26,000 Americans reported catalytic converter theft in 2023. Here’s what makes your car an easier target
A close-up shot of a catalytic converter
BeenVerified estimates there were more than 26,000 catalytic converter thefts reported in the U.S. in the first six months of 2023. That’s down 43% compared to the same time last year. However, catalytic converter thefts are still 21% higher than four years ago. These thefts are so common because the component is mounted beneath the vehicle, making it easily accessible to thieves. With the proper tools, thieves can remove a catalytic converter in less than two minutes and profit handsomely by reselling it. For the vehicle’s owner, replacing a stolen catalytic converter is a big hassle and potentially costs thousands of dollars.
Why are they stolen?
Catalytic converters are stolen for two reasons: money and ease of stealing. They are made with the precious metals platinum, palladium, and rhodium, which skyrocketed in value due to supply chain issues during the COVID-19 pandemic. The average catalytic converter contains about 1-2 grams of rhodium, about 3-7 grams of platinum, and between 2 and 7 grams of palladium. While the market value of these metals has decreased, they still can fetch a pretty penny. Rhodium is averaging $135 a gram and palladium is selling for about $38 a gram.
Catalytic converters and their scraps can currently sell for between $800 and $1,200, depending on the type and the market at any given time. The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) says auto parts recyclers will typically pay between $50 and $250 for a catalytic converter. However, some are more valuable than others. For example, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported that in 2021 the most valuable converters were selling for more than $1,000. Stolen catalytic converters are not usually offered for sale as-is, but they can be sold on the black market or to scrap yards that will buy them and sell them to companies specializing in scrap metals.
Couple that with how little effort it takes to remove a catalytic converter from a vehicle — in some cases as fast as 30 seconds — and you can understand why they are a hot item.
How are they stolen?
Catalytic converters are usually cut out of the exhaust system using a reciprocating saw or other cutting tool. The catalytic converter is located underneath the car between the engine and muffler. It catalyzes the toxic byproducts of fuel combustion into the less poisonous gases that exit through your car’s tailpipe in the form of exhaust. Catalytic converters use precious metals to convert the hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxides produced within an internal combustion engine into less harmful carbon dioxide and water. Because they require high temperatures to operate correctly, catalytic converters are often located close to the engine. That’s why if thieves have removed your car’s catalytic converter, you’ll hear noise that sounds like it is coming from underneath the front seats. It also means the engine’s exhaust is no longer flowing through the muffler or tailpipe.
Where are they stolen?
California is currently the top state for catalytic converter thefts with close to 7,000 stolen in 2023 so far. Texas, Illinois, New Jersey, and New York have had a combined 7,060 thefts to round out the top five. However, no metropolitan area is immune from these thefts. The concentration of vehicles, lax or limited security, and ease of reselling stolen converters contribute to the problem.
States are trying to help curb the issue, though. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, 39 states have introduced 96 bills of new legislation or ones that strengthen existing laws this year.
In California, bills SB 1087 and AB 1740 require recycling companies to keep records of all catalytic converters and only allow their purchase from registered and approved dealers. Additionally, states are trying to increase documentation requirements for buyers and sellers of catalytic converters and stiffen civil or criminal penalties for buyers and sellers of stolen catalytic converters.
Which vehicles are easier targets?
If you’re wondering what cars are targeted for catalytic converter theft, the answer is simple: any vehicle parked outside. With that said, smart catalytic converter thieves prefer some vehicles over others. For example, an SUV or pickup truck that sits high off the ground is an easy target because the thief can easily slide underneath with a saw and cut the catalytic converter out of the vehicle. Considering the popularity of lifted suspensions and oversized tires on everything from Chevy Silverados to Subaru Crosstreks, vehicle owners are making it easier than ever for catalytic converter thieves.
Hybrids are also popular targets. Because a hybrid vehicle’s powertrain tends to run cooler, the catalytic converter requires more precious metals to operate properly. That makes catalytic converters from hybrid models more valuable to auto parts recyclers.
You may have heard that thieves are particularly interested in the Toyota Prius hybrid. That is true due to the nameplate’s popularity during its 20-plus years on the market. More than 2 million Priuses have been sold in the United States since 2000, making this Toyota the most popular hybrid in America. In turn, that also makes the Prius popular with catalytic converter thieves.
Which vehicles are they stolen from?
According to Carfax, the list of the top vehicles with the most catalytic converter thefts can vary by region. But nationwide, these seem to be the most common:
- Hybrids are a top commodity. They have such low emissions that even if they are an older model, the catalytic converter is still in good shape. As a result, the 2001-2021 Toyota Prius is one of the most commonly targeted vehicles despite its low ground clearance.
- Pickup trucks, especially the 1985-2021 Ford F-Series and the Toyota Tacoma, are targeted because of their high ground clearance and popularity in most major markets.
- The 2005-2021 Chevrolet Equinox, the 1997-2020 Honda CR-V, and, within the last year, the Chevy Equinox top the lists of SUVs that are prone to catalytic converter theft. These SUVs are becoming more and more common purchases for families. And like their truck counterparts, they also have higher clearance ground, making it easier for thieves to steal their catalytic converter.
- While sedans are lower to the ground and don’t have the same easy access to the catalytic converter, the enormous popularity of the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord among consumers make them prime targets for thieves.
What to do when your catalytic converter is stolen
If you find yourself the victim of catalytic converter theft, call the police to file a report. Call your insurance company, too, even if you don’t have comprehensive coverage on your policy. Both entities must track the trends around this type of theft and understand what is happening in the local community.
Next, you’ll need to schedule a repair with your dealership or an independent mechanic as soon as possible. Because thieves are unconcerned about how they remove the component from your vehicle, you’ll likely need to replace or repair more than just the converter itself.
Lastly, consider adding an anti-theft device to the bottom of your car. Either that or finally get around to cleaning out the garage so that you can park it in a secure location.
How do I protect my catalytic converter from theft?
Catalytic converter theft prevention measures include parking your car in a garage or secure area. If you must park in an open lot or on a public street, try to find a well-lit space at night or one where security cameras and surveillance are in use. If you have no alternative but to leave your vehicle parked in a dark area with little traffic, keep in mind that thieves may find your car more appealing.
Another way to prevent catalytic converter theft is to purchase an aftermarket device that makes it harder for a thief to remove the exhaust system component from your vehicle. A catalytic converter anti-theft device attaches to the bottom of the vehicle and covers or surrounds the catalytic converter. For example, if you own a high-riding truck or SUV, you might choose a protective anti-theft plate that doubles as a skid plate.
Other alternatives include motion-sensing lighting where you park your vehicle and a motion-sensing alarm system that will discourage a thief. Etching your car’s vehicle identification number (VIN) into the converter might not prevent theft of the device, but it could prevent the thief from cashing it in with an honest auto parts recycler.