Catalytic converters are designed to act as a line of defense against harmful exhaust emissions by turning pollutants into harmless gasses. The technology used in these emission control devices includes many precious metals — like platinum, palladium, or rhodium – making them a valuable item to steal and resell.
Read on to learn how you can help prevent these types of theft from happening and what to do in the unfortunate event this happens to you.
Tips to help protect you from catalytic converter theft
- Etch your license plate number onto your catalytic converter: This makes the part identifiable to law enforcement. The idea is that a thief who sees the etching moves on to an easier target. Police in some communities have joined with local repair shops to sponsor etching events.
- Park in well-lit areas: If you must leave your car outside, the National Insurance Criminal Bureau (NICB) recommends parking in a well-lit area and making sure to set your vehicle alarm. This is a good idea in general as it helps stops other crimes of opportunity.
- Install an anti-theft device on the catalytic converter: These can include a steel shield that fits over the catalytic converter, a locking cable device that secures the converter to your car or a cage made of rebar or other high-strength steel that's difficult to cut.
- Paint your catalytic converter to deter buyers: Some sources recommend using a high-temperature fluorescent orange paint, such as those sprayed on barbecue grills, on your catalytic converter and then inscribing your vehicle identification number in the painted surface. This makes it traceable, and in theory at least, a reputable scrap metal dealer might decline to buy it.
- Set an alarm or camera to catch thieves: You can turn up the sensitivity of your car alarm so that it goes off when thieves jostle your car. Other alarms are designed to be activated when the car is tilted, such as when it's jacked up. Installing a motion-sensitive dash cam can notify you of a theft in progress or possibly record the license plate of the getaway car.
- Install motion-sensitive lights: In addition to alarms, get motion-sensitive lights that are near where your vehicle is parked. These will not only save your catalytic converters, but they will also help prevent home burglaries. Get to know your neighbors and consider joining online neighborhood networks to be aware of strangers in the area or reports of theft to keep you informed.
Car types targeted for catalytic converter theft
Any vehicle is susceptible to this type of theft. However, catalytic converters in hybrid vehicles, commercial vehicles and in large vehicles (like RVs) contain larger amounts of precious metals. Therefore, thieves like to target them the most. Thieves can get under a pickup truck, SUV, or RV, unbolt, or cut away the catalytic converter, and be gone within minutes. They tend to work late at night or early in the morning.
How to tell if your catalytic converter has been stolen
- Loud roar when you start the car, louder as you accelerate
- Increase in exhaust fumes, or unusual exhaust smells
- Missing parts under vehicle leading to muffler
- Uneven or sputtering acceleration due to lack of exhaust regulation
What to do if your vehicle has been involved?
- Call local authorities to file a police report
- Notify your insurance agent to report a claim
- Do not drive your vehicle until it’s been checked out if possible
- Check any cameras to see if anything was captured to help the local authorities
While theft is not 100% preventable, having the proper insurance coverage is crucial to limit your financial risk.