What is a catalytic converter?

A catalytic converter is a key automotive component that reduces harmful emissions. It's been a mandatory part of all gas-powered cars since the 1975 model year, and it's located between the engine and the muffler on the underside of the vehicle. It consists of a ceramic honeycomb coated in metals (typically platinum, rhodium, and palladium) that allows dangerous substances in the car's exhaust to recombine and convert into safer gases. For instance, carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas, enters the converter, mixes with oxygen, and exits as carbon dioxide.

Why do people steal catalytic converters?

The metals used in catalytic converters are quite valuable, and they can be easier to steal due to their exposed location on the underside of a vehicle. It only takes a few minutes for a thief to steal a catalytic converter, so multiple catalytic converters can be stolen in a relatively short amount of time. This combination makes catalytic converters a popular target for thieves.

It only takes a few minutes for a thief to steal a catalytic converter.

Which cars are most susceptible to catalytic converter theft?

Any gas-powered car made after 1975 can be a target, but the top vehicles for catalytic converter theft tend to be older cars because they have a larger amount of valuable metals in their catalytic converters. The technology wasn't as refined for older cars, so their catalytic converters can have more metals than newer ones. Newer cars, however, can have metals in better condition because the converters haven't been subjected to as much wear and tear. Hybrid cars can also be a favorite for thieves because their catalytic converters see much less use than standard cars, resulting in metal that's easier to salvage.

Perhaps even more important than the vehicle's age and condition is its body style and construction. Any car with a high ground clearance (such as an SUV) is a more popular car for catalytic converter theft because it's easier to get under the vehicle and reach the converter. The way that the converter is installed can also make a difference. Some automakers install the converter with bolts while others weld it in place. Bolt-on converters are easier to steal, so concerned owners should check to see how their converter is attached.

How can I tell if my catalytic converter has been stolen?

If your vehicle has been targeted, there are some obvious signs to look for. When you start the car, it may be much louder than usual because a stolen catalytic converter will disconnect the muffler. The vehicle will also seem less responsive than usual and will lack acceleration. You may also notice a foul odor from the unclean exhaust now exiting the vehicle. You can confirm the catalytic converter theft by looking underneath the car for an obvious hole in the undercarriage near the muffler.

If you discover your catalytic converter has been stolen, take your car to a mechanic immediately. Consider calling a tow truck because driving without the converter can be hazardous.

How to prevent catalytic converter theft

There are steps you can take to protect your vehicle from catalytic converter theft. Preventive measures include:

  • Park close to a wall with the exhaust pipe closest to the wall. That makes it harder for a thief to reach the catalytic converter.
  • If you have multiple vehicles, park the ones with lower ground clearance outside of the vehicles with higher ground clearance (like SUVs).
  • Consider having your converter engraved with the car's VIN so it's easier to trace.
  • If you have a car alarm, set it to react to vibration.
  • Consider installing a catalytic converter protection device. This cage-like device is installed around the converter, making it more challenging and time-consuming to access and steal.