In 2020 rate of catalytic converter theft increased by 325%. You read that right. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau the number of catalytic converters stolen between 2019 and 2020 rose by over 11,000.
This concerning trend of record-high theft has continued throughout 2021 and into 2022 nationwide.
Even here in Renton catalytic converters can be snatched in broad daylight. And with a new catalytic converter costing upwards of $1500, it’s important to be informed. In this article we’re going to dive in to what catalytic converters are, what drives catalytic converter theft, and what you can do to keep yours safe.
What is a catalytic converter?
The process of combustion that happens within an engine can create toxic carbon monoxide gas. When this is released back into the air it can have devastating consequences for the environment .
Your catalytic converter is a crucial part of your exhaust system that helps to minimize these toxic emissions. This is accomplished by using rare metals like platinum, palladium, and rhodium to convert harmful exhaust fumes into less toxic gasses.
How it works
The platinum and rhodium pull oxygen from nitrogen atoms. This pure N2 is shot out of the system. Meanwhile, the oxygen molecule then reacts with the platinum and palladium and binds with carbon molecules to create CO2.
The first catalytic converter was designed around 1950 by a man named Eugene Houdry, a french mechanical engineer. In 1970 the EPA announced that all car’s had to reduce fuel emissions by 90% by 1975. At the time this seemed like an impossible feat. Enter the boom of the catalytic converter. Through they weren’t able to achieve that perfect 90%, catalytic converters are effective at cleaning up your car’s emissions by around 70% (which is still a HUGE improvement).
What drives catalytic converter theft?
So, why has catalytic converter theft skyrocketed over the last three years? The reason has to do with value of the metals used to convert the exhaust and the lack of supply due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Towards the beginning of the pandemic, most metal mines went dark. This lack of supply made these metals even more scarce, and, as a result, more valuable. In December of 2020 market prices for rhodium were over $14,000 per ounce. Palladium and platinum are also highly valued, priced at around $2,300 and $1,000 per ounce respective.
Over time, the metals within a catalytic converted are broken down as they are exposed to combustion and hazardous fumes. However, ever then trace amounts of metals are valued by car pirates.
Since there are no identifying features on a catalytic converter such as a VIN, car pirates are able to sell catalytic converters to junkyards or other buyers without fear of getting caught.
Even if a catalytic converter has virtually no trace of the metals left, recyclers will pay up to $250 per CAT.
It’s no help that, relatively speaking, catalytic converters are easy to steal. The metal connecting them to the rest of the engine is thin, making it easy for anyone with a saw to slip under your car, snatch one, and make a quick getaway.
How to tell your CAT’s been stolen
If your catalytic converter has been stolen, you’ll probably know about it sooner rather than later. We’ve all seen those videos of Priuses that sound like like a V8 after having their catalytic converter stolen. That’s because catalytic converters, in addition to helping mitigate hazardous fumes, also act as dampers for the fund of your engine.
When your CAT is missing, your exhaust is simply shooting out of a short pipe unchecked. This translated to a much louder engine sound than usual.
In some cases you’ll be notified by your CEL coming on to let you know something’s up. Your catalytic converter usually sits underneath your car squaring in the middle or off to one side. if it’s missing, all the hot exhaust coming from your engine is now getting expelled under your car instead. Depending on your make or model, this has the potential to melt hoses, fry wires, and cause general mayhem to your system.
If you do suspect your cat’s been stolen, just get under there and check. If there is a gaping hole where your catalytic converter should be, you’ve got a problem.
Who’s at risk?
Every car made after 1975 has a catalytic converter, so in that sense, everyone is at risk. However, some cars are a bigger target than others for theft. This risk typically corresponds with how well preserved the metals within the catalytic converter are, and how big the catalytic converter is.
Toyota Priuses and other hybrids are commonly a target for catalytic converter theft. The biggest reason for this is that hybrids are able to drive solely on electric power for large chunks of any given commute. This means that combustion is not happening in the engine, leaving larger mounts of the valuable metals untouched.
Some trucks such as the Ford F-250 are also a common target for this type of theft. While combustion definitely happens within the engine, the sheer size of the catalytic converter in this particular model translates to larger amounts of metal overall.
Because metals break down over time, newer vehicles are more at risk for catalytic converter theft than older ones that are less likely to have larger amounts of valuable metal within.
How to protect yourself from catalytic converter theft
There are several options to help protect yourself from catalytic converter theft.
Engraving There are some auto shops that will engrave your car’s VIN onto your catalytic converter so that a theft trying to sell it can get caught.
Install a CAT Shield You could invest in a CAT shield. This is a metal shield or piece of rebar that gets welded around your CAT to keep thieves from accessing your CAT so easily. A shield is a great way to make your car a more difficult option, making thieves give us easier in search of an easy target. You can get a catalytic converter shield installed at Beetlesmith’s Valley Auto Service today!
Lower your car Another option to avoid catalytic converter theft is lowering your car. If you are able to, you can also lower your car a bit to make it more difficult for thieves to slide under your car and access your CAT.
Ultimately the best way to keep your car safe from catalytic converter theft is by making it more difficult to access your CAT so that thieves move on to a different target.