The National Insurance Crime Bureau reported that catalytic converter theft has skyrocketed. So why do people steal catalytic converters? Catalytic converters on the underside of vehicles aid in the reduction of emissions. It’s usually made of platinum (Pt), palladium (Pd), and rhodium (Rh). All are platinum group metals, or PGMs, and are very rare which does not keep up with the fact that they have a broad range of applications. And with the cost of metal prices going up, it has resulted in an increase in theft. Thieves know how valuable the catalytic converter materials are to metal dealers
Catalytic converter theft has increased in the last year as the price of rare metals used to make the car part has risen. These thefts were uncommon prior to the COVID pandemic, with the National Insurance Crime Bureau reporting an average of 282 thefts per month in the United States in 2019. (NICB). In 2020, the average increased to 1,203 thefts per month, but there was an exponential increase from 652 reported in January 2020 to 2,347 reported in December 2020.
And it's now risen even higher: nearly 26,000 catalytic converters were stolen between January and May 2021, according to a report from public records search engine BeenVerified. This equates to a monthly average of 5,200 thefts, a 122 percent increase over the previous year's average.
What is in a catalytic converter that is so valuable?
Catalytic converter is that muffler-shaped device installed on the undersides of your car. When vehicles burn gas, the exhaust contains harmful contaminants such as nitrogen oxide causing acid rain. Catalytic converters degrade those compounds before they are released into the environment. And that process has to happen quickly as the gases also leave the engine so fast and come out the exhaust pipe. So catalytic converters need highly active metals to promote those chemical reactions.
According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, a non-profit dedicated to combating insurance fraud and vehicle theft, the value of all three metals has risen in recent years, with rhodium fetching $14,500 per ounce in December 2020, palladium fetching $2,336 per ounce, and platinum fetching $1,061.
A chemical engineer and materials science professor, Paul Dauenhauer, of the University of Minnesota said that platinum is more valuable than gold. And rhodium is even 10 times more valuable than platinum. So you wouldn’t even have to wonder why people steal catalytic converters because even if there’s only a trace amount of metal in a catalytic converter, it could already be worth so much per ounce.
The typical catalytic converter contains only a small amount of these metals between 3 and 7 grams of platinum. But a skilled thief can easily obtain one of the devices. Why do people steal catalytic converters? It’s a lot of money for a little effort. A thief can easily slither under cars to get the catalytic converter and then it’s done. It only takes a few minutes to remove a catalytic converter using some simple, readily available, battery-powered tools from a local hardware store. And there’s no way the owner can ever trace it as catalytic converters cannot be traced back to the vehicle it was stolen from.
The precious metals are untraceable once distilled and are sold to manufacturers all over the world to make new catalytic converters to replace the stolen ones. It's a vicious cycle that causes a lot of pain for many people, especially if you don't have insurance to cover the loss.
How much is a stolen catalytic converter worth?
So why do people steal catalytic converters? According to NICB, recyclers will pay between $50 and $300 for a catalytic converter. The metals can be sold for even more if they are extracted from hybrid gas-electric vehicles such as a Toyota Prius. All of the newer hybrid vehicles have scrap values ranging from $800 to $1,500. That is the amount of money a thief can make off of a stolen catalytic converter.
The catalytic converter's rhodium component is currently worth 15 times more than gold. A year ago, the price was probably $2,000, then it jumped to $4,000, and now it's $13,550.00 per ounce. The skyrocketing price reflects the extreme scarcity. Rhodium is a byproduct of platinum mining that is in short supply due to the pandemic. Simultaneously, emission standards around the world are rising, particularly in China. As a result, demand is higher than ever. It's a perfect storm for catalytic converter thieves, who have grown so bold that they'll even strike during the day.
Unfortunately, the loss of the vehicle owner is equally devastating. When they start their car, they may be surprised to hear a loud roar rather than a muffled exhaust note. What appears to be a worn muffler is actually a large gap in the exhaust system where the catalytic converter used to be mounted.
That’s only part of the problem. The devices are needed so that as the exhaust gases pass through, the rare metals will cause unburnt fuel to fully burn off, so what spews out of the tailpipe has a minimal amount of smog-causing oxides of carbon monoxide, nitrogen and other pollutants. No catalytic converter means polluted emissions.
They may miss days of work while looking for and paying for alternate transportation, as well as paying anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 to have their vehicle repaired. Catalytic converter sales are being restricted in 18 states, including Minnesota, according to legislation proposed by lawmakers. Meanwhile, car owners are taking matters into their own hands and installing specialized locks beneath their vehicles to deter thieves.
Which cars are most likely to have catalytic converter stolen?
The number of thefts of catalytic converters is increasing as the value of the precious metals contained within them rises. Thieves sell the devices to scrap metal dealers before resuming their thefts, targeting vehicles with the most rare metals in their catalysts, such as the Toyota Prius and other hybrids. They also target pickups and other trucks that sit high off the ground because crawling underneath them is easier.
