One unexpected byproduct of the worldwide pandemic has been a dramatic increase in catalytic converter theft. Since COVID-19 began to create hardships across the country, police departments have seen more and more converters being stolen.
High unemployment rates have left many people struggling to make ends meet. That desperation, combined with a hike in the cost of precious metals, is one of the primary reasons for the surge in catalytic converter theft.
If you own a vehicle and you do not have a secure parking spot, you may find yourself a target for these crimes. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help protect your car’s catalytic converter.
Why Do People Steal Catalytic Converters?
The catalytic converter (also known as a cat) is an emissions control device located in your car’s exhaust system. Harmful gases from the engine flow through the cat, where they are transformed into water vapor and carbon dioxide. The result is a reduction in pollutants from the car’s tailpipe.
Thieves are drawn to catalytic converters because these devices contain certain precious metals—which make them worth quite a bit of money.
What Precious Metal is in a Catalytic Converter?
Catalytic converters contain precious metals rhodium, palladium, and platinum. Together, these elements act as a catalyst—a chemical that starts a reaction without undergoing any change itself. It’s this catalyst effect that transforms pollutants from the car’s engine into harmless carbon dioxide and water.
How Much is a Catalytic Converter Worth?
All those precious metals make used catalytic converters valuable to metal recyclers. An extra-large catalytic converter from a foreign vehicle can be worth between $200 and $500, while small, domestic cats can be worth around $100.
What makes one converter worth more than another is the estimated amount of precious metals inside.
How Thieves Steal and Sell Catalytic Converters
Thieves only need simple tools to steal your catalytic converter. Typically, they will use a battery-powered cut-off tool, such as an angle grinder, to separate the cat from the exhaust pipe. Some may even use a traditional, hand-operated hack saw.
Once the perpetrator has the cat in their possession, they can sell it to a metal recycler and get quick cash.
According to DMV Recycling, each converter contains approximately 3 to 8 grams of precious metals that a smelter can extract. The metals can then go on to live second lives inside electronics, jewelry, and other sought-after products.
Why Catalytic Converter Theft is on the Rise
There has recently been a jump in the price of precious metals. People are also getting more desperate for quick cash since, due to the pandemic, financial hardship is increasing around the world. These combined factors have led to a substantial increase in catalytic converter theft.
Most Stolen Catalytic Converters: Which Cars are More Prone to Catalytic Converter Theft?
Although any car can be the subject of cat theft, certain types of vehicles are targeted more often than others.
Owners of the following models should be extra cautious.
In a hybrid car, the engine (and, therefore, the catalytic converter) doesn’t have to work as hard as it would in a traditional vehicle. As a result, there’s a better chance the cat will remain in good condition.
That’s why thieves often target the most familiar hybrid—the Toyota Prius. Crooks find versions of the car built before 2011 particularly desirable because the cat is easy to access.
In an interview with the Los Altos Town Crier, the manager of a repair shop in Mountain View, CA, said: “Toyota is just overloaded with [cat] orders. We’ve got local shops that they’re waiting on weeks, and ourselves—we’re waiting on weeks to get parts. That’s a big burden on the customer.”
A quick Google search is all it takes to find similar stories across the United States. Even parts of Europe are battling catalytic converter theft.
Meanwhile, in Europe, one vehicle that’s particularly enticing to thieves is the Honda Jazz. Older Jazz models have a catalytic converter that is exceptionally easy to steal.
In an attempt to make converter theft more difficult, Honda has added a tray to the underbelly on newer versions of the car. Many manufacturers, however, haven’t been as quick to deploy solutions, so new brands such as Cat Security have stepped in to protect vehicles.
Trucks and SUVs
Catalytic converter thieves also target trucks and SUVs. These vehicles have a high ride height that makes it easy for a crook to slide underneath and steal the cat.
How-to: Catalytic Converter Theft Prevention
Every modern, gas-powered car (and nearly every diesel-powered vehicle) has one or more catalytic converters that can potentially be stolen.
The good news is that some insurance companies may cover catalytic converter theft. But because cats are so expensive, in some cases, a replacement can exceed the value of an older vehicle.
In other words, having your car’s catalytic converter stolen is a real headache. So, what can you do to prevent theft from happening?
Purchase a Catalytic Converter Protection Shield
Installing a shield to protect your catalytic converter is the best strategy. These shields, often milled from a single piece of high-strength aluminum, provide plenty of additional protection without adding unnecessary weight to your vehicle. Brands like Cat Security have taken it a step further by offering shields designed specifically for your vehicle.
If you look online, you’ll also find all kinds of DIY contraptions designed to prevent catalytic converter theft. For instance, some people are attaching homemade mesh wire nets underneath their vehicles.
Of course, a professional protection shield will work better than its DIY at-home equivalent. If you’re thinking about bolting one on to your vehicle, do your homework and read the reviews beforehand.
Other Preventive Measures You Can Take
Okay—maybe you don’t want to go as far as installing a protection device underneath your car. That’s alright, you can still take measures to prevent catalytic converter theft. Here are some recommendations from the Elk Grove, CA, Police Department:
- Park in a well-lit, highly visible area (near security cameras when possible).
- Park high-riding vehicles (i.e., trucks and SUVs) near low-profile cars. Doing so will make it difficult to access the cat on the taller vehicle.
- Etch your vehicle’s license plate number or VIN number into the converter. This will make it easier to trace the cat if it’s stolen.
It’s also worth noting that you should park your car in the garage whenever possible. An enclosed parking place is an effective defense against cat theft.
Should You Be Worried About Catalytic Converter Theft?
Having your car’s catalytic converter stolen can be a significant financial burden. For example, it can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 to have a shop replace the catalytic converter on a Toyota Prius.
But converter theft seems to happen more often in some areas than others. Some of the states hit the hardest by converter theft include Minnesota, California, and Oregon. The crime also seems to happen in major metropolitan areas the most often.
How to Tell if Your Catalytic Converter Has Been Stolen (and What to Do About it)
If your catalytic converter gets stolen—you’re going to know about it right away. With the cat gone, the exhaust system no longer reduces engine noise.
And that makes your car really, really loud.
The first thing you need to do when your cat gets hijacked is to file a police report. You should also contact your insurance company to see if your policy covers catalytic converter theft.
After speaking to law enforcement and your insurance carrier, you should make arrangements to replace the converter right away.
CarParts.com makes getting a replacement catalytic converter and security shields easy and affordable. We offer a variety of converters and shields for various makes and models at a price that’s far less than a retail store or dealership.
Before you pay too much to replace your car’s stolen converter, take a look at our extensive selection of products built to meet the most stringent emissions standards (note: shipping to CA, CO, NY, and ME is unavailable).
Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.
My Honda Element has has 2 catalytic converter stolen in the past 6 months. Once from a store parking lot and the second time 3 days ago in front of my house.
I’m sorry to hear that! Have you thought about getting a cat protection device?
-Mia, Chief Mechanic @ CarParts.com
I lost my third cat this weekend – all Priuses. I’d never heard anything as loud as the catless car!