Even if you’re not particularly knowledgeable about cars, you’ve probably heard of an exhaust system component called a catalytic converter. Catalytic converter theft is becoming increasingly common and, as such, the devices are frequently featured in news stories around the globe.
According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, the average number of monthly catalytic converter thefts increased over 400% between 2019 and 2020, jumping from 282 instances to 1,203 instances. In addition, a report from State Farm indicates the company’s claims for catalytic converter theft rose 293% nationwide between mid-2020 and mid-2021.
Catalytic converters are desirable because they contain the precious metals rhodium, palladium, and platinum. Each converter can be traded in at a scrap metal recycler for as much as $500. What’s more, catalytic converters are easy to steal—crooks can crawl under a car and snag one of the devices in just minutes.
And once they do, you’re left having to pay for a replacement catalytic converter, which can cost thousands of dollars. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to help protect yourself from being a victim of catalytic converter theft.
4 Tips for Preventing Catalytic Converter Theft
A catalytic converter (also known as a cat) is an emissions control device that transforms harmful tailpipe emissions into less harmful gases. You’ll find one or more catalytic converters located in the exhaust system underneath the vehicle.
If a thief cuts out your car’s catalytic converter, the exhaust system will be unbearably loud due to the unrestricted flow of gases from the engine. The vehicle will also be unable to pass a state emissions inspection, and the check engine light will likely remain illuminated.
Converter thieves often target hybrid vehicles—especially the easily recognizable Toyota Prius—because a converter in a hybrid generally doesn’t have to work as hard (and therefore, stays in better shape) when compared to a converter in a traditional vehicle. Converter thieves also target trucks and SUVs that are easy to get underneath.
But any vehicle can be the subject of catalytic converter theft. To protect your car and your wallet, consider taking the following precautions:
1. Install a Catalytic Converter Protection Device
Perhaps the best way to safeguard your catalytic converter is with a dedicated protection device. There are a variety of products on the market, such as:
- Plates that cover the converter from front to back
- Cages that encompass the converter
- Strap-style devices that run the length of the converter
2. Park In a Safe Location If Possible
Parking in a safe location will help protect your vehicle against catalytic converter theft. If you have a garage, that’s the safest place to store your vehicle. Otherwise, try to park in a well-lit, highly visible area (near security cameras when possible).
If you have a high-riding vehicle (i.e., truck or SUV), it’s a good idea to park in between low-profile cars when you can. Doing so will make it more difficult for crooks to access the catalytic converter on your tall vehicle.
3. Engrave, Paint, or Label Your Car’s Catalytic Converter
Experts often recommend marking your car’s catalytic converter to deter thieves. Markings can also help a reputable scrap dealer recognize the device as being stolen. There are a few different methods you can use, including the following:
Warning: Do not touch the catalytic converter while it’s hot! Severe injury may result.
- Engraving: One option is to engrave your car’s vehicle identification number (VIN) or license plate number into the catalytic converter. You can purchase an inexpensive engraver at most hardware stores. Just be careful not to damage the catalytic converter in the process.
- Painting: You might also consider painting your car’s catalytic converter so that it stands out. The Blaine Police Department recommends using a brightly-colored, high-temperature (1,300 to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit) automotive exhaust spray paint.
- Labeling: Another option is to purchase a commercially available catalytic converter label. Such labels contain etching fluid that applies a unique number into the metal of the catalytic converter. The number is linked to a registration database.
4. Upgrade Your Car Alarm or Set Up a Camera
Most factory content alarms are triggered by the unauthorized opening of the car’s doors or trunk. Obviously, that doesn’t do much to defend against catalytic converter theft.
But there are also aftermarket motion-detection systems that you can add on. Such systems are designed to sense large moving objects (including people) near your car. You might also consider installing a dash-mounted camera that could help you catch the license plate number of a potential getaway vehicle.
Steps to Take If You Fall Victim to Catalytic Converter Theft
Should you find yourself a victim of catalytic converter theft (despite being aware and cautious), the first thing you’ll want to do is file a police report. You should also contact your insurance company to see if your policy covers catalytic converter theft.
The next step is to arrange to replace the catalytic converter as soon as possible. While the new converter is being installed, you might also want to consider adding a protection device to help safeguard your vehicle in the future.