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  • Writer's pictureCostello Safety

Protect Your Car Against Catalytic Converter Theft

What makes a car attractive to thieves? It’s often this exhaust system part that can be removed in minutes and sold for fast cash.

Catalytic converter theft is on the rise nationwide. Thieves can steal this antipollution device in a matter of minutes and sell it to scrap metal dealers for several hundred dollars for the precious metals it contains.

Insurance giant State Farm says it handled three times as many catalytic converter theft claims in 2021 as it did in 2020 — and more than 10 times as many as in 2019.

What Is A Catalytic Converter?

Think of a catalytic converter as a very special kind of filter for your car’s exhaust system that reduces harmful emissions. It’s bolted to the underside of every gas-powered car, and it’s vulnerable to thieves because it contains metals more precious than gold. The metals convert harmful exhaust into oxygen, nitrogen, and other less harmful gasses.

Why Are Catalytic Converters Being Stolen?

Your catalytic converter is an essential part of your vehicle, designed to reduce the pollutants and toxic gas your emissions system produces; however, It’s not what a catalytic converter does that makes it a target for theft but what’s inside. Catalytic converters contain platinum, palladium, and rhodium — precious metals more valuable than gold.

As of April 2022, rhodium was valued at $18,300 per ounce, palladium at $2,320 per ounce, and platinum at $933 per ounce. Their value has escalated in recent years as automakers use more precious metals in catalytic converters to further reduce emissions. These precious materials make catalytic converters targets for thieves who then cash in by selling the parts to scrapyards or metal recycling plants. Thieves can make anywhere from $25 to $300 for a standard catalytic converter, and ones from hybrid vehicles can sell for up to $1,400.

While this has been happening for years, a recent uptick in catalytic converter theft may be motivated by economic turbulence from the pandemic. Additionally, the reduced foot traffic during this time may make it easier for thieves who feel less likely to be caught. It takes just a few minutes for a thief to cut the catalytic converter out of your car and leave you with thousands of dollars in damage. The cost to replace a catalytic converter reflects the value of its components and can range from $2,000 to $3,000, including labor.

Which Cars Are Targeted for Catalytic Converter Theft?

While catalytic converter thefts can often be crimes of opportunity, many thieves target specific vehicles. Here’s an idea of which types of vehicles are more at-risk for catalytic converter theft.

Luxury vehicles

The Most Valuable Catalytic Converter Prize goes to the Ferrari F430, coming in at a whopping $3,770 each. The F430 has two converters, so they’re a pretty big target for thieves. Lamborghinis also have incredibly pricey catalytic converters, averaging at about $3,000.

Hybrid vehicles

The more emissions-friendly the vehicle, the more valuable its catalytic converter tends to be. These vehicles require a higher concentration of the precious metal palladium, upping the total value.

Older vehicles

Due to their concentration of valuable metals and their general non-eco-friendliness, catalytic converters in larger, older vehicles are worth more than newer, more efficient vehicles.

SUVs and trucks

Larger trucks and SUVs tend to be targeted for two reasons. First, their larger engine means a more valuable catalytic converter. For example, the Dodge Ram 2500’s catalytic converter’s value is nearly Ferrari-level at a staggering $2,000.

Second, their height from the ground makes their converters easier to access for thieves.

Other models with valuable catalytic converters

Of course, there are cars that aren’t targeted for a specific category but tend to have more valuable catalytic converters for one reason or another.

  • Ford F-250

  • Ford Mustang

  • Honda Accord

  • Honda CRV

  • Honda Element

  • Honda Jazz

  • Lexus RX & all

  • Lexus SUVs

  • Toyota 4Runner

  • Toyota Auris

  • Toyota Tacoma

  • Toyota Tundra

Three Ways To Protect Against Catalytic Converter Theft

1) Etch your license plate number onto your catalytic converter.

This makes the part identifiable to law enforcement. The idea is that a thief who sees the etching moves on to an easier target. Police in some communities have joined with local repair shops to sponsor etching events.

2) Mindful Parking.

When you are at home, you can park in the garage to help avoid catalytic converter theft. What about when you are on the go?

When your garage is not an option, here are some parking tips to keep in mind:

  • Brightly-lit areas: Parking under street lights or in brightly-lit locations can help deter theft.

  • Highly populated locations: If the lot or parking garage you are in is seeing a lot of foot traffic, it will be hard for someone to steal your catalytic converter without being caught.

  • Security camera: Keep an eye out for security cameras in your parking area and try to find a spot visible to the cameras.

At best, these practices can deter the theft of your catalytic converter. Otherwise, it may help the authorities catch the individual who stole your vehicle parts.

3) Install an anti-theft device.

Etching and careful parking might make your catalytic converter less attractive to thieves, but these preventive maneuvers don’t protect the part itself. This is where an anti-theft device can help. Catalytic converter anti-theft devices are available from various manufacturers and range from steel plates protecting the underside of the vehicle to cages made from steel cables that are meant to discourage thieves from stealing a converter by making removal more time-consuming, which in turn increases the thief’s exposure to getting caught.

Alarms systems - both full vehicle systems and special converter-specific ones also can be effective deterrents. Talk with a trusted mechanic to see what they recommend for your vehicle. Anti-theft solutions can be pricey, but they often cost less than a new catalytic converter.

What To do If Your Catalytic Converter Is Stolen?

Even if you drive an older car and it doesn’t seem worth it, alert local law enforcement and your insurer if your catalytic converter does get stolen. Statistics can help legislators pass laws that make it tougher for thieves to sell stolen parts.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) says insurance policies can cover the replacement of a stolen catalytic converter, but only if there’s a comprehensive policy in place. Comprehensive insurance covers events like theft and weather damage, but many people who have older, less valuable cars don’t carry it because the premium isn’t worth the potential payout if something goes awry.

Most people who are leasing or making payments on a car are required to carry comprehensive coverage, but whether or not someone files a claim on a stolen converter depends on the policy’s deductible and how much it costs to replace the part. For example, if you have a $1,500 deductible to keep your monthly premium low, you wouldn’t file a claim on a repair that cost $1,200.

The best option, though, is prevention. Even if your insurance covers the replacement of a stolen catalytic converter, parts delays, and repair shop backups are common right now, meaning you may have to wait a while for repairs.

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Feb 01, 2023

I think it's better to concentrate on older vehicles whenever you decide to sell junk car as you can get some useful metal parts from it.

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