Why Are Thieves Stealing Catalytic Converters In My Town?

Recently there have been huge spikes in catalytic converter thefts from cars. Usually done late at night when it is hard for cameras to catch details, thieves can hack a cat from under a car in under two minutes. But why are thieves stealing catalytic converters in my town? And, why has stealing cats increased? Why isn’t car theft an easier way to steal? And, what is a catalytic converter, anyway? 

Catalytic converters are part of a vehicle’s exhaust system that reduces pollutants

Car emissions coming from the tailpipe of a car
A vehicle’s exhaust pipe releases fumes | Getty

Cats are part of a vehicle’s exhaust system that reduces burnt engine gasses and pollutants. It catalyzes oxidants through chemical reactions as they move through the cat. Converting those gases into non-toxic emissions or water vapor is how it gets the name catalytic converter.

The “why” to this fable is because there are certain metals inside of the cats that are valuable. Palladium, one of the metals inside, goes for almost $2,500 an ounce. There is also platinum, rhodium, and more. They help the cat to catalyze the oxidation of gasses. Known as rare metals, as prices rise so do thefts. It is the same for copper wire-if prices go up so do wire thefts from empty or abandoned buildings. 

The pandemic has put people in a bind to the extent they resort to theft

A man wearing a balaclava, holding a wrecking bar, about to break open the side door of a vehicle | Getty

Another “why” is because cats are easy to steal. And it can be done quickly. In some cases, a thief only needs a reciprocating saw-it doesn’t even require a jack. Since there are no numbers connecting the cat to the car it is virtually impossible to say with certainty that a cat belongs to a certain car. 

And finally, the pandemic has put many people in a bind to such an extent that they resort to theft. People aren’t using their cars as much so a theft may go unrecognized for days. But once the owner starts his or her car up they know immediately something is wrong. Or missing. It will sound like a car without a muffler. 

In some cases, an easily accessed vehicle in a remote location will see a return of the thief for the new cat. Whatever the situation was that proved successful still exists in most cases. Some people have a cage or metal plates welded around the cat to make it much harder for thieves to remove. That is usually not covered by insurance so it can cost a few hundred dollars. 

Thieves can pocket $200 per catalytic converter

Catalytic converters
Catalytic converters | Getty

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That cost is beyond the cost of replacing the cat. That can run around $500 with insurance. Without insurance, the bill can cost $3,000. For their part thieves can pocket $200 per cat. Because a Toyota Prius cat takes longer to burn out the precious metals, higher prices are paid for Prius cats. Other popular cars with stolen cats are the Honda Accord and the Honda Odyssey. 

In Minnesota recently, state Senator John Marty enacted a ban for unlicensed scrap yards from purchasing cats. This will be for the city of Saint Paul. Minneapolis, on the other hand, has no such ordinance. So it can just shift victims right next door to Minneapolis.

One good way to protect your car from theft is to park it in your garage. If you must keep it outside then keep it in well-lit areas.  There is also a device called the Catlock that secures the cat making it extremely difficult to steal. Otherwise, try to find a parking place that doesn’t allow good access to the underside of your car.