Catalytic converter thieves do not have the notoriety of jewelry thieves or those who hold up banks at gunpoint. The National Insurance Crime Bureau has reported a staggering 1,215% increase in the theft of catalytic converters since 2019, though, putting more well-known types of thieves to shame.
Your catalytic converter is an important part of your vehicle. It neutralizes harmful pollutants and emissions from the engine’s exhaust. It does this by utilizing precious metals to produce a chemical reaction that minimizes the exhaust’s harmful effects.
It is these precious metals that thieves want. Once they cut the “cat” out of your vehicle, they will sell it to junkyards, metal dealers, and others who might want to make a profit themselves. Fortunately, there are a few things to do to prevent the theft of your own vehicle’s catalytic converter.
What is a Catalytic Converter and What Does It Do?
The catalytic converter is a federally mandated emissions device put on gasoline-powered vehicles since 1975. They are fitted to the exhaust system of a car, somewhere between the exhaust manifold and rear muffler. They are often located on the underside of a vehicle close to where the exhaust bends toward the back of the vehicle.
They look similar to mufflers that are elongated on each end with heat shields surrounding them. Inside is a honeycomb or sieve-like pattern that typically contains three main precious metals: Platinum, rhodium, and palladium. These metals help convert dangerous carbon monoxide and nitrous gases from the exhaust into carbon dioxide via a chemical reaction.
Why is Catalytic Converter Theft So Common?
It is because of the platinum, rhodium, and palladium present in the catalytic converter that they are often stolen. In recent years, the prices of these metals have shot through the roof, as many other things have.
Each of these metals is typically priced by the ounce. Platinum has seen a decrease in value since its peak in 2011 of around $1,700 per ounce. It is currently higher now at around $900 per ounce than it was twenty years ago, though. Palladium has risen to well over $2,000 per ounce from its $300 per ounce price in 2001.
Rhodium prices have risen astronomically. It was around $1,600 per ounce in 2001, but it has since risen to an average of about $18,000 in 2021 with even higher amounts seen throughout recent years. The most current average of about $13,000 per ounce is still quite high, though it has come down in the past year. All prices are highly volatile and fluctuate regularly.
Catalytic converter thieves can see returns of around $150 to $1500 for a catalytic converter, depending on the type of catalytic converter stolen. Scrap yards will buy them and have their metals recovered to sell again. Their location on the underside of vehicles can make them convenient to steal quickly.
Vehicles Targeted the Most:
Many vehicles on this list are here for a combination of reasons. The first of which is because many of the vehicles targeted the most are some of the most popular vehicles on the road. A second reason is because of ease of access. The last reason is that some types of vehicles have more valuable catalytic converters than others.
Also on the nationwide targeted truck list are the 1999-2021 Chevrolet Silverado and the 1990-2022 Ford Econoline van. The Toyota Tacoma just makes the list for the western United States.
It makes sense that the Ford F-Series and Silverado are popular targets for catalytic converter thieves as they are two of the best-selling vehicles in the United States. Additionally, because they sit higher off the ground, it is easier to get underneath them quickly and cut out the catalytic converter.
Other SUVs that make the regional lists of targeted vehicles include the 2008-2020 Subaru Forester and 2007-2020 Subaru Outback in both the west and northeast and the 2003-2011 Honda Element in the west.
Other cars that see high regional catalytic converter theft numbers include the 1993-2020 Nissan Altima in the northeast and south, the 2008-2014 Dodge Avenger in the south, and the 2011-2019 Chevy Cruze, also in the south.
Because catalytic converters rely on heat to function properly, and because hybrid vehicles’ engines are not running all the time, their catalytic converters often contain more of the precious metals previously mentioned to function properly. This makes them a hot commodity for thieves looking to profit off of scrap dealers and junkyards.
Even though the Prius is a car with low ground clearance, the extra price their converters fetch on the market is worth the extra time and risk for thieves.
Catalytic Converter Theft Laws:
As a result of the spike in catalytic converter theft in recent years, both the federal government and state governments are beginning to increase theft penalties as well as put more laws in place that govern automotive part recyclers.
