Catalytic converter theft: what to do if it happens to you

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Susan Meyer

Senior Editorial Manager

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  • Licensed Insurance Agent — Property and Casualty

Susan is a licensed insurance agent and has worked as a writer and editor for over 10 years across a number of industries. She has worked at The Zebr…

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Ross Martin

Manager, Content Quality

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  • Licensed Insurance Agent — Property and Casualty

Ross joined The Zebra as a writer and researcher in 2019. As a licensed insurance agent, he specializes in writing insurance content to help shoppers…

If lately it seems like all you hear about is someone getting your catalytic converter stolen…you’re not wrong. Catalytic converter theft increased by 326% in 2020 and by another 353% in 2021[1]

In this article, will delve into this phenomenon. Why are catalytic converters the new hot thing for thieves? What actually is a catalytic converter? We’ll also cover the cars more susceptible to this theft, how to prevent your car from being targeted and what to do if your catalytic converter is stolen.


What is a catalytic converter?

A catalytic converter is an exhaust emission control device. It takes the toxic pollutants released in exhaust from your car and makes them somewhat less toxic.

The main emissions produced by a car engine are nitrogen gas, carbon dioxide and water vapor. While these products are relatively benign, cars also release more harmful gasses including carbon monoxide (poisonous), volatile organic compounds (contributors of smog) and nitrogen oxides (contributors of smog and acid rain). With millions of cars on the road producing harmful emissions, city, state and federal governments have created regulations that limit the amount of pollutants cars can release. 

 

 car exhaust

The auto industry has had to make adjustments to adhere to these laws. In 1975, the catalytic converter began being regularly used in the automotive industry to reduce carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides. If you have a car built after 1975, it likely has one installed. 

A catalytic converter consists of a ceramic structure coated with a metal, usually platinum, rhodium or palladium. In newer converters, gold is also sometimes used. Atoms from the unwanted gasses bond with atoms in the metal leaving behind a less harmful gas instead. Typically, the type of converters used in today’s cars are three-way catalytic converters, named for the three emissions they reduce.

Why are so many catalytic converters being stolen?

As mentioned above, the number of catalytic converters being stolen has ballooned in recent years. Part of this is because it’s a relatively easy crime of opportunity. The catalytic converter is located near the exhaust and an experienced thief can steal one in a matter of minutes from a parked car, even if it’s locked.

However, the bigger reason for this jump is because of the rising price of the metals used to make catalytic converters. The price of the metals like platinum, rhodium and palladium shot up in 2020 when the COVID pandemic led to the shut down of several mines. With supply down, demand went up — and so did the price. With this value going up, naturally thefts have gone up too.

Which vehicles are most targeted for catalytic converter theft?

Some vehicles are more likely to be targeted by thieves than others. These include:

Trucks: Pickup trucks are a popular choice for catalytic converter thieves because they are higher off the ground, so it’s easier to crawl under them to reach the prize. They also tend to have bigger engines that need larger and more valuable converters. The Ford F-Series and Toyota Tacoma are particular targets. 

Hybrid cars: Vehicles with hybrid engines focused on clean emissions will often have more valuable converters that are more appealing to thieves. The Toyota Prius is frequently targeted. 

Luxury cars: Expensive cars also tend to have expensive converters. Also, some luxury cars have more than one engine which means more than one converter. The catalytic converter on a Ferrari F430 can get over $3,000[2].

What can you do to protect your vehicle?

There are a few things you can do to protect your car’s catalytic converter from theft. 

  1. Park in a well-lit area. Even though thieves don’t need much time to steal a converter, they still would rather do it in the cover of darkness or on a deserted street where they’re less likely to be seen.
  2. Install an anti-theft product. There are metal shields that can be bolted to the frame of your car and cover the catalytic converter. These usually cost between $250 - $500, but may be worth it, especially if you have to regularly park your car on the street overnight.
  3. Remove the VIN or paint your catalytic converter. Making your catalytic converter more obvious and identifiable, such as by etching your license plate in it or painting it a bright color will make it less attractive to thieves because it’s harder to offload it.
 dark alley

What’s the cost to replace a catalytic converter and will insurance cover it?

If your catalytic converter is stolen, it can cost between $800 and $2,500 to replace[3]. Parts for luxury cars can run even higher. 

If you want your insurance to cover it, you will need comprehensive coverage which usually covers stolen parts. That said, depending on the cost of the replacement and your deductible, it may not make sense to file a claim. After all, filing a claim will likely make your rates go up. Consider your options by trying our insurance claims calculator to help you determine what choice makes sense for your situation.