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Why Do People Steal Catalytic Converters? Here’s the Lowdown!

  • Car Theft
  • Renee Martin
  • 6 minutes

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It looks quite unassuming and is only about the size of a loaf of bread. But thieves covet it. So much so that Congress is trying to find ways to fix the problem. But, of course, we’re talking about catalytic converters, an anti-pollution device that plays a crucial part in your safety too. Thieves are now targeting catalytic converters at an alarming rate. So why do people steal catalytic converters?  

Did you know there’s a veritable treasure trove of valuable metals underneath your car? Well, thieves certainly do. That’s why there’s been a drastic spike in catalytic converter theft. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, a group that keeps track of such thefts, thieves stole 12 times as many catalytic converters in 2021 as they did in 2019! 

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Why are thieves stealing catalytic converters? 

Thieves steal catalytic converters because the metals found inside the devices are valuable and also because they are easy to steal.  

Catalytic converters have one or more of three precious metals: platinum, palladium, and rhodium. However, the prices of these precious metals have risen in recent years. According to kitco.com, rhodium is worth $12,850 per ounce, palladium is $2,040 per ounce, and platinum is worth $884 per ounce as of now (July 2022). As long as the value of these precious metals stays high, so will the number of catalytic converter thefts.  

Junkyards are increasingly actively collecting catalytic converters. Also, some companies that’ll buy converters sent to them have sprouted up. While the price of a specific converter varies greatly, some values seen in advertisements from “mail-them-to-us” firms vary from roughly $140 to a stunning $1,500. Unfortunately, because of their increased worth, people are stealing catalytic converters, typically ripping them out from beneath a parked car on the street. 

Worse, catalytic converters thefts are considered property crimes. So people caught stealing catalytic converters may receive little more than a slap on the wrist. 

Why are they stealing catalytic converters?
  Image courtesy: https://www.nicb.org/news/blog/catalytic-converter-thefts-skyrocket-across-nation-0

How much is a catalytic converter worth? 

The value of catalytic converters varies depending on the kind of car and its age. Typically, a reseller will pay anywhere from $50 to $250 for a catalytic converter. According to the Universal Technical Institute, a typical converter will include between three and seven grams of platinum, between two and seven grams of palladium, and between one and two grams of rhodium. A single ounce is equivalent to 28.3495 grams. 

However, once your catalytic converter is stolen, you can expect to shell out up to $2000 for a replacement. With thieves currently on a catalytic converter stealing spree, it would be best to make sure that your car has the insurance coverage needed in case yours is stolen.  

How do thieves steal a catalytic converter? 

Thieves are stealing catalytic by silently sliding under your car and cutting it out of the car’s exhaust system. An experienced thief can complete the entire process in a matter of minutes using a hand-held power saw. 

The concentration of precious rare metals in a catalytic converter declines with time. Therefore, thieves target new automobiles. However, it’s also worth remembering that some cars are targeted more while others are less likely to have their catalytic converters stolen.  

Will my alarm go off if someone tries to steal my catalytic converter? 

If your car has an extremely responsive motion-sensitive alarm, it may detect someone sneaking underneath with a saw or pipe cutter. Unfortunately, many of those types of alarms quickly become unpopular with owners and neighbors due to false alarms triggered by the vibrations of a passing truck or a small animal bumping it.  

Because few vehicle manufacturers install such alarms, thieves who steal catalytic converters from parked vehicles often recognize the easy targets. 

Can stolen catalytic converters be tracked down? 

Unfortunately, the answer to this is no. With no identifying numbers linked to these car components, there is no means to monitor or identify them once they’ve been taken from your vehicle and sold to a junkyard or on the black market. 

How can you detect whether someone has stolen your catalytic converter? 

You might not be able to tell whether someone stole your catalytic converter just by looking at your car, but you’ll know the moment you start the engine.  

  • When you start the automobile, a deafening roar becomes louder as you accelerate. 
  • Your car may also splutter when you change speeds, or you may notice it is not driving smoothly. 
  • An increase in exhaust odors or an increase in emissions can be a sure symptom of a stolen catalytic converter. 
  • You may notice missing pieces beneath the car that lead to the muffler. 
  • Your check engine light will be on. 

Also read: Can you drive a car without a catalytic converter?

How do I prevent people from stealing my catalytic converter? 

As with other car thefts, the trick to keeping your vehicle safe is to make it difficult for people to steal your catalytic converter. Thieves will then move on to a less difficult target. Experts in law enforcement advocate the following: 

Etch your catalytic converter

Many police stations and muffler businesses will gladly engrave your license plate number onto the catalytic converter of your automobile for free. However, thieves find it far more difficult to sell a converter if it can be linked to a specific theft, making it practically useless. 

If you can, park indoors.

What criminal would break into a garage when there are simpler targets outside? 

Cameras are your friends.

When you need to park your vehicle, look for parking garages and lots with cameras. 

 Park in a well-lit area

Thieves are less likely to steal where they can be seen. 

Consider getting a dashboard camera.

Some dash cameras use motion sensors to film anyone near your vehicle to reach the catalytic converter. The presence of a camera can deter robbers from seeking easier prey. 

 Install an anti-theft system

Some auto shops sell shields that make removing a catalytic converter difficult. Unfortunately, there have been no studies on how effectively these devices operate, but it seems obvious that criminals would move on to automobiles that do not have them. 

Preventing Auto Recycling Theft Act 

The Preventing Auto Recycling Theft Act is designed to prevent catalytic converter thefts by marking identifying information on catalytic converters, addressing how components are obtained, and improving local law enforcement’s capacity to enforce catalytic converter theft. The National Insurance Crime Bureau collaborated extensively with Congressman Baird on formulating this legislation, which it supports. 

According to the NICB’s converter theft legislative tracker, more than 30 states have initiated legislation to fight catalytic converter theft. Twenty states have enacted the bills into law. 

Get insurance coverage for catalytic converter theft

While lawmakers do their bit to combat this menace, you can also make sure that your car is safe. If someone steals your catalytic converter despite all precautions, ensure you have the right insurance coverage to protect you from incurring massive costs.  

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