefts

By taking those costs into consideration, we can determine that the typical catalytic converter can contain platinum worth up to $90. It has palladium worth up to $420, and rhodium worth up to $880. As a result, depending on the type, the average catalytic converter has a precious metal value that can range from the low hundreds to more than $1,500.

A catalytic converter may include precious metals with a four-figure worth (you can learn more in our explainer on what are catalytic converters made of). However, a burglar is unlikely to find pricing like that. They frequently sell to a recycler (once they’ve determined the Dodge catalytic converter scrap price), who then sells them to a place where the metals may be extracted.

Given that they can make over $500 for some models with only little effort, thieves are likely to see less than half of that, but the job is still valuable. All those precious metals are mainly why catalytic converters are so valuable, and why it’s crucial to learn why are catalytic converters being stolen.

Catalytic Converter Price

According to the NICB, the cost of a replacement catalytic converter can range from $1,000 to $3,000 (as it would with a 2012 Infiniti QX56 catalytic converter replacement or a Jeep Commander catalytic converter and a 2012 Nissan Sentra catalytic converter replacement). This figure does not include lost wages or the cost of finding alternative transportation, such as needing to figure out how much is a rental car for a week.

The final cost of a replacement catalytic converter is determined by the type and model of the car, as well as the geographic location. So, you do need to research quite a bit when trying to figure out how much does a catalytic converter cost (with some help from a free catalytic converter price app).

The price to replace the catalytic converter on a Honda Accord or Toyota Prius can reach around $3,500 according to Colby Sandman, owner of Muffler Tech in Sacramento, California. Sandman’s shop replaces 15 to 20 stolen catalytic converters every day (which you can notice by the missing catalytic converter sound and how to tell if a catalytic converter is missing). California is known as a “hot zone” for catalytic converter thefts.

If your catalytic converter hasn’t been successfully stolen (or if you’re still figuring out how to stop catalytic converter theft), you might also endeavor to learn more about how to fix a catalytic converter without replacing it. This is of course much cheaper than needing to replace it outright.

How To Prevent Catalytic Converter Theft

The newest models aren’t typically the apparent targets. Because manufacturers have modified their features to deter thieves in reaction to this rising crime (this helps to explain why catalytic converter theft is a thing). Additionally, the Justice Department has announced the takedown of a multimillion-dollar national catalytic converter theft network.

Officials declared that they will demand $545 million in forfeitures from people detained during the operation. This includes cash, high-end vehicles, and real estate.

The rise in catalytic converter thefts has already prompted state legislators throughout the nation to act. The NICB is monitoring more than 150 pieces of legislation that have been passed or are being considered to stop these thefts.

The two states that passed similar legislation in October were California and New York, and they typically fall into one of three types –

“Preventing Auto Recycling Theft Act, or PART Act” is a federal legislation that was presented in early 2022 and is still working its way through Congress. It would establish a grant scheme for VIN stamping catalytic converters of existing automobiles and mandate that new vehicles’ catalytic converters bear the VIN.

Catalytic converter theft appears to be very simple for criminals. But just like with car theft prevention in general, there are several things you can also do to reduce the likelihood of catalytic converter theft. Here are 4 strategies to deter catalytic converter theft:

1. Cautious Parking

The most obvious method of preventing catalytic converter theft is to park your automobile inside a private garage (you’ll know that it’s stolen if you notice what does a missing catalytic converter sound like). Parking your automobile in a more noticeable location when you’re not at home may help discourage burglars.

When parking on the street at night, make an effort to select a location that is brightly illuminated. To take the catalytic converter, thieves must crawl underneath the vehicle. So, one easy way to prevent catalytic converter theft is to park close to walls or fences.

2. Cameras And Alarms

To keep an eye on your car while it’s parked in your driveway, you may install CCTV at home or a dashcam in your vehicle. A dashboard camera in your automobile can also discourage someone from stealing a catalytic converter (to learn more, check out our guide on why are they stealing catalytic converters). To deter thieves, you may also place an alarm in your car and paste an alarm sticker on one of the windows.