One of the most prominent pieces of legislation currently in consideration is called the PART Act. PART stands for Preventing Auto Recycling Theft, and it would require that catalytic converters be stamped with the VIN associated with the vehicle on which they are equipped. It would also require strict transaction records by recyclers, an area that is currently not strictly enforced on a nationwide level.
States like Connecticut and Mississippi already require recyclers to trace a catalytic converter back to a specific vehicle before it can be re-sold. Mississippi has also raised the fines for those who are caught stealing catalytic converters. California and Connecticut both require recyclers to keep detailed records of each catalytic converter transaction.
Only a handful of states do not have any current pieces of legislation being considered regarding catalytic converter theft laws. Hawaii has the most pieces of legislation with sixteen. Minnesota is currently considering fourteen pieces and California is considering eleven.
How to Prevent Catalytic Converter Theft:
You may not be able to guarantee immunity to catalytic converter theft, but there are many ways you can make it more difficult for catalytic converter thieves to get to yours.
Parking in well-lit areas with security cameras will not only deter thieves but can also help law enforcement identify offenders in case the light alone does not hinder theft. Catalytic converter thieves have been known to steal catalytic converters in broad daylight under the right circumstances, so this is not a foolproof measure.
It only takes a seasoned thief about thirty seconds to successfully cut the most accessible catalytic converters off of a vehicle. Doing what you can to add potential time to the theft or deterring it before that even happens will decrease the chance that you will be a victim.
Catalytic Converter Anti-Theft Devices:
Stamp Your Car:
Check Your Car Insurance:
Consider the Car:
Some manufacturers place vehicles’ catalytic converters higher up on the exhaust system and out of easy reach from the bottom of the vehicle. This is not necessarily done to prevent theft, but you can check the location of a vehicle’s catalytic converter by looking yourself or doing some research.
Some vehicles also have more than one catalytic converter. Those with two are not necessarily at higher risk for theft, but it may cost more to replace or repair if theft occurs. Depending on how old your vehicle is, your insurance company could choose to total it based on the cost of replacement converters.
Vehicles manufacturers before 1975 do not all have catalytic converters. There are, of course, other reasons that older vehicles may be stolen, but if the converters are not there, there is no risk of theft.
What to Do if Your Vehicle’s Catalytic Converter Is Stolen:
There are a few steps to take if you have discovered that your catalytic converter has been stolen. The first of which is to notify your local police department. They may not be able to do much if you do not have security cameras and have no evidence trail, but they can document the incident.
If there is a thief in the area, they may be able to associate your theft with other local incidents, ultimately leading to an arrest. Do not assume that just because they cannot arrest someone on the spot that they are not tracking them in your area.
The next step you should take is to file a claim with your insurance company. This is especially important the newer your vehicle is. If the value of your vehicle exceeds the cost it would require replacing a stolen catalytic converter, your comprehensive coverage will often take care of the expense.
The last step is to get it fixed. Since catalytic converters are mandated, your vehicle could fail a state or emissions inspection. They are also important in controlling harmful emissions from your vehicle. You can have your local repair shop or muffler shop install a replacement catalytic converter.
Labor costs to replace a catalytic converter are relatively low – usually under $200. Unfortunately, the replacement catalytic converter itself can cost upwards of $2,000 depending on your vehicle.
What vehicles have the most valuable catalytic converters for scrap?
The Prius is not only one of the most popular hybrids on the road, but hybrid vehicles tend to have more valuable catalytic converters than conventional gasoline vehicles.
What are the most valuable catalytic converters to steal?
These cars are most targeted for catalytic converter thefts in the Midwest.
1985-2021 Ford F-Series..
2007-17 Jeep Patriot..
2011-17 Chrysler 200..
2005-21 Chevrolet Equinox..
2008-14 Dodge Avenger..
1990-2022 Ford Econoline..
1997-2020 Honda CR-V..
1999-2021 Chevrolet Silverado..
Who pays the most for catalytic converters?
In short, scrap yards are your best bet for selling your catalytic converter because they will focus on the value of the metals in your cat, not your cat as an auto part.