If a dramatic spike in Google searches are any indication, catalytic converter theft has become a hot topic in recent years. The average number of searches each year for “catalytic converter theft” jumped 3,544% from 2018 to 2021.
In this article, we explore why interest in catalytic converter theft has spiked recently, using statistical data to analyze the issue. We also dive into some of the reasons why people steal catalytic converters, how to prevent the theft of a catalytic converter from your vehicle, and what to do if your catalytic converter is stolen.
Catalytic Converter Theft Is On the Rise
Theft of catalytic converters has increased dramatically over the past several years, according to data from the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). A recent report from the NICB says that drivers filed 1,298 claims for catalytic converter theft in 2018. That number more than doubled in 2019, with 3,389 such claims filed. Insurers saw that number skyrocket in 2020, when drivers filed 14,433 catalytic converter theft claims – a roughly 325% increase.
Some Areas See More Catalytic Converter Theft Than Others
While thefts are on the rise nationwide, some areas have seen a bigger uptick than others. The website BeenVerified used a combination of NICB data and Google search trends to analyze which areas of the country are catalytic converter theft hotspots.
States With the Highest Rates of Catalytic Converter Theft
According to BeenVerified, these states saw the highest number of catalytic converter thefts in the first half of 2022:
Catalytic Converter Thefts Per 100,000 Registered Vehicles
States With the Largest Increase in Catalytic Converter Theft
According to the company’s report, these states saw the largest increases in catalytic converter theft between 2021 and 2022:
2022 Catalytic Converter Thefts
Percentage Increase: 2021-2022
*Comparison numbers based on January – July of 2021 vs. 2022, using NICB data and Google search trends and adjusted for seasonality.
Which Cars Are More Likely To Have Their Catalytic Converter Stolen?
Certain makes and models of vehicles have their catalytic converters stolen more often than others. This is due to factors such as the prevalence of those makes and models in a given area and how easy their catalytic converters are to access.
Most Targeted Cars for Catalytic Converter Theft
The vehicle data and auto research company CARFAX used records from 60,000 service shops to identify which vehicles have their catalytic converters stolen more often than others. In September, the company released a report that identified the following as the vehicles most often targeted for catalytic converter theft at the national level:
1985-2021 Ford F-Series
1989-2020 Honda Accord
2007-17 Jeep Patriot
1990-2022 Ford Econoline
1999-2021 Chevrolet Silverado
2005-21 Chevrolet Equinox
1997-2020 Honda CR-V
1987-2019 Toyota Camry
2011-17 Chrysler 200
2001-21 Toyota Prius
Why People Steal Catalytic Converters
Catalytic converter theft does not appear to correlate directly with vehicle theft. According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), vehicle theft did increase from 2019 to 2020, but only by 11.8% – a much smaller growth than the 325% increase in stolen catalytic converters over that same period.
Catalytic Converters Can Fetch a Good Price
One of the main reasons catalytic converters are an attractive target is that stealing them can be very profitable. According to RRCats.com, a catalytic converter recycling company, the national average price across all converters in November 2022 is $156.23. However, according to the company’s data, some types of converters can fetch more than $1,200.
Catalytic converters are valuable mainly because of the precious metals they’re made of. Three metals, in particular, are found in high amounts in most converters and yield a high price per ounce.
Price Per Ounce: October 2022
Data source: Kitco.com
Catalytic Converters Are Relatively Easy To Steal
Converters are also an attractive item for theft because they are easy to steal, especially in comparison to cars themselves. On most vehicles, the catalytic converter is located on the underside of the car’s exterior. This means that removing them is unlikely to trigger an alarm in the same way that breaking into the interior of a car would. With readily-available and affordable battery-powered portable tools, thieves don’t even need to connect to a power source to make the cuts necessary to steal a converter.
Converters Are Difficult to Trace
Cars and other valuable items like electronics are increasingly connected to GPS systems and the internet. But catalytic converters are still a non-digitized component, making them difficult to trace.
Some states and localities have started vehicle identification number (VIN) etching programs to make it easier to identify the owner of the converter. However, catalytic converters are typically melted down for their metals. Once that happens, the VIN number disappears – meaning this system relies on recyclers verifying ownership before purchasing a converter from someone.
How To Prevent Catalytic Converter Theft
While particular vehicles in certain areas are more likely to have their catalytic converter stolen, any vehicle with a catalytic converter is at risk for theft. The vast majority of vehicles produced since 1975 have been outfitted with one, so it is very likely that this includes your vehicle.
There are a few steps you can take to reduce your risk of catalytic converter theft:
Etch your VIN into your converter: While an etched VIN won’t prevent your catalytic converter from being stolen, it will make it a less attractive target, especially if your vehicle is usually parked in a higher-density area with many other vehicles. Your state, city, or town may have a free etching program, so check online before you pay for this service.
