There’s been a huge spike recently in catalytic converter thefts across the nation. These thefts often happen in repair shops and facilities, but they’re also taking place in parking lots and on neighborhood streets.
With a mixture of record unemployment, complete boredom, sky-rocketing metals prices, and cuts in law enforcement, the sawed-off or unbolted catalytic converter theft has become a new trend.
Police reports have documented increasing numbers of catalytic converter thefts. While the number of crimes seems small relative to other crime types, this is an important statistic to track in a time when vehicles are spending much more time parked. Thieves typically hit up businesses and car repair shops with large fleets of cars parked in open lots. Removing one catalytic converter takes just a piper cutter or wrench and a few minutes of work.
In 2019, thieves made off with fewer than 200 catalytic converters, as compared with, reportedly, more than 500 in 2020, according to KAKE ABC in Wichita, Kansas. In Topeka, Kansas, thieves have targeted large vehicles, such as the types used to transport local senior citizens. According to channel WIBW-13, Those vehicles have incurred about $20,000 in damages. Since September of 2020, Lynchburg, Virginia, police have also reported 31 new thefts.
Even the winter frost in Manchester, New Hampshire, hasn’t deterred thieves, with 22 of these crimes committed since last November. Out of desperation, a repair-shop owner who’s suffered multiple thefts has had to deflate the tires of cars in his lot so that thieves have more difficulty getting underneath the cars to harvest the converters.
Catalytic converters explained
Your car’s catalytic converter plays a key role in reducing your car’s emissions. The exhaust system starts at the engine compartment of your car and involves a long type of funnel that removes gases from your engine. These gases, a byproduct of the combustion process, head to your car’s exhaust manifold or manifolds if your car has a certain type of engine with a dual-exhaust system. After leaving the manifold, a series of tubes move the gases down to your car’s catalytic converter.
At the front of the converter lies something called a reduction catalyst. The precious metals platinum and rhodium are used in this half of the converter to remove dangerous NOx emissions. The second half of the converter burns off hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide. A functioning catalytic converter keeps about 90 percent of these poisonous gases from polluting our skies.
The street value of a catalytic converter
It might seem that one simple car part wouldn’t be worth a thief’s time, but catalytic converters can bring a relatively quick and easy $50 to $200 each from metal scrap buyers. The thieves get cash, and law enforcement has no system in place to track these sales.
Some of the precious metals used in the catalytic converter have market values higher than gold. In March of 2021, the New York spot price for gold was just over $1,700 an ounce. Platinum was trading at a slightly more modest $1,180 per ounce. Palladium, however, was almost $2,600 an ounce, and rhodium’s spot price was an incredible $23,000 per ounce. This helps explain why thieves want to get their hands on your car’s catalytic converter so badly.
How can you protect yourself?
If you drive an older car, it usually doesn’t make sense to carry comprehensive damage insurance because the policy might cost more than your car’s actual replacement value. Unfortunately, this is the type of insurance that would cover the theft of a catalytic converter.
Refurbished catalytic converters can start at $500, even for a 20-year old car. Get one new from the manufacturer, and you might pay $1,000 or more. After adding on the install labor, you’ve got yourself a large repair bill.
Replacing a catalytic converter involves complying with several rules and regulations. In terms of meeting certain auto emission guidelines, the catalytic converter is critical. The EPA does not allow sales or installs of any used catalytic converters unless they have been professionally refurbished and certified by an EPA-approved manufacturer.
It’s not legal for you to buy a used one at the local junkyard, install a converter that belongs to a different car model, or even change out the converter from another, identical car.
While you can often secure expensive parts to your car, such as locks on hubcaps, protecting your catalytic converter is a different matter. No such locks currently exist, so your best bet, for now, is to keep your most vulnerable cars, especially those with high clearance, in your garage and maintain good insurance coverage with a quality insurer.