Vehicles have a metal that costs more than gold and thieves are after it. Authorities are reporting a rise in catalytic converter thefts from vehicle exhaust systems. Replacing a catalytic converter can cost up to $2,000 and, depending on how old your car is, it is illegal to drive without one.

With the increase in the price of precious metals, the problem has gotten worse. Thieves especially target hybrid vehicles because they contain a higher percentage of precious metals, including platinum, rhodium, and palladium, which are more expensive than gold. Historically, catalytic converter thefts have increased when the price per ounce of these precious metals increases. There is especially a strong correlation between the rise in thefts and the cost of rhodium.

What is a catalytic converter?

The catalytic converter is a round canister that is located underneath the car and is part of the exhaust pipe system. It’s typically installed in the middle of the exhaust system between the exhaust manifold and muffler. The catalytic converter contains a ceramic honeycombed core coated with precious metals to neutralize harmful exhaust gasses.

How long does it take to steal a catalytic converter?

Thieves can remove a catalytic converter quickly, often in less than two minutes, so theft can even occur in broad daylight. The only tools a thief needs are a wrench (for converters that are bolted on) or a reciprocating saw (for converters that are welded in), as reported by Edmunds.com

How bad is the problem?

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) "ForeCast Report" dated March 8, 2021 did a theft analysis between January 1, 2018 and December 31, 2020 taken from data provided by 189 insurance companies (roughly 10% of the insurance market) that reported catalytic converter theft. The analysis shows a 426% increase, from 3,389 reported thefts in 2019 to 14,433 reported thefts in 2020. The states of California and Texas show the highest number of thefts.

What do thieves do with the stolen catalytic converters?

Because these precious metals are expensive, thieves sell the converters to scrap yards for several hundred dollars per piece, depending on the size of the converter and the current rate on the metals inside it.

TIPS TO REDUCE THE THEFT OF YOUR CATALYTIC CONVERTER

  1. PARK IN WELL-LIT AREAS OR AREAS THAT PEOPLE REGULARLY WALK PAST. Always park in well-lit areas when possible. Park close to a building entrance or the nearest access road when parking in a public lot. Increased pedestrian traffic in those areas may decrease the risk of theft.
  2. KEEP YOUR CAR PARKED IN A GARAGE AND NOT ON THE STREET. If you have a personal garage, keep your car in the garage with the door closed when the vehicle is not in use.
  3. PARK TO PREVENT ACCESS UNDERNEATH. Thieves need to slide under the vehicle and use cutting tools to detach the converter from the pipes around it. Strategic parking can put thieves off. Parking your car close to fences, walls, or curbs makes theft much more difficult.
  4. PARK IN AREAS WHERE THERE ARE SECURITY CAMERAS OR INSTALL ONE FOR YOUR DRIVEWAY. Video surveillance around your garage or driveway is helpful if you have the budget for it.
  5. MARK THE CONVERTER WITH A SERIAL NUMBER. Etch your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on the converter so it can be easily identified and install a sticker in the rear window that indicates the catalytic converter is marked. This may help prevent thieves from targeting your vehicle.
  6. WELD THE BOLTS SHUT. If your catalytic converter is bolted on, ask a local garage to weld the bolts to make it more difficult to remove.
  7. INSTALL A DEVICE TO MAKE IT MORE DIFFICULT TO REMOVE. Security devices are available that attach to the converter, making it harder to steal. An example is a device for Toyotas called “Catloc” or the "CatClamp" for other vehicles.
  8. INSTALL AN ALARM. The noise of the alarm should help scare off any thieves. If you have a security system on your car, calibrate it so vibration sets it off. This ensures the alarm activates if a thief tries to saw off the converter.
  9. BLOCK ACCESS TO THE UNDERSIDE OF LARGER VEHICLES. If your company has a small fleet with trucks and cars, block the larger vehicles with smaller vehicles.

Additional Information

The Washington Post: “A precious metal that costs 15 times more than gold is driving a surge in thefts of catalytic converters.

National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB): “Increase in Catalytic Converter Thefts, 2018 through December 2020.

Edmunds: “In Under Two Minutes: Catalytic Converter Theft

CatClamp: Catalytic Converter Lock


About Author

Greg Slaton,
Consultant, Loss Control Department at Tokio Marine America
Greg Slaton is a Sr. Loss Control Consultant with our Casualty Loss Control group. His focus is in Industrial Hygiene services. He has 34 years of experience in loss control and has been with Tokio Marine America for 16 years. Greg is a member of the American Industrial Hygiene Association and the American Society of Safety Professionals.

About Tokio Marine America

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