According to BeenVerified, specific vehicles are being targeted. Lexus, Toyota and Honda vehicles are the top targets for catalytic converter thieves right now, according to the site's data. The Toyota Prius (as mentioned), Toyota Tacoma and 4Runner, Honda Accord and Honda Element, were the most frequently targeted vehicles in 2020.
In general, top-selling hybrids and hybrid models that lack an all-gas equivalent may be the most vulnerable because they are more easily identified. As mentioned, thieves may also target trucks and SUVs because their higher ground clearance makes access to the catalytic converter easier. Thieves know exactly what they're getting in certain models, and those are the ones with missing catalytic converters the most frequently.
Some states suffer worse when it comes to car thefts and if the trend continues BeenVerified reported that California, Washington, Texas, Minnesota, and Colorado are expected to experience the hardest hit this year. But at present Arizona, Florida, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Nevada and Georgia have suffered significant spikes in catalytic converter thefts this present year compared to 2020.
How can I prevent my catalytic converter from being stolen?
Catalytic converters are easily stolen. As mentioned, it is one of the reasons that answers the question, why do people steal catalytic converters. Good for the thieves and very bad for you as catalytic converters are very expensive to replace. So you must do everything within your power to prevent your catalytic converter from being stolen. Here are a few tips to start:
- Know if your vehicle is a hard target for catalytic converter theft
Call a reputable local muffler shop and inquire about which vehicles have been targeted in your area. In the Sacramento area, for example, the Toyota Prius is the most targeted vehicle. The Prius, as an ultra-low-emissions vehicle, has a catalytic converter that contains more rhodium, palladium, and platinum, which render pollutants harmless.
Thieves frequently target trucks and SUVs because it is easier to slide under the vehicle rather than jack it up. Thieves may unbolt the catalytic converter, but more often than not, they simply cut the connecting pipes with a battery-powered saw. Take extra caution if your vehicle falls under the most targeted vehicles.
- Always park in well-lit areas and close to building entrances.
Parking in dark areas is enticing enough for bad people to take advantage of. If you must leave your car outside, the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) advises parking in a well-lit area and activating your vehicle alarm. Installing a visible motion sensor light may also deter would-be thieves. When possible, park near building entrances. If you have a garage, park your car inside and keep the garage door closed.
- Make a mark on your catalytic converter with your license plate number.
This will help identify the part in favor of law enforcement. The idea is that if a thief notices the etching, he will move on to a less difficult target. Some police departments have partnered with local repair shops to sponsor etching events.
- Install a theft deterrent device.
Although putting a mark on your catalytic converter together with parking your vehicle carefully may make your catalytic converter less appealing to thieves, it could be crucial that you secure the part itself. An anti-theft device can be beneficial. His shop installs one by bolting a metal shield to the vehicle frame to cover the catalytic converter, which costs around $350 plus installation. Other designs are reminiscent of a cage or armor plating.
- Weld the catalytic converter to the frame of your car to make it more difficult to steal.
- Set your vehicle alarm to go off each time it detects vibration.
How do I know if my catalytic converter has been stolen?
Vehicle owners or drivers may not be able to tell if the catalytic converter was stolen just by looking at it, but they will know the moment you start the engine. Once the catalytic converter is removed, the vehicle will emit a loud roaring sound that will grow louder as you press the gas pedal and it may reach a point when it sounds like your car is about to blow up. Your car may also make a sputtering sound when changing speeds, or you may notice that the vehicle is no longer driving smoothly.
Will insurance cover a stolen catalytic converter?
First ask, is my insurance going to cover stolen parts? Fortunately, in addition to paying out if your car is stolen, comprehensive insurance covers you if a car part, such as keys or a catalytic converter, is stolen during the theft. If your vehicle is recovered or only a portion of it is stolen, comprehensive insurance will cover the damage and the item.
Can you drive a car without a catalytic converter?
A car can function and run without a catalytic converter, but driving a vehicle without a working catalytic converter is illegal. If you're caught driving without a catalytic converter in a state where the regulations are extremely strict, you could even face thousands of dollars in fines.
Without the catalytic converter toxic fumes can no longer be converted into less harmful materials, so you will notice the odor produced by the gases passing through it. The exhaust, in particular, will have a sulphur-like odor. Without a catalytic converter your vehicle will emit more pollutants than the state allows. As a result, a vehicle without a catalytic converter or a vehicle with a faulty catalytic converter will fail a vehicle inspection.
A catalytic converter also reduces the strain on a car's engine by allowing engine exhaust to exit the engine more easily, resulting in a lower engine operating temperature. So driving without a catalytic converter is not only hazardous to you, your passengers, nearby pedestrians, and the environment, but it also places a strain on your engine.
Now that you know how easy it is for your catalytic converter to be stolen, better be safe and sorry and take the necessary precautions.