Catalytic converter thefts: A growing trend

DATE | 08/16/21
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An uptick in catalytic converter thefts is part of a disturbing trend for car owners. At issue is that the metals used to make them have recently risen in value and they are fairly easy to steal.

What is a catalytic converter?

Catalytic converters reduce emissions such as nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and hydrocarbon. While vehicles can still run—loudly—without them, they will not pass emissions tests required in some places before owners can renew their registrations.

Factors affecting the rise in crime

The numbers are rather shocking. There has been almost a ten-fold increase in these thefts since 2018, with more than 14,000 converters reported being stolen in 2020 as the precious metals they contain have risen dramatically in value (National Insurance Crime Bureau [NICB]). Catalytic converters contain rhodium (worth $23,000 per ounce), palladium ($2,861), and platinum ($1,190), though only a few hundred dollars worth goes inside each converter. In addition, the easy money of selling stolen catalytic converters has caught the attention of drug dealers, who can make in a day what they made in a week selling some kinds of drugs.

The catalytic converter is also on the outside of the car, making it easier to steal. Removing a catalytic converter takes only minutes using some basic battery-operated tools from a local hardware store.

Costly to car owners

Mike Godby, Insurance Services Operations Manager at Member Benefits, says that not only has the problem spread across the country, but it has touched our members as well. “One of our members who lives near Stevens Point drives a Dodge Ram pickup. This pickup has two converters, which are the ones getting stolen the most. The thieves took them both as well as other exhaust parts. The estimate for repairs was $10,000. However, the parts weren’t available for months, prolonging our member’s problem.

“The average cost to someone with insurance who experiences this theft is $1,000 to $3,000 after the deductible. But additional costs to a vehicle owner may also include the loss of work as well as finding and paying for alternate transportation.”

Addressing the problem

The NICB is trying to bring awareness to this issue by urging legislators in Texas to support House Bill 4110. This bill would increase regulation of recycling metals and criminal penalties. It would also increase the penalty for knowingly selling or buying a stolen catalytic converter and implement a five-day holding period from the day the recycler buys them before they can sell or dispose of them.

Tips to avoid becoming a victim

While difficult to prevent, like most thefts, it’s theft by opportunity. Here are a few things you can do to make it more difficult for thieves to steal your catalytic converter.

  • If possible, park your vehicles in a garage or driveway.
  • Consider investing in a car alarm.
  • Know if you’re a common target for catalytic converter theft by asking your mechanic. Some mention Ford trucks, Honda Elements, Jeep Cherokees, and the Prius as more vulnerable. Trucks and SUVs are also often hit by thieves because it’s easy to slide under the vehicle rather than jack it up.
  • Ask your mechanic about anti-theft device options for your catalytic converter.
  • Set a camera to catch thieves and use motion-sensitive lights by your car.
  • If you see suspicious activity around vehicles in your neighborhood, don’t hesitate to call it in.

Check your car insurance

If you have full coverage—liability insurance, plus collision and comprehensive policies that repair or replace your own car—you may be covered, minus your deductible amount. If you have a vehicle at high risk for a catalytic converter theft, you might consider lowering your deductible amount depending on your budget.

Some insurers may not cover this damage because it was not caused by an accident. Contact your insurance company to find out.

If you have further questions, give us a call at 1-800-279-4030.