Why Do People Steal Catalytic Converters And Tips To Prevent Them From Being Stealed

With the rise in thefts of catalytic convertors, many have started to worry about the safety of their vehicles. If you’re someone who recently had their catalytic convertor stolen or someone who is worried about it being stolen, your concerns are justified. In this article we will help you understand why do people steal catalytic converters followed by some tips to prevent this from happening.

Have you ever wondered what drives individuals to steal catalytic converters, leaving car owners in utter confusion? Catalytic converter theft has emerged as a concerning issue leaving car owners perplexed and sparking memes online.

Thefts of catalytic converters have surged in recent years, with reported cases increasing from 16,600 in 2020 to 64,701 in 2023, a staggering rise of over 1,000 percent. These parts, responsible for reducing harmful emissions, can be stolen in 30 seconds. The high prices of the precious metals they contain make them lucrative agents. This alarming trend calls for heightened awareness and improved security measures to protect vehicles from this crime.

This article will examine the motives behind this rising crime trend, uncovering the hidden motivations that push people to snatch this car component. From the alluring promise of precious metals to the ease of turning stolen converters into quick cash, we unveil the intricate incentives that drive these audacious thefts.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. We also give you practical insights and effective preventive measures to protect your cherished vehicles from falling prey to these cunning thieves. So, join us on this journey as we unravel why people steal catalytic converters and empower you with the knowledge to stay one step ahead of the elusive criminals.

Why do we need a catalytic converter?

While cars have made our lives easier, they are responsible for generating a significant amount of fumes and gasses called emissions. These emissions are responsible for causing air pollution. For this reason, the United States decided to pass the Clean Air Act to help reduce the emissions produced by various industries.

Later, an amendment known as the National Emissions Standards Act set out the first federal standards for vehicle emissions. Henceforth, each state has regulations that adhere to federal standards. Many states require that all registered cars must be tested to evaluate their emission output.

 Image Source: KOLO

Image Source: KOLO

The modern exhaust system in cars consists of various features and parts that help limit emissions output, making them more environmentally friendly. Among these parts is the catalytic converter that has helped car manufacturers meet the requirements set out by the National Emissions Standards Act.

By now, you must be wondering what precisely a catalytic converter does. Well, you’ll find out soon enough, so keep on reading.

Who invented the catalytic converter?

The invention of catalytic converters dates back to the end of the 19th century. During the mid-1950s, Eugene Houdry, a mechanical engineer, received a patent for his research to build a catalytic convertor for gasoline engines.

 Image Source: uspto/Twitter

Image Source: uspto/Twitter

Eugene’s development of the device came from his concerns about the air pollution caused by the exhaust pipes of all automobiles. He had viewed the results of a study in Los Angeles and decided to take up the challenge to reduce the pollutant emissions produced by cars.

Catalytic converters were further developed after establishing and enforcing regulations to control emissions. The first production catalytic converter was manufactured by Engelhard Corporation in 1973, and widespread use of this vehicle part began around 1975.

What does a catalytic converter do?

A catalytic converter uses a chamber known as a catalyst which helps change the harmful compounds produced by the engine into safe gasses such as steam. It works in a way to split up the harmful molecules in the gasses that cars produce before they are released into the air.

 Image Source: Oards Automotive

Image Source: Oards Automotive

A catalytic converter is located on the underpart of a vehicle and looks like a large metal box. Two pipes are coming out of this device. The converter makes use of these two pipes and the catalyst during the process of turning the gas into a safer by-product.


Harmful gasses are brought in from the input pipe connected to the vehicle’s engine. These gasses are blown over the catalyst, resulting in a chemical reaction breaking harmful pollutants apart. Now the less harmful gasses travel through the second pipe or the output pipe connected to the car’s tailpipe.

Why do people steal catalytic converters?

 Image Source: Car and Driver

Image Source: Car and Driver

People steal catalytic converters for several reasons, primarily due to the valuable metals they contain. Catalytic converters are automotive components designed to reduce harmful emissions from vehicle exhaust gasses. They contain precious metals like palladium, platinum, and rhodium, which act as catalysts in converting harmful pollutants into less harmful substances.

Here are some reasons why people steal catalytic converters:

Valuable metals

The primary motivation for theft is the precious metals inside catalytic converters. Platinum, palladium, and rhodium have significant value in the market, and their prices can fluctuate greatly. Thieves target catalytic converters to extract and sell these metals to scrap metal dealers or elicit buyers.

