Catalytic Converters: What They Are, Why They Are Stolen, and How To Stop Thieves

Image Credit: Kim2480 / Wikimedia Commons

Catalytic Converters: What They Are, Why They Are Stolen, and How To Stop Thieves

Catalytic converters have been receiving a lot of press lately. Many vehicle owners may be unaware of what these devices are and what they do. These devices are typically located on a vehicle’s undercarriage midway between the front wheels and are one of the most valuable components of a car.

Catalytic converters are a part of a car’s exhaust system, which helps to convert dangerous pollutants into less harmful gases. This is clearly a valuable job that we can all get behind. Unfortunately, these devices are also valuable to thieves as well because of the valuable metals that they contain, which has led to a rapid increase in thefts lately. So, let’s take a closer look at these devices and what you can do to protect your catalytic converter from becoming the next victim.

What Are Catalytic Converters?

A catalytic converter is likely the most important component of your car’s exhaust system. This rough bread loaf-sized piece of metal located between your car’s engine and muffler contains a specialized filter that prevents dangerous gases such as carbon monoxide from being released into the atmosphere. It does this by “catalyzing”, a reaction converting them into less harmful gases such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen gas, and water vapor.

These devices are crucial to allow vehicles to meet emissions control standards and prevent considerable damage to the environment. However, the “catalysts” which allow for this reaction to occur make them a valuable target for thieves as well.

Why Are Thieves So Interested in Catalytic Converters?

We know now that catalytic converters are valuable for protecting the environment, but in addition, they are just plain valuable as well. The three primary catalysts that make up a catalytic converter are platinum, palladium, and rhodium. These rare earth metals can be sold for up to ten times as much as gold, and there is quite a bit of these metals in every catalytic converter.

Thieves can sell a typical catalytic converter for about $50 to $250 per part to a recycling center which will extract the valuable metals to resell often for many thousands of dollars per ounce. A few decades ago, there was far less demand for these rare minerals, but due to many factors, including the high demand for these metals in microelectronics, the prices have skyrocketed.

The high prices for these metals have led to increasingly high rates of theft which have plagued many vehicle owners who often have to pay between $1,000 to $4,000 to replace these parts. However, some cars are at a far greater risk of theft than others.

What Cars Are at Most Risk of Catalytic Converter Theft?

All gasoline-powered vehicles manufactured after 1974 are equipped with catalytic converters, which means thieves have a lot of options to choose from when it comes to stealing these devices. However, there are certain vehicles that are at higher risk.

Thieves are more likely to choose taller vehicles which gives them the room to slide underneath and remove the catalytic converter. Generally, this includes pickup trucks and SUVs.

However, the absolute favorite targets for catalytic converter thieves are hybrid vehicles. Due to their gas and electric design, their engines do not have to run as powerfully as pure gasoline vehicles, which in turn means their exhaust does not have to run as hot. In order to remove toxins as efficiently, these catalytic converters require more catalyzing material, which means more for thieves to sell. Often thieves can sell catalytic converters from a hybrid vehicle such as a Toyota Prius for three times the amount they could sell from a pure gas model.

What Can You Do To Protect Your Vehicle From Catalytic Converter Theft?

When it comes down to it, catalytic converters are relatively easy to remove. Generally, they are bolted to your car’s exhaust pipes on either side, so all a thief has to do is slide under and either unbolt it or use a power saw to cut it off. This makes it an easy target for theft, but it also means that thieves are looking for fast and easy targets. If a vehicle looks like it will present a challenge, they may just move on rather than risk taking extra time and risks.

Vehicle owners can install cages that fit around the catalytic converter making it difficult to access. Another option would be to weld rebar to either side, making it impossible to simply unbolt and difficult to saw through. However, these protections can be difficult, costly, and potentially risky for the average vehicle owner to put into effect.

The best deterrence against would-be thieves is to make your vehicle less of a target. Thieves are generally looking for the easiest and safest target, so parking in a well-lit area near the entrance of buildings will typically deter most thieves, who will instead choose vehicles closer to the outskirts of parking lots. There is no way to guarantee thieves will not choose your catalytic converter, but basic precautions like these can go a long way to protecting your exhaust.

In Post Image Credit: Clker-Free-Vector-Image / Pixabay