How to Prevent Catalytic Converter Theft

An opening of a few seconds could cost thousands in repairs

A mechanic replaces a stolen catalytic converter

 Joe Raedle/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 car. Thieves want your car’s catalytic converter, which takes seconds to remove and is required for your car to run properly.

The Appeal of Catalytic Converters

The reason is platinum. Catalytic converters contain platinum, rhodium, and palladium. The metals are expensive, and 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 costs you up to $2000 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, and a few simple steps help make your car or SUV a less likely target.

Symptoms of Converter Theft

You’ll notice a loud rumbling or roaring sound as soon as you turn on the engine if your catalytic converter is missing. This gets louder when you hit the gas. The exhaust is not working properly, 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.

How the Converters Get Stolen

A thief just 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 of the added time the jack adds to the process. Taller vehicles such as SUVs or pickup trucks are often more attractive to thieves because of the easier access to the undercarriage. Once under the vehicle, the thief uses a saw to slice through the piping on both sides of the converter. The converter is then pulled off.

Preventing Catalytic Converter Theft

Always park in well-lit areas when possible. If you have a personal garage, keep your car in the garage with the door closed when the vehicle is not in use. Park close to a building entrance or to the nearest access road when parking in a public lot. This is due to the increased amount of pedestrian traffic in those areas.

Security devices are available that attach to the converter, making it harder to steal. Having the converter welded to the car frame also makes it more difficult to remove. If you have a security system on your car, calibrate it so vibration sets it off. This ensures the alarm activates if a thief tries to saw off the converter. Video surveillance around your garage or driveway is also useful if you have the budget for it. Engrave your VIN number onto your catalytic converter to make it easier to identify in case it does get stolen.

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 number 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 so you are notified in case your converter shows up at a scrap shop.

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