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What is a catalytic converter and why are people stealing them?

April 7, 2022

A catalytic converter is an exhaust emission control device that converts toxic gases and pollutants in exhaust gas from an internal combustion engine into less toxic pollutants by catalyzing a redox reaction.

Most automobile spark-ignition engines in North America have been fitted with catalytic converters since 1975, and the technology used in non-automotive applications is generally based on automotive technology. In many regions, it is illegal to remove or disable a catalytic converter for any reason other than its direct and immediate replacement. 

Because of the external location and the use of valuable precious metals including platinum, palladium and rhodium, catalytic converters are a target for thieves. The problem is especially common among late-model trucks and SUVs, because of their high ground clearance and easily removed bolt-on catalytic converters. Welded-on converters are also at risk of theft, as they can be easily cut off. 

Platinum, was recently trading at $944 per ounce, and palladium was at about $2,190 an ounce. Rhodium was going for nearly $10,000. These metals are so expensive because there is high demand and limited supply globally. This is why the theft of the catalytic converter is so high.

So, what can you do to protect yourself and your ride from converter theft? Well, there are a few steps you can take. 

Etching your licenses plate number on the converter  Although it won’t prevent theft it could help it being illegally stolen. If you report your catalytic converter being stolen it could help it being tracked.  

Anti-theft shields bolted around the converter – Shields and guards prevent easy access to the part. The downside to this solution is the price; one installation could cost hundreds of dollars and likely require the work of a professional.

Park in well-lit and well trafficked areas – Unprotected, parked cars are easy targets. If you have a garage at home, utilize it. A locked garage is ideal. Try to park in well-lit, publicly visible areas when you’re on the go. The more people there are, the harder it is for someone to mess with your car without anyone noticing. If you routinely park in the same public place, such as your workplace, check if they have security cameras. Try to park so that the cameras have a clear view of your car.

Install a protective device – If you’re willing to spend some money to prevent the issue, consider having a protective device installed. Shields and guards prevent easy access to the part. The downside to this solution is the price; one installation could cost hundreds of dollars and likely require the work of a professional.

Install an alarm – Vibration sensor alarms are another way to deter a thief who has set their sights on your vehicle. To steal your catalytic converter, they will have to saw through it. The vibrations from the sawing will set off the alarm. Some newer vehicles will come with these alarms preinstalled.

It’s very difficult to prevent catalytic converter theft, but these actions are a step in the right direction to help protect you.