Catalytic converter theft has become epidemic. From 2008 through 2015, vehicle owners reported a total of about 25,400 thefts to their insurance companies, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). Since then, thefts have accelerated—to as many as 153,000 in 2022, according to Carfax.
Why do people steal catalytic converters?
Catalytic converters, which resemble small mufflers, scrub toxic gases and pollutants from a gas-powered engine’s exhaust using small amounts of platinum, palladium, and rhodium. Increased demand has sent prices of these metals soaring. In July, rhodium was valued at about $4,300 an ounce, palladium at about $1,300 an ounce, and platinum at about $1,000 an ounce.
Armed with little more than a wrench or a hacksaw, a thief can slither under a vehicle and remove a converter in just a few minutes. Pickups and SUVs are popular targets because they sit higher off the ground, making it easier for thieves.
Scrapyards typically pay a couple of hundred dollars or more for converters. Converters from some hybrid vehicles can fetch a lot more because they contain more precious metals and degrade less. In turn, scrapyards sell converters to recyclers, which extract the metals.
Catalytic converter replacement has generated a lot of business for repair shops. Replacing a converter isn’t cheap, running anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on the vehicle and on how much damage a thief inflicts on the exhaust system’s pipes and sensors.
What’s being done to fight it
About half of U.S. states have proposed or enacted legislation to address catalytic converter theft. Typically, those laws would penalize buyers who fail to certify that a catalytic converter was obtained legally. Also, metal recyclers and junk dealers will be required to document their methods for buying catalytic converters and keep records of whom they buy them from. Doing so will help ensure they’re doing business only with vehicle owners and qualified sellers.
Don’t become a victim
Unfortunately, catalytic converters are likely to be stolen from anywhere cars are parked, according to the NICB. So what are car owners to do to discourage thieves from swiping their converter? Make it harder for them to get at it.
Tips for preventing catalytic converter theft:
- If you have a garage, always park your car there rather than leaving it in the driveway.
- If you have a carport or parking space at home, install motion-detector security lights and set a car alarm.
- During the day, when you drive to work or somewhere away from home, avoid parking in isolated areas. Instead, park where there’s more foot and vehicle traffic, making anyone who might be targeting your car more likely to be seen.
- Buy an antitheft device. Converter-protection devices have been developed for many vehicles frequently targeted by thieves. Depending on the vehicle, the shields cost about $140 to $340, plus installation, which takes about an hour. Alternatively, muffler shops can often bend and weld rebar to form a cage around the converter.
- Etch your license plate number or vehicle identification number on your car’s converter to make it more easily identifiable to the police.
Most likely targets of catalytic converter theft
Carfax has compiled lists of the most heavily targeted vehicles, based on reports from more than 60,000 service facilities from across the country between 2019 and early 2022.
Nationwide these vehicles are:
- Ford F-Series pickups (1985–2021)
- Honda Accord (1989–2020)
- Jeep Patriot (2007–2017)
- Ford Econoline vans (1990–2022)
- Chevrolet Silverado pickups (1999–2021)
- Chevrolet Equinox (2005–2021)
- Honda CR-V (1997–2020)
- Toyota Camry (1987–2019)
- Chrysler 200 (2011–2017)
- Toyota Prius (2001–2021)
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