Catalytic converter theft rose by a staggering 1,215% from 2019 to 2021. That's an unfathomable increase in theft that has made catalytic converters a prime target for thieves in modern low-emission vehicles.
The high value of catalytic converters on the market makes them incredibly attractive targets, especially when you consider just how easy it can be for thieves, compared to stealing the entire car.
But because of the rapid rise in theft of catalytic converters, preventative measures are not yet entirely clear, with even law enforcement failing to offer effective steps that vehicle owners could take. And that has many car owners struggling to figure out how to protect catalytic converter parts in their cars.
But how to prevent your catalytic converter from being stolen? How would you even know if it was stolen in the first place? Are there any anti-theft devices that could make the catalytic converter a more inconvenient target for theft? And how much will a repair shop charge you if your catalytic converter does get stolen?
These are just some of the questions about protecting catalytic converters that we'll cover in this comprehensive guide.
Why Are Catalytic Converters Being Stolen
The main reason cat converters are being stolen at such a high rate comes down to profitability. Car thieves are always looking for the easiest opportunities that come with the highest profits, and catalytic converters have become the most promising target for opportunistic thieves looking to avoid risk.
But for catalytic converters to be so valuable for a would-be thief, they must have unique qualities that command thousands of dollars in the market. And the reason why they are so lucrative is because of the components that are used to make them.
Namely, modern catalytic converters contain three precious metals required in their production: rhodium, palladium, and platinum. Some of these can cost as much as $20,000 per ounce if sold, which means that even a single catalytic converter can fetch many hundreds of dollars in a scrap yard. The value of precious metals has been increasing in recent years because of shortages in the market, and it's not likely to go down any time soon.
Today, an entire industry has emerged due to increased cat theft from fuel-powered vehicles. Numerous scrap yards have prioritized buying up catalytic converters, and there are even buyers actively buying up cat converters exclusively for their valuable metals.
And on top of that, potential thieves are drawn to cat theft because the current laws treat it as property theft, which doesn't have nearly as severe consequences as stealing the entire car. Therefore, even if the thief is caught, they rarely get more than a slap on the wrist, making cat converter theft a very low-risk, high-reward illegal activity for getting fast cash.
How to Know if a Catalytic Converter is Stolen
One of the worst things about being a catalytic converter theft victim is that you may not even notice that it happened immediately. At first glance, your car may not be any different, which means it could stand in your driveway for days until the next time you start the engine and notice something is wrong.
The good news is that once you start the engine, you will notice the missing catalytic converter in minutes, if not seconds. The car will be much louder than usual, especially when you push the gas pedal and accelerate.
And that's not even the only thing that will be different in a car missing its catalytic converter.
First, you'll notice the loud roar of the exhaust pipe, but you'll also smell the exhaust much more than usual. The amount of fumes the car leaves behind will also significantly increase, as the catalytic converter won't be there to filter the harmful emissions before they are released.
In modern cars, the check engine light will likely come on immediately after starting the engine, as the car's computer will notice that the catalytic converter is not functioning as it should.
Finally, the car may not even perform as it should on the road, with the acceleration becoming more uneven and the engine performing poorly.
Cost of Replacing Catalytic Converter
Many variables can impact how much auto repair shops will charge to replace your stolen catalytic converter. But while comprehensive insurance can sometimes cover the repairs, those that don't have insurance should be prepared to pay thousands of dollars to have the cat converter replaced so the car can pass the emissions inspection and be legal to drive.
Depending on your car's make, model, and year, catalytic converter replacement can cost upwards of a thousand dollars in most cases. And in more extreme situations, you can even pay $3,000 or even $4,000 to get it replaced and working correctly again. The current costs of catalytic converters make it one of the most expensive car problems to repair, which is why it's crucial to look into ways of preventing theft in the first place.
Having your catalytic converter stolen is an immediate issue you will have to resolve before you can continue driving. Even though the car can technically function without the cat converter in the short term, it comes with many issues that can put your vehicle and your wallet at risk.
You will not only be damaging your car and releasing a lot of harmful emissions into the air but also breaking the law by driving around without your cat converter. If caught, you could face severe consequences, which is why many people choose to sell their car without a catalytic converter if it gets stolen or broken. However, the best approach is to learn how to protect the catalytic converter in the first place.
How to Prevent Your Catalytic Converter from Being Stolen
At this point, you probably understand just how expensive and inconvenient having the catalytic converter stolen can be. Once it happens, you may have to consider selling your car for parts, especially if it's an older model that might not be worth as much as the repairs would cost.
But the good news is that there are steps you can take to learn how to protect catalytic converter parts in your car, adding security measures that will dissuade most catalytic converter thieves from targeting your vehicle in the first place.
Namely, the recent surge in theft has created a massive demand for catalytic converter anti-theft devices designed to make it harder for the parts to be accessed and stolen quickly. Today, there's a good selection of under-the-car catalytic converter shields that create an additional barrier that thieves would have to go through.
Because most thieves want to complete the process of removing the catalytic converter as quickly as possible, this additional barrier can act as a deterrent that makes the thief give up once they see removing the cat converter won't be as easy as they anticipated.
Another effective anti-theft measure you can take is installing an alarm for the entire vehicle and the catalytic converter. Loud alarms instantly draw the attention of passersby and people living in the surrounding houses, which can deter many attempts and make the thief flee as soon as the alarm starts sounding.
However, for any of these approaches to be effective, you must also be considerate about where you park your car. It won't matter how many obstacles you create for stealing the cat converter if the thieves don't have to worry about being detected. Eventually, all anti-theft measures can be eliminated, meaning you need to park in more secure and visible places where the thief won't have much time to remove the part without drawing attention.
If you have the opportunity, keep your car in a locked garage, where it will be the most protected from any attempts to remove the cat converter. If that's not possible, at least park on a well-lit street with a lot of foot traffic and nearby housing. Even if removing the catalytic converter is relatively quick, it still requires a bit of time, so thieves will take fewer chances in areas that many people pass by on a regular basis.
Finally, when a theft does occur, you should at least contact the local authorities and report the crime. If you have insurance, this will make it possible to claim damage and get the repairs compensated. Otherwise, you can at least hope to raise awareness of the problem among local authorities and push them to pass legislation that would increase the punishment for catalytic converter theft, making it less appealing to thieves.
Catalytic converter theft is one of the biggest threats facing car owners today. Most modern vehicles have catalytic converters that can cost thousands of dollars to replace, which is why figuring out how to protect catalytic converter parts from being stolen is more important than ever before.
In this article, we've explored why catalytic converter theft is on the rise, how much replacing it can cost, and what you can do to minimize the likelihood of your car being targeted. However, if it has already happened to you, there will be hard decisions you'll need to make about whether replacing the cat converter is worth it. Luckily, you can always sell to a reputable junk car buyer that will buy your car in any condition, even with a missing or broken catalytic converter.