AAMCO Centers of Southern California


AAMCO Centers of Southern California

Catalytic Converters and Why Thieves Are Targeting Them

Find out how you can protect yourself from becoming a victim of this crime.

AAMCO Socal  | 12/12/2022  | Auto Repair & Maintenance

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Catalytic Converters and Why Thieves Are Targeting Them

With catalytic converters making headlines in recent weeks after a federal investigation exposed a nationwide theft ring of the auto part in early November, everyone is wondering what has made these vehicle parts so attractive to thieves these days. In reality, catalytic converter theft has been around for a long time but has dramatically increased over the last few years.

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NCIB), catalytic converter thefts made a massive leap from 3,389 in 2019 to 14,433 in 2020 — a 325% increase. Thefts increased by another 353% in 2021. So, what is behind this trend? 

What’s a Catalytic Converter?

A catalytic converter is a vehicle component usually found between the muffler and the engine. It converts toxic gases like hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxides emitted by the engine into less harmful substances like oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide. It does this by using a ceramic coated with the precious metals palladium, rhodium, and platinum to create a chemical reaction that transforms harmful gases into safer ones. 

Catalytic converters became a national requirement on new vehicles made after 1975. Since then, some states have enforced even stricter emission regulations, requiring more enhanced converters on vehicles to curb harmful emissions. Pure electric vehicles do not have catalytic converters since they do not have an exhaust system, but hybrid electric vehicles are still equipped with catalytic converters. 

Why Thieves Are Targeting Catalytic Converters

The question on many vehicle owners’ minds is why catalytic converters have been increasingly targeted by thieves. Of course, it’s the same answer for just about any kind of thievery—money. However, what makes stealing catalytic converters a particularly lucrative option is the internal content of the precious metals used for the chemical reaction. 

These metals are quite valuable and can be sold for a decent chunk of change because their value has skyrocketed in recent years. Rhodium can go for up to $20,000 an ounce, palladium can cost $3,000 an ounce, and platinum goes for about $1,100 an ounce. As a reference, the business that was recently busted for its involvement in the national catalytic converter theft ring made around $545 million from the metals it processed and sold to a metal refinery!

What’s more, catalytic converters are a relatively easy target. With the right set of battery-operated tools, it only takes a few minutes for thieves to steal them by cutting them from the exhaust, especially from vehicles that sit higher above ground, like SUVs, buses, and pick-up trucks. And while the process to remove these vehicle parts is quick, getting them replaced is costly, averaging $1,000-$3,000 or more in repairs for the vehicle owner. 

How to Prevent Theft of Your Catalytic Converter

Because of the growing demand for black market catalytic converters and the precious metals inside them, lawmakers in several states are working to tackle the problem, with 26 states introducing new legislation in 2021 to curb thefts and 10 of which passed new laws or reinforced existing ones. 

However, you also need to protect yourself and your vehicle. There are a few ways to protect your vehicle and its catalytic converter from bad actors: 

  • Install an anti-theft device. Various manufacturers sell catalytic converter anti-theft devices, which can provide a layer of security from thieves. 
  • Park in a well-lit area. Thieves are less likely to target a vehicle without the cover of darkness. 
  • Park in your garage. If you can avoid it, do not park your vehicle in the driveway or on the street. However, a driveway is better than the street.
  • Use motion sensor lights. While not the strongest level of protection, thieves might rethink their choice of vehicle to steal from if lights start to turn on around them. 
  • Get your VIN etched into your vehicle’s catalytic converter. NICB offers etching events, or you can get it done at a service center that provides this service. Having your vehicle’s VIN etched into the converter enables NICB and law enforcement to track your converter and arrest thieves more easily. 
  • Use cameras. When looking for a place to park in a parking garage, look for one with many cameras. Also, consider getting a dashboard camera. 

What to Do if Your Catalytic Converter Is Stolen

Sometimes even with the greatest prevention methods, thefts can still happen. If you hear a load exhaust roar when you start up your vehicle, notice more exhaust odors or your Check Engine Light comes on, you likely had your converter stolen. Here’s what to do (and not do) in this situation:

  • Contact the authorities. Immediately let law enforcement know so they can investigate and look for the perpetrator. A police report will also be crucial for your insurance claim.
  • Contact your insurance company. Depending on your company and coverage plan, you may or may not have the theft covered. Discuss with your agent what your options are. 
  • Contact an auto technician. Contact an auto technician as soon as possible to get a replacement catalytic converter and get back on the road. While vehicles can still operate without a catalytic converter, it will cause loud exhaust noise, rough engine performance, and harmful emissions—not to mention it is illegal to drive without one.  Take a look under your vehicle before you move the vehicle to make sure the remaining exhaust is not hanging down to the ground.  It really makes more sense to take caution and have the vehicle towed to an auto service center you trust and do business with to take care of the problem before you drive the vehicle again. 

The Bottom Line

With sky-high prices and demand for precious metals found in catalytic converters, theft of these vehicle parts doesn’t seem like it will die down any time soon. Make sure you follow the outlined steps to decrease the likelihood of your catalytic converter getting stolen. If you do discover it missing, be sure to act right away for a better chance to catch the thief and recover the part.

See Us Today!

Whether you are a victim of catalytic converter theft or just need a repair, we are here to help. At AAMCO, our technicians are equipped with the latest technology and tools to accurately diagnose the issue and provide an efficient solution to get you back on the road in no time. We understand how frustrating it is when an unexpected auto problem arises, which is why we strive to provide excellent customer service while offering affordable solutions. We take pride in providing reliable auto repair services that go above and beyond what is expected. Contact a Southern California AAMCO Center near you! 

AAMCO has more than 50 years of experience diagnosing, servicing, and repairing more than 20 million vehicles. Customers rely on us for:

  • Quality repairs
  • Expert technicians
  • Superior customer experience
  • Trustworthy, honest service
  • Best warranty coverage available

AAMCO Centers of Southern California and surrounding areas represent trust, quality, and value.

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