Most Stolen Car Part in the US: Catalytic Converters

What’s the one thing you’d expect burglars to steal when they break into your car? Your registration? What about that $500 GPS device or expensive radio? Sure, all of these things do often times get stolen, but have you ever thought that someone would steal your catalytic converter?

Chances are you don’t even know what a catalytic converter is or where the device is located on your vehicle. Unfortunately, crooks do.

Although the thefts are nothing new, the increasing number of catalytic converter thefts sweeping across the nation is staggering. The precious metals inside, such as palladium, rhodium and platinum, present an easy target for opportunistic thieves. Know as “cats” on the street, catalytic converters are attached to your exhaust system beneath your car and used to reduce the toxicity of emissions from the internal combustion engine. Since 1975, they have been required by law on every motor vehicle in the US.

Without a catalytic converter, a vehicle may be rendered inoperable and once removed, severe engine damage will result if the car is driven. Toyota brand SUV’s and pick-up trucks are the most targeted because there is significant ground clearance beneath them, which makes it easy for a suspect to access the part. This type of vehicle also has a bolt on style of converter, as opposed to having the exhaust system constructed with welds.

After the theft, all that usually remainsĀ are a few bolts and brackets on the ground. This crime seems to be fueled by the demand for the materials used to manufacture the converters, which are quite expensive. Thieves typically sell the stolen part to recyclers or on the black market for resale and get about $100 to $120 on a good catalytic converter.

Many thieves get away with the crime in broad daylight because they simply pop the hood of a vehicle and by hooking their car up with jumper cables, they pretend that they are doing a repair. Sneaky.

In California, these thefts became so prominent that the state legislature passed SB627 in 2010, a law that require scrap dealers to create a paper trail whenever they purchase a catalytic converter.

Depending on the make of your vehicle, your catalytic converter can be removed in as quickly as two minutes and may only require a wrench to do the job. You probably won’t even realize it’s missing until you start your car up and find that it sounds like revving up a Harley Davidson. This loud noise coming from the exhaust is due to the fact that your exhaust is no longer running through your muffler.

New catalytic converters can cost between $400 and $1,500 and the cost to repair the vehicle could run anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000. Of course this all depends on the replacement parts, which vary by size, manufacturer, content and design.

So, what can you do to protect yourself from being set back a couple thousand dollars? For starters, try to park in a safe and secure place, that way if a stranger is seen beneath your vehicle it would be instantly suspicious.When possible, keep your car in your garage instead of on your driveway or in the street.

Police recommend having the actual catalytic converter engraved with your vehicle’s license plate number. Hopefully, when criminals see the white highlighted engraving it will deter them from stealing it. However, even if they decided to go through with the theft, police would have a much easier time tracking it down on the black market and charging them with a felony.

You can also collapse the threads of the bolts on your exhaust system so that they cannot be unscrewed. This can be taken care of at a muffler or metal shop. If you’ve had your converter stolen and need to replace it, just make sure that your mechanic uses a method that will ensure its secured to your vehicle.