3. Anti-Theft Devices

Numerous tools have been developed to make it more physically challenging for thieves to remove catalytic converters in response to the growth in catalytic converter theft. If your catalytic converter is just bolted on, you might also think about having the bolts welded since this makes it more challenging to remove.

4. Numbering And Watermarking

Your catalytic converter may be easily traceable in the event of theft if a garage etched a serial number onto it (for more insight, check out our guide on where are the numbers on a catalytic converter). Toyota has also been operating a prevention scheme to stop the theft of catalytic converters by putting an invisible watermarking to aid in the capture of criminals.

Catalytic Converter Anti Theft Device

The people at Donut Media don’t mind putting items through testing so that you don’t have to. In a recent video, the effectiveness of various catalytic converter anti-theft devices was examined. They first simulated stealing a catalytic converter, which took just a minute and a half, in order to properly evaluate the products (this helps to explain why do people steal catalytic converters and why steal a catalytic converter).

Then they developed a scoring system to determine the overall effectiveness of each anti-theft technique. They graded each product based on the amount of extra time it would take a thief to steal the catalytic, the simplicity of installation, the price, and the product’s stealthiness. This is what they discovered. The following are the products they tested and here are also the results-

Catalytic Converter Thefts, Anti Theft Device #1: Catalytic Converter Alarm

The Fast Guard Catalytic Converter alarm, which was simple to install, was the first product they tested. Two metal straps are used to secure the alarm to a section of the exhaust pipe. Once installed, the automobile owner can use the remote to turn the alarm on.

The alarm will go off at a not-so-high 113 dB to frighten away thieves who try to jack up the car. The Donut Media crew gave it a try and found that the alert was mostly annoying and gradually went away.

Their scoring methodology indicated that the Fast Guard alarm was inexpensive ($30) and simple to install, which is good. They said, however, that it was not loud enough to attract notice and that a thief could easily cut it off.

Catalytic Converter Thefts, Anti Theft Device #2: Cat Clamp

The second item they tested was a device called a Cat Clamp. It consists of a metal clamp at each end of a catalytic converter and a metal cable connecting them. A burglar would need to see through each cable extension and then cut the clamps in order to steal the catalytic converter with the Cat Clamp fitted.

Their tests revealed that the Cat Clamp doubles the time it would take a burglar to steal the cat converter. It’s not particularly covert, which is a good thing, it cost $200 and is tricky to install. After all, when taking a catalytic converter, burglars want to attract the least amount of notice possible. Although it is quite expensive, this one is an effective product.

Catalytic Converter Thefts, Anti Theft Device #3: Cat Strap

The Cat Strap was the next item that they tested. This item is a lengthy sticky strap comprised of cables and fiberglass. The strap is intended to act as an additional layer of defense against a thief’s reciprocating saw.

In actuality, the Donut Media crew only extended the base time by around a minute and 15 seconds before successfully cutting through the strap. That indicates that they overlooked the fact that it was pretty simple to defeat. The Cat Strap is covert and simple to install. But it’s not cheap at around $200 and hence not the best option for the price.

Catalytic Converter Thefts, Anti Theft Device #4: Catalytic Converter Shield

While the Cat Strap and Cat Clamp are commendable goods for holding a car’s catalytic converter in place, Donut Media came to the conclusion that the cat shield is the best option. To safeguard the converter, products like the Cat Security catalytic shield install a metal plate over it (and how to protect your catalytic converter).

It is pricey, coming in at about $300. This helps to explain why do they steal catalytic converters. However, it is easier to install and it can take a burglar twice as long to steal the catalytic converter from your car (such as a Prius catalytic converter protection system), which is advantageous.

Most Stolen Catalytic Converters

As their converters typically offer a higher concentration of precious metals than normal, hybrid cars have been targeted by thieves in particular in recent years. Because they are less susceptible to corrosion than ordinary cars, vehicles with greater fuel efficiency typically contain more precious metals. The latter will affect how much is a catalytic converter.

The presence of an electric motor relieves the gasoline engine and, consequently, the catalytic converter, of a significant amount of pressure in a hybrid vehicle. Due to this, the price of replacing a Toyota Prius catalytic converter is so high (as is the case with a Hyundai Sonata catalytic converter theft).

