Stop! Thief! What You Need to Know About Catalytic Converter Theft

It’s easy to find stories about catalytic converter theft. This nefarious activity is on the rise and has drivers flummoxed as to why it’s happening? What’s so special about the catalytic converter that thieves target this single part of your car?

What is a catalytic converter?

Catalytic Converter Theft is on the rise.
Catalytic Converter | Shutterstock

This item is a small device incorporated into the exhaust system to convert pollutant gases into less harmful versions. Those gases, while still harmful, aren’t quite as toxic as what enters the exhaust system ahead of this device.

Why do thieves want catalytic converters?

Thieves can make money from these devices because they contain rare precious metals. According to Cars.com, this device contains platinum, palladium, and rhodium. The price of each of these metals has risen significantly in the past several years, although most thieves receive $50 to $500 for each item on the black market.

Can you drive a car without this device in your exhaust system?

Extreme Exhaust Fumes can be caused by a missing catalytic converter
Extreme Exhaust Fumes | Shutterstock

Yes, if your catalytic converter is stolen, you can still drive your car. When you do, the car will be louder than normal and get louder during acceleration. This is one of the signs that you’re the victim of catalytic converter theft. Other ways to know you’ve become a victim are:

  • Increase in exhaust fumes or unusual exhaust smells
  • Missing parts under the car leading to the muffler
  • Uneven or sputtering acceleration from the lack of exhaust regulation
  • Check engine light on or inspection failure

Which cars are most likely the target of catalytic converter theft?

According to CarFax, the ten most targeted vehicles are:

  • 1985-2021 Ford F-Series pickup trucks
  • 1989-202 Honda Accord
  • 2007-2017 Jeep Patriot
  • 1990-2022 Ford Econoline vans
  • 1999-2021 Chevrolet Silverado pickup trucks
  • 2005-2021 Chevrolet Equinox
  • 1997-2020 Honda CR-V
  • 1987-2019 Toyota Camry
  • 2011-2017 Chrysler 200
  • 2001-2021 Toyota Prius

The Toyota Prius is interesting because it’s the only hybrid on this list. Hybrid cars have more of these precious metals than regular model cars. If this type of theft continues, we could see this list proliferated by hybrid vehicles.

How long does it take to steal a catalytic converter?

This Intact Catalytic Converter hasn't been stolen yet
Intact Catalytic Converter | Shutterstock

It doesn’t take long at all to steal these items. In fact, Kelley Blue Book tells us the average time to remove this device is between two and three minutes. Al a thief needs is a battery-operated reciprocating saw and the job is done in a hurry. If other construction noises are present, you might never notice the thief at work under your car.

How can you avoid becoming a victim?

There are some steps you can and should take to avoid catalytic converter theft. These are:

  • Have your license plate or VIN etched onto the device
  • Park indoors when possible, preferably in your own garage
  • Choose parking areas that have cameras present
  • Park in a well-lit busy areas near entrances
  • Install a dashboard camera
  • Install an anti-theft device for your catalytic converter
  • Paint the device to make it less attractive on the black market

Will your insurance pay for a stolen catalytic converter?

Your car insurance company will pay for the replacement of this item if you have comprehensive coverage. You’re still required to pay the deductible, which could be nearly as much as the entire item. Of course, this also means your car is once again a target for this type of theft. Take some of the avoidance steps mentioned to ensure you don’t have to go through the hassle of replacing this item a second time.

Check out the following article about car theft in NYC. You’ll see that the most popular vehicle to steal in New York is also on our top ten list of models for catalytic converter theft.

RELATED: Why Are Thieves Stealing Catalytic Converters In My Town?