5 ways to prevent catalytic converter theft

By Allstate

Last updated: May 2024

What does a catalytic converter do?

Catalytic converters are designed to act as a line of defense against harmful exhaust emissions by turning pollutants into harmless gasses. The technology used in these emission control devices includes many precious metals — like platinum, palladium or rhodium – making them a valuable item to steal and resell.

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Why do people steal catalytic converters?

Catalytic converters are increasingly a target for thieves due to:

  • The current market value of a catalytic converter’s precious metals
  • The ease of removing a catalytic converter for an experienced thief
  • The inability to track catalytic converters

In the current market, catalytic converters can be resold to recyclers for as little as $50 or to precious metal dealers for as much as thousands of dollars per ounce, reported the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).

Because advanced models of catalytic converters include even more precious metals than older models, thieves have an increasingly attractive opportunity to make quick cash.

Experienced thieves can remove a catalytic converter in minutes, especially with modern power tools, according to Edmunds. Plus, there are no tracking systems on a catalytic converter.

Cars that are often targeted for catalytic converter theft

Fuel-powered vehicles manufactured after 1974 have catalytic converters, so there are a lot of cars on the road that might appeal to catalytic converter thieves. However, thieves often target taller vehicles, like pickup trucks or SUVs, because they can easily fit under the vehicle to access the catalytic converter.

Another attractive target for catalytic converter thieves are hybrid cars, according to Forbes. Because hybrid cars don’t run as hot as gas-powered vehicles, their catalytic converters offer an even greater supply of precious metals.

How to tell if your catalytic converter has been stolen

You may not be able to tell your catalytic converter was stolen by looking at your car, but you’ll know as soon as you start the engine. When the catalytic converter has been removed, your vehicle will make a loud roaring sound that’ll get louder as you push the gas pedal.

Your car might also make a sputtering sound as you change speed, or you'll notice it's not driving smoothly.

An increase in the exhaust — or the exhaust smells — can be a definite sign of a stolen catalytic converter.

In summary, here are the key symptoms that your catalytic converter has been removed:

  • Loud roar when you start the car, louder as you accelerate
  • Increase in exhaust fumes, or unusual exhaust smells
  • Missing parts under vehicle leading to muffler
  • Uneven or sputtering acceleration due to lack of exhaust regulation
  • Check engine light or inspection failures

5 ways to protect against catalytic converter theft

Consider these tips to help protect your car from catalytic converter theft:

  1. Know if your car is a likely target: hybrids, SUVs and trucks have valuable or easily removable catalytic converters. Etch your license plate number or VIN onto your catalytic converter — this may help alert a scrap dealer that it was stolen and make it easier to identify the owner
  2. Park in well-lit areas close to public entrances, regularly move your car’s spot or use a closed garage
  3. Install an anti-theft device
  4. Install motion-sensitive lights and cameras in your parking area
  5. Paint your catalytic converter to deter buyers – some local police departments even offer free programs for painting

Understanding when your car might be a target for catalytic converter theft is the first key to preventing it. By following these protective measures, you may help deter thieves from targeting your car.

Insure your vehicle against catalytic converter theft

The cost to replace and install a new catalytic converter can be as much as $3,000. Insurance claims for a stolen catalytic converter in 2020 ranged from $500 to $3,000, according to the Highway Loss Data Institute.

Most comprehensive vehicle insurance can help cover a stolen catalytic converter. Check with your insurer to see how your policy can minimize the impact of a stolen catalytic converter.

It’s important to have full coverage to keep you on the road even when opportunistic thieves strike.