Priced by ounce, platinum went from an average of $530 per ounce in 2001 to around $1,027.04 in 2023. On the other hand, the price of palladium has gone up from $600 in 2001 to $1,460.50 in 2023. But out of these three components, its rhodium, whose price has skyrocketed recently. In 2001, the cost of rhodium was $1600 per ounce; by 2023, it jumped to an average of $7000 per ounce! In contrast, the price of gold in 2023 is $1,949.

As a result, junkyards are more actively collecting catalytic converters. The price of this device varies greatly, and according to a few “mail-them-to-us” ads, the price can range anywhere from $300 to a whopping $1650 (not including labor) or more in some cases. While for newer cars, costs can be between $500 and $2,200.

Easy access

Catalytic converters are located in the undercarriage of vehicles and are relatively easy to access. Thieves can quickly slide under a vehicle and remove the catalytic converter using tools like saws, wrenches, or cordless power tools. This accessibility makes them attractive targets for opportunistic criminals.

Lack of identification

Unlike vehicle identification numbers (VINs) or serial numbers, catalytic converters generally lack unique identification markings. This makes it difficult to trace stolen converters back to their original owners or identify them as stolen goods, facilitating their illicit trade.

Image Source: J.D. Power

Image Source: J.D. Power

Quick theft and high demand

Stealing a catalytic converter can be a swift process, taking only a few minutes. The high demand for precious metals in the global market, particularly in jewelry-making and automotive manufacturing, creates a lucrative opportunity for thieves to profit from stolen catalytic converters.

Lack of security measures

Until recently, most vehicles did not have built-in security features to protect catalytic converters. This lack of security makes it easier for thieves to remove them without attracting attention.

Theft of catalytic converters can be prevented by opting for measures such as identifying information and installing protective shields or cages to make theft more difficult. We’ll discuss the preventive measures in detail later on in the article.

Cars most prone to catalytic converter theft

Believe it or not, some cars are more prone to having their catalytic converters stolen than others. In case you’re wondering, these thieves steal convertors depending on their price, how common the vehicle is, and how easy it is to access the catalytic convertor.

Keeping these factors mentioned above in mind, here’s a list of cars that are more prone to having their converters stolen:

  1. 1985-2021 Ford F-Series pickup trucks
  2. 1989-2020 Honda Accord
  3. 2007-17 Jeep Patriot
  4. 1990-2022 Ford Econoline vans
  5. 1999-2021 Chevrolet Silverado pickup trucks
  6. 2005-21 Chevrolet Equinox
  7. 1997-2020 Honda CR-V
  8. 1987-2019 Toyota Camry
  9. 2011-17 Chrysler 200
  10. 2001-21 Toyota Prius

Let’s say your car did not make the list above; that does not mean your catalytic converter cannot be stolen. It is always good to remain cautious. Some vehicles have not made the list because they are not as common, but they are also at high risk of converter theft. These cars include:

Luxury cars: The Most Valuable Catalytic Converter Prize goes to the Ferrari F430 at $3,770 each. The F430 has two converters, so they’re a big target for thieves.

Lamborghinis also have incredibly pricey catalytic converters, averaging at about $3,000.

Hybrid cars: The more emissions-friendly the car, the more valuable its catalytic converter will be. These vehicles require a higher concentration of the precious metal palladium, increasing the cost.

 Image Source: CAR Magazine

Image Source: CAR Magazine

Older cars: Due to the high concentration of valuable metals and their general non-eco-friendliness, catalytic converters in larger, older vehicles are worth much more than newer, more efficient cars.

Trucks and SUVs: Larger trucks and SUVs tend to be targeted for the following two reasons. First, their larger engine means a more valuable catalytic converter. For example, the Dodge Ram 2500’s catalytic converter’s value is nearly Ferrari-level at a staggering $2,000.

 Image Source: Car and Driver

Image Source: Car and Driver

Secondly, their height from the ground makes it easier for thieves to access the converters.

Cars that are least likely to have their catalytic convertor stolen

Now that you know which cars are more prone to catalytic converter theft, let’s talk about cars that are not at risk.

