How to Prevent Catalytic Converter Theft

An opening of a few seconds could cost thousands in repairs

Closeup of a catalytic converter

Tony Savino / Getty Images

Your car has something that's in demand for thieves. It isn't your stereo system or anything you've hidden in the glove box. Some thieves target the car's tires or machinery underneath the vehicle. Thieves want your car's catalytic converter, which takes seconds to remove and is required for your car to run properly.

Where Is the Catalytic Converter?

The catalytic converter is between the engine and the exhaust system, usually underneath your car. They're generally closer to the engine. Depending on the manufacturer, they can look different, but they can appear beaded, honeycomb-shaped, cylindrical, or oblong, similar to a muffler. The part is coated in a metal catalyst, usually platinum, rhodium, and palladium.

What Is a Catalytic Converter?

Catalytic converters are a vital component of a car’s exhaust or emissions system, reducing the pollutants entering the atmosphere. The metal catalyst neutralizes harmful gases like hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxides, turning them into water vapor and carbon dioxide. Catalytic converters have been mandated in the U.S. since 1975.

The Appeal of Catalytic Converters

Catalytic converters have expensive metals—platinum, rhodium, and palladium. Thieves sell the converters to scrap yards for $150 to $200 per piece, depending on the size of the converter and the current rate on the metals inside it. It can cost up to $3,000 to replace a catalytic converter, and it is illegal to drive your car without one. The resulting gap in your exhaust system also makes the car run poorly until it is fixed.

The rate of catalytic converter theft varies depending on the current prices of the metals inside it. Price increases typically result in an increase in thefts. Thieves look for easy targets when it comes to catalytic converter theft.

Symptoms of Converter Theft

You’ll notice a loud rumbling or roaring sound when you turn on the engine if your catalytic converter is missing. This sound gets louder when you hit the gas. The exhaust is not working correctly, so the vehicle also drives rougher than usual, often with a sense of sputtering as you change speed. Go to the back of the car and look underneath. The catalytic converter is a round canister that connects two pieces of piping in the exhaust. You will see a gaping space in the middle of your exhaust if the converter is missing, and you will likely see signs of the piping being cut away.

Underside of car missing a catalytic converter

Gerardo Martinez Cons / Getty Images

How the Converters Get Stolen

A thief needs a saw to remove the converter. Some thieves also use a sliding board to get under the vehicle more efficiently. A jack is sometimes used to lift the car for easier access, but this is rare because using the jack adds time to the process. Taller vehicles such as SUVs or pickup trucks are often more attractive to thieves because of the more accessible access to the undercarriage. Once under the car, the thief uses a saw to slice through the piping on both sides of the converter and pulls off the converter.

Preventing Catalytic Converter Theft

Diligence is your best defense against catalytic converter theft. While there is no guaranteed method of preventing theft, the goal is to make your car an unattractive target. The more inconvenient your vehicle is to get to, the more likely a thief moves on to an easier target. Pay attention to local news reports, so you are aware of any theft increases.

  • Choose your parking spot wisely: Always park in well-lit areas or where there is a lot of pedestrian traffic when possible. Park close to a building entrance or the nearest access road when parking in a public lot.
  • Use the garage and close the door: If you have a personal garage, keep your car in the garage with the door closed when the vehicle is not in use.
  • Security devices: You can get a cable locking device to attach to the converter, making it harder to steal. You can also invest in welding the catalytic converter to your car, adding a steel shield that fits over the catalytic converter, fabricating a protective cage made out of steel rebar, or adding stainless steel cables welded from the catalytic converter to the car's frame. All of these security measures require time and extra tools to remove.
  • Car alarm system: If you have a security system on your car, calibrate it, so vibration sets it off. The alarm activates if a thief tries to saw off the converter.
  • Home security system: It might be a good deterrent if you have video surveillance around your garage or driveway and motion sensor lights.
  • Make your catalytic converter traceable: Engrave your vehicle identification number (VIN) onto your catalytic converter to make it easier to identify. Some sources also recommend painting a high-temperature fluorescent paint, like those used on barbecue grills, to make reputable scrap metal dealers think twice about buying it or deciding to report it to authorities.

What to Do in the Event of Theft

Notify the police department as soon as you discover your catalytic converter is missing. If you have your VIN engraved on the device, give them that number as well. Call local scrap yards to inform them of the theft, especially if there is an engraved number on the converter that they can verify. Give them your phone number to notify you if your converter shows up at a scrap shop.

If you have comprehensive, full-coverage insurance, it will cover stolen auto parts. Cars that are being leased or still in the middle of being financed require full coverage insurance. Replacing a new catalytic converter can cost up to $3,000. Keep in mind that you likely have a deductible that you need to satisfy first—so, if you have a high deductible plan, you might be responsible for paying for the entirety of your deductible. If your car only has basic liability insurance, that policy does not cover theft.