Why Catalytic Converter Theft is On the Rise
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Catalytic Converter Theft

A catalytic converter is a component of your vehicle’s exhaust system that uses a chemical reaction to convert harmful engine exhaust pollutants into a substance that’s less harmful to the environment.

Catalytic converters first appeared in many automobiles in the mid-1970s and quickly became almost universally used across all new automotive manufacturing.

Over the past several decades, cat theft has been fairly prevalent. However, in recent years, the number of reported thefts of catalytic converters has exploded throughout the United States.

Below we explore why catalytic converters are stolen, why they’re so valuable, which vehicles and car makes are targeted most frequently, and what you can do to protect yourself from cat crooks.

What Does a Catalytic Converter Do?

Your gas- or diesel-powered automobile uses a catalytic converter to filter out dangerous engine exhaust particles. The pollutants, including hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxides, in your car’s exhaust system are transformed into substances that are already present in our environment – nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and water.

Why Do People Steal Catalytic Converters?

Platinum, palladium, and rhodium are three precious metals used in manufacturing catalytic converters that command high prices, making them a tempting target for theft.

Platinum sold for almost $1,100 per ounce in 2021, while palladium sold for over $2,400 per ounce. Rhodium sells for an average of $18,000 per ounce in 2021, with prices reaching as high as $26,000 at one point during the year.

The majority of the precious metals used in catalytic converters are mined and manufactured in Russia and South Africa and, because of the conflict in Ukraine and other supply-chain concerns, the price of these metals has increased dramatically.

How Much is a Catalytic Converter Worth?

On the illicit market, stolen catalytic converters may fetch anywhere from $20 to $350, whereas the average replacement cost for car owners is over $2,500 and on the rise due to inflation and supply chain restraints.

What Types of Vehicles Do Catalytic Converter Thieves Target?

The most targeted vehicles are those with two catalytic converters, such as modern, high fuel-efficiency cars and electric hybrids that also have a gas engine.

Because their catalytic converters require larger levels of rare earth metals to better manage hotter-than-normal exhaust, certain hybrid cars, including the Toyota Prius, are commonly targeted.

Additionally, cars that are higher off the ground and lifted, such as vans, pickups, and SUVs, as well as commercial trucks, are easier targets. High ground clearance allows crooks to slip beneath the vehicle and saw off the cat in mere seconds.

Which Car Makes & Models Have Their Catalytic Converters Stolen the Most?

CARFAX discovered that the following 10 cars were the most common cat-theft targets throughout the country, between 2019 and the start of 2022, using service data of catalytic converter replacements from over 60,000 service centers:

  • 1985-2021 Ford F-Series
  • 1989-2020 Honda Accord
  • 2007-2017 Jeep Patriot
  • 1999-2021 Chevrolet Silverado
  • 1990-2022 Ford Econoline
  • 2007-2021 Jeep Compass
  • 1993-2020 Nissan Altima
  • 2008-2014 Dodge Avenger
  • 2011-2017 Chrysler 200
  • 2011-2019 Chevrolet Cruze

How Many Catalytic Converters Are Stolen Every Year?

Catalytic converter thefts were roughly 108 per month in 2018, 282 per month in 2019, and 1,203 per month in 2020, according to NICB’s Operations, Intelligence, and Analytics review of reported thefts. This equates to over 14,000 cat thefts per year in 2020.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau forecasts that the thefts of catalytic converters grew by 326 percent in 2020 and by another 353 percent in 2021. The number of catalytic converter thefts recorded in insurance company claims has significantly grown over the previous three years.

The least number of thefts occurred in January (652), but the number increased significantly throughout the course of the year, peaking in December at 2,347 in 2020.

How Long Does it Take to Steal a Catalytic Converter?

Catalytic converter theft happens in about 30 seconds or as quickly as the thief can crawl under the vehicle, locate the unit, and saw it off.

The catalytic converter is usually cut off by thieves using a battery-powered reciprocating saw on the exhaust pipe just in front and behind the unit. A reciprocal saw equipped with a hacksaw blade cuts through the thin exhaust pipe like a hot knife through butter.

Which States Are Hardest Hit by Catalytic Converter Theft?

California, Texas, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Illinois were the top five states for catalytic converter thefts in 2022.

In an attempt to deter cat thefts, lawmakers in dozens of states have created legislation that hands down stricter punishments to thieves and companies who buy stolen units.

How Can I Prevent My Car’s Catalytic Converter From Being Stolen?

Securing your car as much as you can is the first step in preventing catalytic converter theft. If you have a garage, you should use it to park your car in at night.

  1. Try to choose a well-lit spot if you must park on the street or in your driveway.
  2. Install anti-theft equipment, such as a steel shield or locking mechanism, on your catalytic converter.
  3. Weld the converter to the vehicle.
  4. To dissuade burglars, install a motion sensor light in your driveway.
  5. Install a camera facing your automobile to discourage thieves and aid in identifying thieves if your cat-converter is taken.
  6. Always lock your car and activate the alarm.
  7. Make certain that a replacement catalytic converter would be covered by your insurance in the event of a theft.

Your vehicle’s theft or the theft of its components may not be covered by liability insurance, which only protects you if involved in a car accident. To make sure you have complete insurance coverage, so your parts are covered, you should speak with your insurance provider.

Keep in mind that there are lengthy wait times and often steep price increases for catalytic converters due to their high demand and limited availability.