We’ve all heard stories of car break-ins where thieves target a purse, stereo or other valuables left inside the vehicle. But recently, a new type of car crime has been on the rise: catalytic converter theft.
According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, more than 64,000 catalytic converter thefts were reported in 2022. Thefts increased significantly between 2020 and 2022 – from 16,660 claims in 2020 to 64,701 in 2022! And unfortunately, this alarming trend shows no sign of abating.
But what exactly is a catalyst? And how can you prevent your vehicle from becoming a target? Keep reading to find out.
What is a catalytic converter?
A catalytic converter is a key component of your car̵7;s exhaust system. Its job is to help reduce harmful emissions by reducing the amount of pollutants coming out of the tailpipe.
How does a catalytic converter work?
Internal combustion engines generate power by burning fuel, such as gasoline or diesel. When this fuel is burned, it produces exhaust gases. Curious about what the difference in numbers at the pump means? Read our blog story: What is the difference between regular and premium gas?.
The majority of these exhaust gases contain nitrogen, carbon dioxide and water vapor – emissions that are mostly harmless. However, since your car cannot burn 100% of the fuel entering the engine, it also produces some harmful pollutants: namely carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxide. When these types of emissions enter the atmosphere, they can produce smog and acid rain.
We’ll spare you the whole chemistry lesson, but a catalytic converter uses a “catalyst” to “convert” these harmful emissions into less harmful byproducts of nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and water vapor.
To accomplish this, the converter uses a ceramic honeycomb structure to heat the exhaust gases. The ceramic is coated with several types of precious metals (platinum, rhodium and palladium), which act as a catalyst. When your car’s exhaust gases interact with these metals, they create chemical reactions that reduce the amount of harmful pollutants coming out of the tailpipe.
Why do people steal catalytic converters?
There are two reasons why catalytic converters are subject to theft.
- Scrap metal for cash: The precious metals used as catalysts are valuable… and prices are on the rise. Currently, rhodium prices are around $12,000 per ounce. While the price of these metals often fluctuates, a typical catalytic converter can be scrapped for between $50 to $250.
- Resale of parts: Stolen catalytic converters can be sold to private individuals or less than honest workshops looking to save money over buying a new spare part.
So between metal recycling and selling auto parts on the black market, there’s money to be made from stealing catalytic converters.
How do I know if my catalytic converter has been stolen?
You can’t tell if your catalytic converter has been stolen just by looking at your car. But you know as soon as you start the engine.
To steal a catalytic converter, a thief must crawl under your vehicle, cut off both sides of the converter and remove it from the exhaust system. This means that your car will basically be running without a muffler, making the engine extremely loud.
What should I do if my catalytic converter has been stolen?
If your catalytic converter has been stolen, it’s a good idea to call the local authorities and file a police report. Then you should arrange to have your vehicle towed to a nearby garage.
Can I drive my vehicle if my catalytic converter has been stolen?
Since your catalytic converter is only part of the exhaust system, your car can technically run without it. However, that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to just drive away.
Once the catalytic converter has been turned off, exhaust gases will be released under your vehicle instead of behind it. Not only does this make your vehicle loud, but you also run the risk of the harmful exhaust fumes entering the cabin.
And here’s one more thing to think about. If a thief has just sawed off the underside of your car, there is a possibility that other important components may have been damaged as well.
How much does it cost to replace a catalytic converter?
According to CARFAX, the average cost of a new catalytic converter ranges from $2,000 to $3,000. But for luxury cars and sports cars, it can cost even more.
Do I need to replace my catalytic converter?
Given the high replacement cost, you may be wondering if you need to replace the catalytic converter. Unfortunately for your wallet, the answer is yes.
Because your catalytic converter is designed to remove harmful pollutants, it is actually federally illegal to remove it from your exhaust system. Additionally, a missing “cat” can trigger a check light, affect your vehicle’s performance, and result in some nasty exhaust odors.
Does car insurance cover catalytic converter theft?
If your catalytic converter has been stolen, you may not have to foot the bill alone. That’s because the optional comprehensive coverage on your car insurance can pay for damage that occurs outside of a car accident, such as vandalism, fire or theft. At Erie Insurance, this coverage includes catalytic converter theft.
This means that if you choose to file an insurance claim, all you have to pay is your deductible (the amount of money you pay to repair your car before the insurance kicks in). If your catalytic converter is stolen, your local insurance agent can help you review your coverage (including your deductible) and discuss your options before filing a claim.
Are some cars at higher risk of catalytic converter theft?
Catalytic converter theft is an opportunistic crime by its very nature. The easier it is for the thief to get away, the more likely they are to target your vehicle. This often puts high-speed vehicles such as trucks and SUVs at greater risk because they do not need to be lifted to remove the catalytic converter.
How can I prevent catalytic converter theft?
With the recent increase in catalytic converter theft, some companies have started making protective cages that can be installed over your exhaust system. Since this is mostly a crime of convenience, a cage will make your car less of an easy target. You can also have your VIN number etched on your catalytic converter.
Beyond that, your best chance of protecting yourself against catalytic converter theft is to take the same precautions that protect your car from vandalism—like installing an alarm or parking in a safe, well-lit area.
How can I get my VIN etched?
If you want to get your VIN number etched on your car, there are a few ways you can go about it. NICB partners with businesses across the United States to hold VIN etching events. You can search for events near you on their regional news page.
You can also contact a local muffler shop and request a VIN etching. They will spray it with a highly visible, high-heat paint, which can help deter potential thieves.
Protect what matters
Discovering that you have been the victim of theft or vandalism is enough to ruin anyone’s day. But with car insurance from ERIE, you don’t have to face it alone. We do everything we can to make our complaints process convenient and fast. Because the sooner we can resolve your claim and compensate your loss, the sooner your life will return to normal. See what makes us different and contact us today.
ERIE® insurance products and services are provided by one or more of the following insurers: Erie Insurance Exchange, Erie Insurance Company, Erie Insurance Property & Casualty Company, Flagship City Insurance Company and Erie Family Life Insurance Company (home office: Erie, Pennsylvania) or Erie Insurance Company of New York (home office: Rochester, New York). The companies within the Erie Insurance Group are not licensed to do business in all states. See the company’s licensing and business information.
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