Catalytic Converter Thefts Skyrocketing–Why Thieves Want Them

By Lauren Fix, The Car Coach

Across the country, catalytic converter thefts have skyrocketed in the last few years and they continue to increase. It seems like an odd part to take but it is easy money for thieves. According to data compiled by the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) the theft of catalytic converters has increased by more than 1,000 percent.

So what is a catalytic converter? 

It’s a piece of the emissions system that uses chemical reactions to turn the toxic fumes from a car’s engine into less harmful exhaust. As part of the exhaust system on gas-powered cars, hybrids, and trucks, catalytic converters play a key role in reducing air pollution from cars, which is why the EPA made it a requirement for all cars beginning in 1975.

Stealing a catalytic converter can take as little as 30 seconds, and the part has continued to remain prime targets for theft thanks to elevated prices on the precious metals they contain like platinum and palladium. Those rare earth metals are the key driver of theft. Thieves then sell these converters to salvage yards, pocketing the cash. They don’t sell them one at a time either. They typically sell them by the truckload!

The precious metals that are contained in these catalytic converters are produced and mined in Russia, Ukraine, and South Africa, which means replacement units are challenging to procure if you are a victim. These are financial crimes. Crime, after all, is a business, and business is very good for criminals.

It’s important to note which cars are most targeted for catalytic converter theft. Thieves look for vehicles that have two catalytic converters, so energy-efficient vehicles or hybrid vehicles that run on gas, and electricity are especially targeted. Some hybrid models, such as the Toyota Prius, are huge targets because their catalytic converters use higher amounts of rare earth metals to better handle hotter-than-normal exhaust. This means thieves get a bigger payout.

Commercial vehicles are easy targets as they are higher off the ground. This includes vans that transport elderly people, delivery vans, and other vehicles with higher ground clearance that allow suspects to more easily get underneath the car or truck to saw off the catalytic converter.

Once the thief gets underneath a car or truck, the process of stealing your catalytic converter can happen quickly. It takes about 30 seconds. They cut the catalytic converter with a reciprocating saw, in front, and behind the converter, leaving your vehicle damaged and you holding the bill. Fortunately, replacement costs can be run through your insurance in most cases.

You can protect yourself from catalytic converter theft by parking your vehicle in a garage if you have one. If you need to park on the street, or in an uncovered driveway, park in a well-lit area, and make sure you have a security system on your car with a motion sensor to set off an alarm.

Be sure to check your insurance coverage and confirm that you will be covered for a new catalytic converter in case of theft. Your liability insurance should cover you in the event that you’re in a car accident, but it may not cover the theft of your vehicle or parts from your vehicle.

Contact your insurance carrier to ensure you have comprehensive insurance coverage just in case. If you are a victim of catalytic converter theft, expect a delay in repairing your vehicle. There is a parts shortage globally and this includes catalytic converters. Even worse these parts have become much more expensive over the past two years.

If you are a victim of catalytic converter theft you will know the moment you start your car. It won’t be hard to tell because the exhaust sound will be much louder than usual. The vehicle will be drivable but, it may not be legal to drive on public roadways. A catalytic converter is required by law in all states. If the vehicle doesn’t run properly, it will need to be parked until it’s repaired.

Last year, lawmakers in 26 states have introduced legislation in an effort to curb these thefts, with 10 states signing new laws, which increase the penalty should thieves get caught. These new laws have not deterred thieves, sadly.

There is so much more to discuss on this, put your comments below and let’s start the conversation.

The opinions expressed in posts to the NMA Blog belong to the author and do not necessarily represent the National Motorists Association. The content of the NMA Blog is for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. No representations are made regarding the accuracy of NMA Blog posts or links found within those posts.

Lauren Fix, The Car Coach®, is a nationally recognized automotive expert, analyst, author, and television host.  A trusted car expert, Lauren provides an insider’s perspective on a wide range of automotive topics and aspects, energy, industry, consumer news, and safety issues.   

Lauren is the CEO of Automotive Aspects and the Editor-in-Chief of Car Coach Reports, a global automotive news outlet. She is an automotive contributor to national and local television news shows, including Fox News, Fox Business, CNN International, The Weather Channel, Inside Edition, Local Now News, Community Digital News, and more. Lauren also co-hosts a regular show on with Paul Brian called “His Turn – Her Turn” and hosts regular radio segments on USA Radio – DayBreak. 

Lauren is honored to be inducted into the Women’s Transportation Hall of Fame and a Board Member of the Buffalo Motorcar Museum and Juror / President for the North American Car, Utility & Truck of the Year Awards.  

Check her out on Twitter and Instagram @LaurenFix.

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