If you start your vehicle and hear a nice, loud roar that only gets louder when you hit the gas, you might want to look under the car—you may be one of the latest victims of the catalytic converter theft craze.
Catalytic converter thefts are on the upswing, especially in the Bay Area, and what can net a thief up to $300 bucks at a scrapyard or recycler can cost you $1,000 to $5,000 to fix, depending on the model and make of your ride.
What is a catalytic converter, anyway?
If you drive a fuel-powered vehicle 1974 and newer, you have a catalytic converter on your vehicle. They are located between the engine and the exhaust system—just about in the middle of the vehicle’s undercarriage—and their purpose is to turn gases into harmless non-toxic emissions or water vapor. The demand for stricter car emissions worldwide has sent the demand for catalytic converters, and the precious metals contained within them, to record highs.
Why are people stealing them?
- Catalytic converters are a gold mine, so to speak. Each unit contains somewhere between 3 to 7 grams (1/5 of an ounce) of three precious metals—rhodium, platinum, and palladium—that are worth thousands of $$ per ounce on the market (at the time of the writing of this article, rhodium is selling for $28,250, platinum for $1,181.63 and palladium for $2,531.18 per ounce*).
- The parts are non-traceable.
- Fast money. According to Edmunds.com, it only takes experienced thieves one to two minutes to remove bolted on or welded on units with a saw or wrench and run. Times are tough and practice, as always, makes perfect.
Toyota Prius model years 2004 to 2009 are favorites; hybrids use less gas, which means the precious metals in the catalytic converters undergo less strain and tend to be in better condition. Honda Elements are also a favorite. But thieves really favor high-off-the-ground SUVs and trucks, because they are easy to slide under—no jack needed for the heist on these.
What the law says
Senate Bill 627 (Chapter 603, Calderon, Statutes of 2009), added a section to California Business and Professions Code 21610 regarding documentation and record-keeping by core recyclers of purchases and sales of catalytic converters. (Although selling converters is covered under the law, less reputable scrappers can always be found.)
In order to skirt the U.S. safety net, thieves are now collecting and piling up catalytic converters, then, when enough units have been collected, they are sold on the black market and shipped overseas.
What can you do?
You can’t sleep all night in your car to keep thieves away, however, there are a few things you can do:
- Engrave your car’s VIN (vehicle identification number) on your converter. If thieves try to sell it at a reputable scrap dealer, this may help alert them that it is a stolen converter; it also makes it easier to identify the owner of the car it was stolen from.
- If you have a car alarm, calibrate it to detect vibration. Look into purchasing a dash cam.
- Park in well-lit areas and close to buildings. If you have a garage, use it. Also consider installing motion detection lighting outside if possible.
- Cover the converter with a protective plate, shield, clamp, cage or strap. If your catalytic converter is bolted on, consider having the bolts welded. If you are mechanical, some of these options, including some DIY methods, such as the rebar cage, you can do yourself. If you’d rather have a professional do it for you, make sure he or she is licensed in good standing by the Bureau of Automotive Repair.
And there you have it: What catalytic converters are, why they’re so valuable, and how to keep yours under your vehicle where it belongs. Although there are laws against stealing them and selling them, you are still, as always, the first line of defense. Spending few hundred bucks for a simple fix can keep you from having to spend thousands of dollars later.