This is partly what contributes to the jarring variety in understanding what vehicles have the most valuable catalytic converter. Because it’s effortless for thieves to get under a car that sits higher off the road, cars and commercial vehicles frequently find themselves in the crosshairs. Any SUV or crossover falls under this category.

Along with accessibility and fuel efficiency, the same model is frequently targeted by thieves. This is due to the fact that they gain expertise in removing that specific catalytic converter. They have a better chance of stealing the catalytic converter swiftly and covertly if the vehicle is a well-known model.

Catalytic Converter Theft Prevention

26 states throughout the nation submitted legislation in 2021 to help prevent the theft of these devices. 10 of these states passed new legislation or strengthened old ones. These states are West Virginia, Arkansas, Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Oregon, and South Carolina.

Ten states introduced legislation, but nothing further has been done. Alabama, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia are among these states.

Legislation passed by the house or senate but hasn’t yet been implemented in six states. Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Wisconsin are these states.

Signs Of Stolen Catalytic Converter

Get on the ground and take a quick check to determine if your catalytic converter has been stolen. If your catalytic converter has been taken, a visual inspection of your exhaust system will reveal that it has been removed.

You should concentrate your attention after the exhaust manifold and y-pipe but before the exhaust pipe and muffler when determining whether your catalytic converter has been taken. It will be obvious to you that it was cut out.

The following are some other signs that indicate that the catalytic converter of your car has been removed/stolen. To combat this, numerous catalytic converter theft laws have been enacted.

1. Your Vehicle Becomes Extremely Loud

The most obvious and noticeable indication that your car’s catalytic converter has been stolen is when it suddenly becomes extremely loud. Without a catalytic converter, a car will start to make a loud, irritating noise when it is driven.

The sound of your car will startle you right away and make you want to look into it. On top of that, in many states, your car needs to have it to pass state emissions laws. So, don’t bother testing the boundaries of state law on whether can you drive without a catalytic converter.

A car that has had its catalytic converter removed sounds considerably more like an airplane than a typical passenger car. The volume of your car is an obvious clue that tells you whether or not your catalytic converter has been stolen because it is difficult to misinterpret.

2. Reduced Low-End Torque

If your car was made within the last ten years or so, getting your catalytic converter stolen, will result in a drop in low-end torque. Because people often drive at lower RPMs, low-end torque—or the torque available at lower RPMs—is more essential for everyday cars than high-end torque.

Low-end torque makes it possible for your car to respond more quickly and overall for you to drive more comfortably. If your catalytic converter had been stolen, your car would be less responsive albeit the average driver might not realize this.

This same performance loss also applies if your catalytic converter is clogged up with carbon. Thus, necessitating you to know how to unblock a catalytic converter. Just be wary of the symptoms of a clogged catalytic converter. If you catch it early on, a simple catalytic converter cleaner is all you need.

3. Check Engine Light Turns On

While it is possible for your catalytic converter to be taken without setting off a malfunctioning code, typically your check engine light will illuminate. You can learn more about it in our guide on the check engine light after oil change. An engine control unit usually referred to as an ECU/ECM, is a component of vehicles that keeps an eye on a number of sensors in the engine room.

The air-to-fuel ratio in the car as well as the pollution control systems can be managed by the ECM in this way. If your catalytic converter has been stolen, the engine control unit will conduct its tests within one complete driving cycle. It will detect if something is wrong, and turn on the check engine light.

If your catalytic converter has been stolen, the only way to turn off your check engine light is to have someone reset it with a scan tool. However, if you do not get the issue fixed, the ECM will just identify the issue once more. That will bring back the check engine light after the subsequent complete drive cycle.

4. Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

The majority of carbon monoxide poisoning-related fatalities and illnesses take place when driving in a closed garage. But many more occur when a person is stranded in a car or as a result of a faulty exhaust system (be wary of the signs of a bad catalytic converter). An exhaust system without a catalytic converter is clearly a faulty one.

The amount of carbon monoxide produced by vehicles has decreased by 95% after the insertion of catalytic converters into automotive exhaust systems. However, you will be exposed to 20 times more carbon monoxide than usual if your catalytic converter is taken.

