In Under Two Minutes: Catalytic Converter Theft

They're Valuable and Easy To Steal, but You Can Prevent It


  • Missing Catalytic Converter

    Missing Catalytic Converter

    What's missing in this picture? Catalytic converters contain precious metals, making them tempting targets for thieves. | March 18, 2010

3 Photos

You walk out to your car and it's gone. Not your car itself, the navigation system or even your cell phone. The "it" is your catalytic converter. If you don't happen to notice it right away, the moment you start your car, you will. The sound has been described as "a deep loud noise," "an unmistakable roar," and even like "a Harley Davidson."

Dan McColl of Upland, California, remembers when it happened to him.

"When I got out of the gym, I started up my truck and it sounded like there was a hot rod in the parking lot," said McColl. "In fact, I didn't even think it was my truck at first. But when I cut the engine and it stopped, I knew that it was me. I was able to drive it, but it was like the gas wasn't really engaging. I drove it to the mechanic and he was able to tell me right away that the catalytic converter had been stolen."

The catalytic converter was mandated for all U.S. cars and trucks in 1975, to convert harmful pollutants into less harmful emissions before they left the exhaust system. Precious metals such as platinum, palladium, rhodium or gold are used as the catalyst. Depending on which metal was used, thieves can sell the converters to metal recyclers for $20-$200. The recyclers then extract the metal and resell it for as much as $6,000 an ounce, as in the case of rhodium. While national theft figures are not recorded for catalytic converter theft, the crime has risen in tandem with sharply rising metal prices.

The unfortunate vehicle owner will have to pay $1,000 or more for a replacement converter to be installed, depending on parts and labor charges. If the thief damages the vehicle's wiring or fuel line in the process, the vehicle could be left in a dangerous state and cost far more to repair. If the thief steals your converter without causing additional damage, you should still be able to drive your vehicle, but you'll need to install a replacement converter as soon as possible if the law still requires one. Ironically, during the writing of this article, a catalytic converter was stolen from a Toyota truck belonging to the brother-in-law of Edmunds.com Director of Vehicle Testing Dan Edmunds. The quote to replace it was $1,200, but because there is no smog testing program in the rural county in which he lives, he's not sure he'll replace it.

An Easy Grab and Go

Thieves can remove a catalytic converter quickly, often in less than two minutes, so theft can even occur in broad daylight. The only tools a thief needs are a wrench (for converters that are bolted on) or a reciprocating saw (for converters that are welded in). Some thieves bring a mechanic's creeper. Then all they do is slide under the vehicle, remove the bolts holding the converter, and take it. Thieves can remove the unit within a minute or two.

Typically, catalytic converters are stolen from cars and trucks in driveways, strip malls or in parking garages. "Anywhere cars are exposed," says Detective Abram Yap of the Long Beach Police Department.

The most commonly hit vehicles are SUVs and trucks, especially late-model Toyotas, because they sit higher off the ground (making for easier access) and the bolts that connect the converter are easily removed. Yap says his department has been seeing more Nissans targeted as well.

Rudy Espinoza, wholesale parts manager for Surf City Nissan in Huntington Beach, agrees, noting an uptick in requests from owners of older-model Nissan Frontiers. "It's crazy," he says. "We get calls, "How much is a catalytic converter? Mine was stolen!"

How To Prevent Catalytic Converter Theft

There are a few options that may help prevent this type of theft. Some mechanics suggest welding the heads on the catalytic converter bolts — or simply shearing them off.

The aftermarket has responded by designing products to deter and prevent catalytic converter theft. The idea behind such devices is that if it takes too long to make the steal, the thieves will move on to easier pickings. The CatClamp, for example, which starts at $150, is a hard-to-defeat cage installed around the catalytic converter. This product can be installed by a mechanic or at home with an included specialized tool and is backed by a money-back guarantee.

While most owners don't give much thought to their catalytic converter, those with vehicles high off the ground might want to think twice. It's always wiser to park in well-lit or protected public parking lots, and to park your car in your home garage if possible. Owners whose vehicles have easy clearance underneath might want to take it a step further with an aftermarket product. Taking these precautionary measures will hopefully deter thieves and keep your car running smoothly.

Disclosure: Detective Abram Yap is the author's husband and helped contribute to this story.

Comments

  • My girlfriend recently had her cat. converter stoen of her Mitsubishi. It happened to my Toyota Tundra around the same time of year two years ago in the same parking lot in Southern Upland. Now what gets me is that fact that recyclers aren't being arrested for receiving in stolen property. That is if you can get the police to even look into the matter. With no option to move away at the moment it's only a matter of time before I get nailed again by theives.

  • crzzycindy crzzycindy Posts:

    Why hasn't someone in the industry invented something that can replace this that isn't of this type of value. There are people out here like me that are beyond broke and then some low life steals your Catalytic Converter. You pay for a smog and for the first time in 9 years it fails as a gross poluter. Tags paid when do so you don't get penalties then it takes you four months to get enough money to do the flipping smog only to find some low life has stolen your Catalytic Converter. They steal because they are broke well I am too but I don't steal. My only means of transportation now disabled till I can replace it and it obviously isn't cheap to replace. If we had money you low lifes do you really think we'd be driving an old beat up car? No we'd have a car that doesn't use up gas or fail smogs. Someone invent something to replace this Catalytic Converter make it only valuable to the car but not to the scrap places. Low it's just low to mess over people like this you low lifes.

  • crzzycindy crzzycindy Posts:

    Why hasn't someone in the industry invented something that can replace this that isn't of this type of value. There are people out here like me that are beyond broke and then some low life steals your Catalytic Converter. You pay for a smog and for the first time in 9 years it fails as a gross poluter. Tags paid when do so you don't get penalties then it takes you four months to get enough money to do the flipping smog only to find some low life has stolen your Catalytic Converter. They steal because they are broke well I am too but I don't steal. My only means of transportation now disabled till I can replace it and it obviously isn't cheap to replace. If we had money you low lifes do you really think we'd be driving an old beat up car? No we'd have a car that doesn't use up gas or fail smogs. Someone invent something to replace this Catalytic Converter make it only valuable to the car but not to the scrap places. Low it's just low to mess over people like this you low lifes.

  • catcallelec catcallelec Posts:

    there is a new product that can stop your catalytic converter from being cut off of your car, www.catcallelectronics.com, this system works great,

  • hach8 hach8 Posts:

    They should also look to stop using precious metals in these cats. This will also help cut down on the amount of theft. The substitute should also be sensitive (and make an effort) to keeping the manufacturing price down as well. With older cars that don't burn as clean, this will no doubt pose a huge challenge. That "cat cage" thing will deter most but as it was pointed out in the article, some thieves carry saws with them. You even got cordless cutting wheels that can make very quick work of cutting through the exhaust pipe.

  • texasgolfer texasgolfer Posts:

    I got mine stolen a month or so ago. It cost me $800 to replace it with and aftermarket version. I'm going to pony up the $100 for the Cat Clamp to protect my new catalytic converter. Pay up now ($100) or pay later ($800). Yea, I'd like to get my hands on themas well.

  • catyguard catyguard Posts:

    Hi AA-Team, we are proud to present you our Catyguard on Indiegogo.com Catyguard - The first Full protection-service against the increasing Car-Catalytic-Converter-Thefts. If you have any questions, please don´t hesitate to contact me. Kind regards from Europe Matthias Glauner MG Enterprises OÜ Narva mnt 5 EST-10117 Tallinn ESTONIA 00372-56243393 http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/catyguard-protect-your-cat/x/4203511 https://www.facebook.com/catyguard

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