Install an anti-theft device: In response to the rising rates of theft, companies have begun manufacturing catalytic converter anti-theft devices. These are typically plates or a ring of cables that make the necessary cuts more difficult to perform. Different options have advantages and disadvantages depending on your car’s make and model, so be sure to do research to find the best option for your vehicle.
Park in a high-visibility area: Cars parked in darker, more private areas can be very attractive for people who are seeking to steal a catalytic converter. Parking your vehicle in well-lit spaces in public view can be an effective theft deterrent.
Paint your catalytic converter: Painting your car’s converter a bright color can make it stand out and therefore make it less attractive to someone who wants to steal it. Use only paint with a high temperature rating (1,300-2,000°F) to ensure it stays on your converter safely.
Does Insurance Cover Catalytic Converter Theft?
If you have comprehensive coverage on your car insurance policy, your provider will likely cover the replacement under an insurance claim. In general, policies that only include liability insurance and collision coverage won’t cover catalytic converter theft.
Your insurance card will list whether or not you have comprehensive coverage as part of your policy. Most insurance experts recommend including it, along with collision coverage, as part of what’s known as a “full coverage” policy. In addition to catalytic converter theft, comprehensive insurance covers damage from most nonaccident-related sources.
Speak to your insurance agent or shop for quotes to see how much adding comprehensive coverage adds to your premium.
My Catalytic Converter Was Stolen. Now What?
Unless you’re in the habit of checking under your vehicle before you get in it, you aren’t likely to notice that your catalytic converter has been stolen until you start your engine. Once you do, however, it will become very apparent.
How to Tell If Your Catalytic Converter Has Been Stolen
Here are some signs your catalytic converter has been stolen:
Loud engine noise: Removing your catalytic converter removes part of your muffler. As a result, your engine will emit loud rumbles with it removed. These will intensify as you accelerate.
Check engine light: In many cases, your car’s diagnostic system will recognize that there is something wrong with the exhaust system if your catalytic converter has been removed. Any time you see this warning light, however, is time to get to the repair shop.
Missing part of the exhaust: If you notice a louder engine or see your check engine light on a car that is otherwise running fine, check under the vehicle. Your exhaust pipe should extend all the way to the rear of the vehicle. If the pipe looks like it has been cut, catalytic converter theft is the answer.
How Much Does It Cost to Replace a Catalytic Converter?
Replacing a stolen catalytic converter typically costs between $500 to $3,000, depending on what kind of car you have. Other factors such as the extent of the damage caused by removing it, local labor rates, and more also affect this cost.
The replacement catalytic converter itself may cost as little as $100 or more than $2,000, depending on the quality of the part and the make and model of the vehicle it’s made for. Replacements for luxury cars and larger vehicles tend to cost more than those for standard passenger vehicles.
What To Do If Your Catalytic Converter Is Stolen
If you find that your catalytic converter has been removed, there are a few steps you should take.
Take Care of Yourself
Having anything stolen can be a frightening experience that disrupts your sense of security. A stolen catalytic converter is something you need to deal with, but it is not an urgent emergency. Take care of your sense of well-being first and foremost.
Call Your Insurer
If you have comprehensive coverage, you’ll also want to inform your insurance provider that your catalytic converter has been stolen. This allows you to start an insurance claim to cover the cost of a catalytic converter replacement.
Get to a Repair Shop
You can drive a car without a catalytic converter. However, this is neither pleasant nor good for the environment. Make a plan to take your car to a repair shop as soon as possible. It’s a good idea to call ahead, because your repair shop of choice may need to order the new converter for your car.
Catalytic Converter Theft: Looking Ahead
Local governments throughout the country have begun to address catalytic converter theft by proposing new laws and regulations and, in some cases, implementing them. At the local level, many cities and towns have enacted new regulations around the buying and selling of used catalytic converters and made free VIN etching programs available.
The NCIB is currently monitoring more than 150 pieces of legislation at the state level that seek to reduce converter theft through a variety of means, including new documentation requirements for recyclers, mandating that the components are etched, and more. At the time of writing, 26 states had passed related legislation.
At the federal level, Rep. James Baird (R-In.) introduced the Prevention of Auto Recycling Theft (PART) Act (H.R. 6394) in January of 2022 in an attempt to curb catalytic converter theft. The bill would compel the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to update existing regulations to address the issue and provide funding to relevant agencies to enact and enforce them. At publication time, the House has yet to vote on the bill.
Whether the PART Act and legislation at other levels of government will reduce catalytic converter theft remains to be seen. In the meantime, drivers who want to reduce their personal risk can still take steps to protect themselves.