Emissions will be pouring out where your catalytic converter once was under your automobile. However, carbon monoxide can easily enter your vehicle through openings in the body of your vehicle.

If gases are entering your car’s cabin, especially if your window is open, you may start to experience headaches and related carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms. Additionally, those who are exposed to carbon monoxide will have very slow reaction times.

They are also likely to become disoriented and will be unable to drive safely. This increases the danger of an accident. Do not assume you are safe even if you are not displaying symptoms. Occasionally, people don’t exhibit symptoms until it’s too late.

Catalytic Converter Thefts: Conclusion

So, why are people stealing catalytic converters? Catalytic converter thefts have increased dramatically over the last few years. Thieves continue to steal catalytic converters from cars all around the country in order to profit handsomely from the precious metals they are made of.

The majority of vehicles may function without a catalytic converter, although doing so for an extended period of time is not advised. Cars lacking a catalytic converter will pollute significantly more than an intact car because it serves to minimize hazardous emissions.

It could also result in causing serious harm to the occupants. Also in states where they’re necessary, you risk failing an emissions inspection. Granted, if you realize what states do not require vehicle inspections, you might be able to get away with it… For a little while.

The alternator and fuel lines may also be harmed when thieves use a saw to remove a catalytic converter from your automobile. It’s best to have a professional mechanic examine your car as soon as possible.

To stop the theft of catalytic converters, there are also a number of security measures with varying degrees of efficiency. We have mentioned the most popular ones among these devices and you could install one of these devices to protect your catalytic converter.

FAQs On Catalytic Converter Thefts

If you’re curious to learn more about catalytic converter thefts, our FAQs here might help…

Why Do People Steal Catalytic Converters

Reported thefts of catalytic converters rose by 325 percent between 2019 and 2020. The same rationale that underlies any theft also applies to stolen converters – money. Rhodium, palladium, and platinum are precious metals that are employed in these components. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, rhodium can sell for $20,000 per ounce.

What Is A Catalytic Converter

Catalytic converters are a part of a car’s exhaust system. They are situated closer to the engine, between the engine and the muffler. An internal combustion engine’s exhaust gas contains poisonous gases and other pollutants. A catalytic converter transforms them into less-toxic pollutants by accelerating a redox reaction.

How Much Is A Catalytic Converter

Depending on the type and model of the car, the average catalytic converter costs between $800 and $1,200. In general, the bigger the engine, the more expensive the converter. Remember that only the cost of the converter unit is included in these costs.

How Much Is A Catalytic Converter Worth

Catalytic converters are often worth between $300 and $1500 when sold as scrap at your neighborhood wrecking yard. Catalytic converters are no longer sold as car parts in the modern world. Instead, the precious metals contained in this component have grown in value as a marketable good.

What’s Inside Catalytic Converter

A piece of ceramic often covered with platinum, palladium, and other precious metals is found inside catalytic converters. These catalysts initiate a chemical reaction to change harmful gases into less dangerous ones.

Can You Drive Without A Catalytic Converter

Both yes and no. An automobile can theoretically run without a catalytic converter. This, however, is not a viable long-term solution. You will experience a variety of issues when driving without a catalytic converter.

Do All Cars Have Catalytic Converters

The Environmental Protection Agency determined that a catalytic converter is a requirement under the Clean Air Act for all combustion-engine vehicles made road-legal after 1975. Today, a catalytic converter is a requirement for any vehicle with a combustion engine in order to lower emissions.

Which Cars Are Least Likely To Have Catalytic Converter Stolen

Due to the lower value of their catalytic converters, American brands like Ford, Chevy, Jeep, Dodge, and Chrysler are less likely to be stolen. This group includes several Nissan, Hyundai, Mazda, and Subaru cars.

Where Is The Catalytic Converter

The catalytic converter is often found in the exhaust system. It is situated on the underbelly of a car or truck, between the engine and the muffler. It resembles another muffler in certain ways.

What Metals Are In A Catalytic Converter

Catalytic converters use metal catalysts. These often contain platinum, palladium, and rhodium, to purify emissions from gasoline and diesel automobiles. These catalysts are nanoparticles that have been coated on a substrate to act as catalysts.

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