Catalytic Converter Capers

 By Diane Tait

Image courtesy Pixabay

If you own a car, you know you need to lock your vehicle up tight to keep thieves from getting inside.  But what you may not know is that now thieves can rob you blind without ever having to set foot inside your vehicle.  That's because what most of them are after resides beneath it.  Currently, crooks want to steal your vehicle's catalytic converter and they're brazen enough to commit the crime both day and night.

How does a catalytic converter work? - Part of your vehicle's exhaust system, what a catalytic converter does is convert the hazardous byproducts of combustion into less lethal exhaust gases.  

1. It reduces nitrogen oxide pollutants by removing the oxygen from the molecule to convert it into nitrogen which is non-polluting.

2. It adds oxygen to carbon monoxide to convert it into carbon dioxide.

3. An oxygen sensor located aft of the catalytic converter detects the amount of oxygen being expelled by the vehicle, which is then used to help the engine produce a more efficient fuel/air mixture.

4. The three catalysts used are platinum, rhodium, and palladium.  Catalytic converters typically contain 3-7 grams of platinum, 2-7 grams of palladium, and 1-2 grams of rhodium.  An ounce of platinum is worth nearly $1,100, palladium is more than $2,100, and rhodium is worth $14,000 per ounce or more.  (In Jan 2021, the price of an ounce of rhodium soared to $19,770.) So you can understand why catalytic converter capers are on the rise.

How much do thieves get for a catalytic converter - Depending on the make and model, a scrap yard will pay from $50 - $250 for a standard catalytic converter.  Hybrid models like the Prius go for as much as $700 a pop since they contain larger amounts of platinum, rhodium and palladium.  Apparently what's good for the environment is also good for thieves.    

How hard is it to steal a catalytic converter?– The complete caper takes less than 2-minutes to accomplish.  All a thief has to do is jack up a vehicle to slide beneath it long enough to remove the bolts securing the part, or by sawing through the exhaust pipe itself.  Some thieves are so adept at the process that they aren't averse to daylight robberies of shoppers at busy stores and office parks.  A recent news story by Emily Turner of Action News JAX reported a retired cop happening upon thieves who were in the process of stealing a catalytic converter from his neighbor's Prius.  He grabbed his smartphone before confronting the thieves who pulled a car jack from beneath the car and fled the scene of the crime.  He recorded the whole thing on video.  Luckily the thieves had yet to remove the catalytic converter.  However, the neighbor was required to replace all the bolts that secured the unit to the vehicle.

How prevalent is this kind of crime? - The sad fact is that catalytic converter capers are a growth industry.  The number of units reported stolen in 2018 was 1,298.  That number soared to 14,433 in 2020 (a 1,200% increase) and is expected to be even higher in 2021.  Recent legislation in Florida and Georgia has made it more difficult for thieves to convert the stolen converters to cash at local scrap yards.  That hasn't stopped them from taking the purloined parts to places like New York to cash in.

Image courtesy Pixabay

Which makes and models are most coveted by thieves? - No thief wants to be caught in the act of stealing.  With that in mind, the vehicles that top the list are those that don't require a jack to be employed to slip beneath them.  Large pickup trucks and delivery vans with high clearance top thieves lists.  So too are hybrid vehicles, especially Toyota Priuses that are worth more to thieves.

How do you know if you've been hit? - While your vehicle's catalytic converter may be located out of sight and mind beneath the chassis, you'll immediately know if it's been stolen the moment you start up.  That's because without the part your ride will sound like a Sherman tank, the loud, throaty rumble of a car without a muffler unmistakable to any motorist.  

How much does it cost to replace a catalytic converter? - Depending on the make and model of vehicle you own, it can cost anywhere from $1,000 - $4,000 to replace a stolen catalytic converter.  (Even more, if the thieves cut the exhaust pipe to make off with it.) While you can file a claim with your insurance company, since theft is a covered peril under the comprehensive portion of your policy, you'll still be out the cost of the deductible.

How can you deter catalytic converter thieves? - While it's impossible to keep thieves from stealing a catalytic converter, you can make their job a lot harder by doing the following:

1. Keep your car parked in your garage.

2. When out and about, park your vehicle in well-lit areas, preferably those with video surveillance.

3. If you park your car outside at night, consider adding video surveillance.

4. Purchase and install a catalytic converter guard.

5. Have your mechanic etch your vehicle's VIN number onto the part.

6. Some car owners have their vehicle's catalytic converter welded to the chassis.

7. Adjust your car alarm to be more responsive to vibration.

Diane Tait owns and operates A&B Insurance.  To find out more about how you can save money on insurance, go to her site or fill out the form at right.

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