Since the beginning of the pandemic, police departments across the country have been reporting a rise in catalytic converter theft. The financial hardship that has accompanied COVID-19 is one of the primary reasons for this surge. In December of 2020, the United States’ unemployment rate was 6.7%—nearly double the pre-pandemic rate (3.5%) from February of the same year.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and, as a result, there has been a substantial increase in catalytic converter theft. For example, in Wichita, Kansas, thieves swiped more than 500 catalytic converters in 2020. That’s nearly double the 200 thefts the city recorded in 2019.
Although no vehicle is safe from catalytic converter theft, some are targeted more than others. Is your car one of the models that crooks go after the most?
What Cars are Targeted for Catalytic Converter Theft the Most?
Your car’s catalytic converter (also known as a “cat”) is an emissions control device located in the exhaust system, between the engine and the muffler. Dangerous exhaust gases from the engine enter the catalytic converter, where they are turned into harmless water and carbon dioxide.
All catalytic converters contain valuable, precious metals that thieves want to get their hands on. But criminals go after the converters on some vehicles more than others. The cars catalytic converter thieves target the most include:
The Toyota Prius
The Toyota Prius is the most recognizable hybrid on the road—and that’s why it’s one of the vehicles catalytic converter thieves target the most.
Because the gasoline-powered engine in the Prius (and most other hybrids) doesn’t run all of the time, the catalytic converter doesn’t have to work as hard. As a result, the converter is more likely to stay in better condition longer, thereby retaining more of its precious metals.
Criminals are well-aware that the Toyota Prius is more likely to have a converter that’s still in good condition. That’s why they target these vehicles more than any other.
One Prius owner and converter theft victim shared their story with The Mercury News: “Recently, people warned on Nextdoor that someone in my neighborhood in Oakland was stealing catalytic converters from Prii (evidently they are easy to take from certain Prius models). Within a couple of days, mine was stolen, as well (I didn’t get the $350 protective cover from a muffler repair shop in time). I went on Nextdoor and found someone up the street had been hit as well that same night.”
Other Hybrid Vehicles
Many thieves are savvy enough that they can spot hybrids other than the Toyota Prius. As such, other hybrid models are also common targets of catalytic converter theft. For example, in Europe, converter thieves often go after hybrid versions of the Honda Jazz, Lexis RX, and Toyota Auris.
Trucks and SUVs
It comes as no surprise that catalytic converter thieves often target trucks and SUVs. Because these vehicles have such a high ride height, crooks don’t even need to use a jack to get underneath. Instead, all they have to do is slide beneath the truck and cut the converter off with a hacksaw or power tool.
Why Do People Steal Catalytic Converters?
The answer to why crooks steal catalytic converters is simple—cats are worth a lot of money. Each device can be traded into a scrap metal recycler for as much as $500. Cats are valuable because they contain precious metals, as we’ll discuss below.
What’s Inside a Catalytic Converter That Thieves Want?
Catalytic converters contain the 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.
Of course, thieves don’t care how a catalytic converter works; they just know the precious metals inside are worth a lot of money.
In fact, Rhodium—one of the key elements found inside catalytic converters—is currently worth approximately ten times more than gold. At the time of this writing, Rhodium is worth over $19,000 per ounce, whereas gold is worth a little less than $1,900 per ounce.
How to Prevent Catalytic Converter Theft
There are plenty of devices for sale online that are supposed to prevent catalytic converter theft. Most of these products are designed to cover and protect the converter, making it more difficult for thieves to access. But the jury is still out on how well these “cat protection” devices actually work.
While you may not always be able to prevent catalytic converter theft, you can protect your wallet through your insurance policy. In many cases, comprehensive coverage will give you some degree of financial security against cat theft.
Of course, you’ll want to keep in mind that the cost of the coverage and the deductible could add up to be more than that of a replacement cat.
You can also take some simple precautions to help deter catalytic converter thieves. The Elk Grove, CA, Police Department recommends that you do the following:
- 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.
Is Catalytic Converter Theft Something You Should Be Worried About?
Catalytic converters aren’t cheap—it can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 to have a shop replace the catalytic converter on a Toyota Prius. In other words: Having your car’s catalytic converter stolen can be a significant financial burden.
But converter theft seems to happen far more often in major cities than in rural areas. So, before you rush out and buy a cat protection device, check with friends and family to see whether they’ve heard about cat theft being a problem in your area. You may also want to check local news outlets and (if you have one) a neighborhood watch app.
CarParts.com has an extensive selection of replacement catalytic converters built to meet the most stringent emissions standards. Best of all, our converters cost far less than those from a retail store or dealership (note: shipping to CA, CO, NY, and ME is unavailable).