Catalytic Converter Thefts: Why It’s Happening And How To Protect Yours

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There’s a part on the underside of your vehicle that thieves have been targeting more and more lately.

It’s your catalytic converter, or “cat,” a component of the car’s exhaust system that makes the pollutants produced by the vehicle less severe. It sits between your engine and your muffler.

Catalytic converter theft on vehicles has steadily risen in recent years in conjunction with the value of the metals that are used in making them. But with the effects of COVID-19 on the global economy and record inflation, thefts have skyrocketed even further during the pandemic.

This Roadshow YouTube report has a great overview of the problem.

Why Do Thieves Want Catalytic Converters?

Catalytic converters are wanted by thieves because they are potentially worth a lot of money. It’s not the actual device but rather the precious metals contained inside that can be pulled out and sold. The conversion work done by your car’s catalytic converter is aided by trace amounts of palladium, platinum and rhodium. Those three metals “aid in the chemical reaction that makes exhaust pollutants less harmful,” according to Cars.com.

While the device doesn’t contain a lot of those precious metals, even just an ounce of any of them can make thieves a handsome profit. Cars.com says that the price of platinum went from about $530 per ounce in 2001 to about $1,100 per ounce in 2021. Palladium rose from an average of $600 per ounce in 2001 to almost $2,400 in 2021, and rhodium has jumped to an outrageous price.

“After averaging roughly $1,600 per ounce in 2001, it jumped to an average of about $18,000 in 2021, with a high that year of nearly $26,000,” Cars.com reported. “By contrast, gold went from about $300 per ounce in 2001 to roughly $1,800 in 2021, a sixfold increase.

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Besides containing valuable metals that can be resold, catalytic converters are also fairly easy to remove from cars, especially if they are higher off the ground, such as on most pickup trucks. A common electric saw for getting through the exhaust pipe, and a drill for removing a few bolts, are essentially all that’s needed to remove one. The part can come off in just a couple minutes.

Thefts of catalytic converters seem to be a problem nationwide, from Hawaii to New Jersey and everywhere in between.

If you own a Honda Accord, Toyota Prius or Toyota Tacoma, you’re driving one of the most targeted of vehicles for these types of thefts. Priuses are targeted especially because they have two catalytic converters that often show less corrosion because they are hybrids.

Catalytic converters aren’t cheap to replace, either, often costing in the thousands of dollars, especially as the prices of the precious metals used to make them keep rising. If your catalytic converter is stolen, report the theft to police. This helps insurance companies, law enforcement and others lobby for new laws to raise the penalties for catalytic converter theft and create more regulations on the sale of the parts.

Thankfully, there are a few tactics you can use to protect your car’s catalytic converter.

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How To Prevent Catalytic Converter Theft

One of the most obvious deterrents to catalytic converter theft involves how and where you park your car. If possible, park your car in an enclosed garage, or park it in a way that makes it difficult for someone to get underneath it, such as next to a wall or close to other cars.

An effective car alarm will also help if you have to use street parking where you live. Also try to have a motion-activated light or security camera in the area where you park your vehicle, as an extra deterrent. The camera may not prevent theft but could aid in helping police track down the missing part and the people responsible.

Speaking of police, they often recommend getting under your vehicle and etching your license plate or VIN number onto your catalytic converter. Car shops can often do this for you and some police departments have even started campaigns to paint and etch the parts themselves.

Anti-theft devices for catalytic converters are available but are often vehicle-specific, so you’ll likely need to research the right anti-theft part for your vehicle’s make, model and year. Here are a few options you can find on Amazon that have good ratings.

Wsdcam 113dB Wireless Bike Alarm

Amazon

This Wsdcam wireless alarm may primarily be designed for bicycles, but it also makes a great catalytic converter alarm system as it’s set off with vibration. Attach this to an area near your catalytic converter so that anyone jacking up your vehicle or simply messing around underneath it will set it off. At $17.49, it’s one of the most cost-effective security options you’ll find.

One Amazon reviewer said that after his catalytic converter was stolen, despite him having a metal plate over it, he added this alarm to the plate. Another said they’d seen it attached by a cable away from the heat of the engine but still close enough that it would be set off by thieves under the car.

Cat Security Catalytic Converter Protection Shield for 2010-2015 Toyota Prius

Amazon

This Cat Security plate currently sells for $160 and fits on a common range of Toyota Prius models. There’s also one for even older models. While it doesn’t guarantee that thieves won’t be able to get the shield off or work around it, the idea is that thieves looking for an easy job may be deterred.

“I guarantee some thief has looked under my car since I installed it and thought it wasn’t worth the time or risk,” said one Amazon reviewer.

Amazon also has shields for the Honda Element and the Toyota Tacoma. Run a search for your vehicle and maybe you’ll find a shield that fits.

Cat Clamp

Amazon

The Cat Clamp ranges in price from $176-385 and is a recommended anti-theft device that works on various models of cars. It’s unfortunately out of stock at Amazon right now but can be bought directly from the Ohio-based manufacturer.

One Amazon reviewer said that after he has his catalytic converter stolen twice, he installed a Cat Clamp.

“Last weekend, they tried again but only cut one cable and put a cut in one of the converters,” he wrote. “I’m sure they determined it was going to take them too long to finish the job. Replacing the converters would have cost me $1,300 rather than just the cost of welding the damage done. Well worth the investment.”

Another Amazon reviewer wrote that he saw on his security video footage that when a thief went to try and steal his catalytic converter and saw the Cat Clamp, he gave up.

“I had peace of mind once I had this installed and this just reinforces the fact. A determined thief will be able to cut their way through anything, but most will give up and move on for an easier target.”

A similar idea is the CatStrap, which is a device that covers your catalytic converter and triggers an alarm if someone tries to cut it. It sells for $279.99 directly from the manufacturer.