In recent months the theft of catalytic converters has repeatedly made the news.

In this piece, we will talk about what catalytic converters are and why they are increasingly becoming a target for thieves across the nation.

What is a Catalytic Converter?

A catalytic converter is an important component of a vehicle’s exhaust system. It is a device that is used to reduce the amount of harmful gases that are released into the atmosphere when a vehicle is running. It works by converting some of the exhaust gases into less harmful substances.

The catalytic converter consists of a ceramic or metal honeycomb-shaped structure that is coated with a catalyst. This catalyst is usually made of platinum, palladium and rhodium.

car catalytic converter

When the exhaust gases pass through the catalytic converter, the catalyst reacts with the gases and breaks them down into less harmful substances such as carbon dioxide and water vapour. This process is known as catalytic conversion.

In order for the catalytic converter to work effectively, it needs to be properly maintained. This includes changing the oil and air filters regularly, as well as checking the catalytic converter for signs of wear and tear. If there is any damage to the catalytic converter, it should be replaced immediately.

The benefits of having a catalytic converter are numerous. It helps reduce air pollution by reducing the amount of harmful gases released into the atmosphere. It also helps increase fuel efficiency, as it allows the engine to run more efficiently.

As a result, this helps reduce fuel costs. Additionally, the catalytic converter helps reduce engine noise, making your vehicle more comfortable to drive.

Why are Catalytic Converters Stolen?

Catalytic converters are one of the most important components of a car’s engine, and yet they are also the most commonly stolen item from vehicles. But why? What makes catalytic converters so appealing to thieves? The answer lies in the precious metals they contain.

Catalytic converters contain metals such as palladium, rhodium, and platinum, all of which are highly valuable.

The average price of an ounce of rhodium, for example, is about $21,000, so this makes catalytic converters very attractive targets for thieves, who will often strip the converter from the underside of a car in a matter of minutes. All it takes is a cordless electric saw to cut the converter from the vehicle.

Generally, the thieves will take the stolen converter to a third party, who then will sell it to a legal recycler, receiving cash for it. So, the thieves themselves usually don’t make a lot of money off it. The middleman, however, does.

The theft of catalytic converters is on the rise, jumping over 1,000% in recent years. With the metals contained in catalytic converters being among the rarest metals in the world, they are much sought after within the industry, so unfortunately, this has made them a very appealing target for criminals.

Which Vehicles are the Most Popular Among Thieves?

Generally, four-wheel drive trucks and larger SUVs are the main targets, as they have more than enough ground clearance for someone to just crawl under them to cut the pipes leading to and away from the convertor. Large pick-up trucks or delivery vehicles also have larger catalytic converters and, with this, also more of the coveted precious metals.

However, thieves have been found to drag shop floor jacks with them along residential streets or dark parking lots to jack up a vehicle and cut the converter from the vehicle. Another popular target is hybrid vehicles, as their technology requires catalytic converters to contain even more precious metals, making them even more attractive to criminals.

How Much Does Catalytic Converter Replacement Cost?

This strongly depends on which kind of vehicle you own and the technology used. The cost for the converter itself can run anywhere from $750 to upwards of $5,000, making it a significant expense and financial burden to many car owners.

Taking one of the most popular hybrid vehicles as an example, a Prius catalytic converter can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $2,000, and modern high-flow catalytic converters can also cost upwards of $1,000 to replace.

But it is not just the catalytic converter price that you have to take into consideration or the installation, many thieves will cause additional damage while cutting the converter from your vehicle.

They can damage wiring or other parts of the exhaust system in the process when trying to act as fast as they can to avoid detection.

What Can You Do to Avoid the Theft of Catalytic Converters?

There are several things you can do to prevent a criminal from stealing your catalytic converter. The most efficient is to park in a locked garage or behind a very secure fence system, as this will not give potential thieves any access to the vehicle to begin with. If you don’t have access to either of these, there are other options. One is to install an anti-theft device.

These devices are designed to make it much more difficult for thieves to steal the converter and thus can help to deter theft. Some of these devices are even designed to emit a loud sound when tampered with, alerting nearby people to the theft.

You can also purchase cages or shields that are put over the catalytic converter to make it harder to get to it. If a thief sees that their target is well-protected and they would not be able to cut it quickly, there is a chance they will not even try.

Note: The vibrations caused by a cordless electric saw are not strong enough to trigger a vehicle’s alarm system.

How Do I Know that My Catalytic Converter Has Been Stolen?

Unless you regularly check your exhaust system, you will not be able to have any visual indications that your catalytic converter has been stolen. However, as soon as you start your car, it will be very obvious. When the catalytic converter has been removed, your vehicle will make a loud roaring sound that’ll get louder as you push the gas pedal.

While a missing catalytic converter might not trigger your check engine light to come on, it often does. Most vehicles are equipped with an engine control unit which monitors various sensors around your vehicle, like in the emission control systems.

Can I Still Drive With a Missing Catalytic Converter?

While it is possible to drive without a catalytic converter, it is not recommended. Not only will your car not run efficiently and also fail any potential emission tests, but it can also be outright dangerous. With the converter cut out of your exhaust system, the rest of the system might also be compromised and not secure. This can lead to running the risk of causing even more damage, especially if a loose exhaust pipe might dig into the road or a speed bump.