Vintage cars

All vintage cars built before 1974 do not come with a catalytic converter. Hence, you don’t have to worry about catalytic converter theft regarding these antique models.

Diesel cars

Diesel-based cars come with catalytic converters that contain no precious metals. So they are of little to no value to thieves. Thus, you’re safe from catalytic converter theft if you have a diesel car.

Electric cars

Since electric cars don’t run on gas, they do not need a catalytic converter. All electric cars, such as that mentioned in the following list, are completely safe from converter theft:

  • BMW i3
  • Audi E-Tron
  • Fiat 500E
  • Chevrolet Bolt EV
  • Honda Clarity Electric
  • Hyundai Ioniq EV
  • Hyundai NEXO
  • Hyundai Kona EV
  • Jaguar I-Pace
  • Nissan Leaf
  • Kia Soul EV
  • Tesla Model 3
  • Tesla Model S
  • Tesla Model X
  • Volkswagen e-Golf

How to detect if your catalytic converter has been stolen?

This part of the article will list a few signs suggesting that your catalytic converter has been stolen. Read along to find out what these signs are.

 Image Source:

Image Source:

1)   Your car is suddenly too loud

The most obvious sign of your catalytic converter being stolen is that your car makes too much noise. You will immediately notice the loud noise and wonder if there’s something wrong with your car. If you feel your car is suddenly making too much noise, it is best to investigate and see if your converter is still intact.

2)   Your check engine sign is on

When a catalytic converter is detached from a car, it usually triggers a faulty code. Thus, if your check engine light turns out, this could be one of the reasons.

All vehicles are equipped with an engine control unit, which is also called an ECM. The ECM monitors various sensors around your vehicle’s engine bay. This way, it can control the car’s air-to-fuel mixture and the emission control systems.

Within one full drive cycle, the engine control unit will run its tests and realize something is wrong. If your catalytic converter has been stolen, the check engine light will turn on.

The only way to turn your check engine light off if your catalytic converter has been stolen is by having someone reset it with a scan tool. If you do not have your catalytic converter replaced, the ECM will detect the problem again and turn the check engine light back on after the next full drive cycle.

3)   You are getting a headache when your windows are down

Without a catalytic converter, your car’s exhaust system is faulty. The converter is designed to reduce the amount of carbon monoxide cars produce by 95%. Therefore, you will be exposed to 20 times more carbon monoxide than an intact exhaust system without a converter.

That said, if the emission fumes reach your car’s cabin, you may exhibit signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. One of the most common symptoms is a headache. Some other symptoms include limited reaction time and confusion.

If you have any of the above symptoms, immediately seek help and ask a mechanic to check if your catalytic converter has been stolen.

4)   Less low-end torque

Many people think that removing a catalytic converter can increase your engine’s horsepower; however, doing so has a negligible effect on your car’s horsepower. It reduces your low-end torque. This is especially true for cars that were manufactured within the last decade or so.

A low-end torque makes your vehicle more responsive and gives you a better driving experience. If your catalytic converter has been stolen, your vehicle will be less responsive. This may not be noticeable to the average driver.

5)   Missing components under your vehicle

The best way to find out if your converter has been stolen is to check underneath your car. You can do this from time to time for your and the safety of your car. When you visually inspect your exhaust system, you will notice that the converter pipes have been cut.

In case your catalytic converter has been stolen, you will have to focus your attention after the exhaust manifold and y-pipe but before the exhaust pipe and muffler. You will be able to see it was cut out.

How to prevent catalytic converter theft?

Now that you know which cars are prone to countering converter theft, let’s discuss some safety tips to prevent this. Here are some measures you can consider.

 Image Source: Car Part

Image Source: Car Part

  • Park in well-lit busy areas: Whenever possible, park your vehicle in well-lit areas with high foot traffic. Thieves are less likely to target vehicles in locations where their activities can be easily noticed.
  • Use a garage or secure parking: If you have access to a garage or secure parking facility, use it to park your vehicle. This provides an additional layer of protection against theft.
  • Installing security cameras: Consider installing security cameras around your property, especially if you park your vehicle in a driveway or parking lot. Visible cameras can act as a deterrent and help capture evidence if theft occurs.
  • Use a catalytic converter lock: Various aftermarket security devices, such as catalytic converter locks or clamps, are available. These devices attach to the converter and make it more challenging for thieves to remove. They are relatively inexpensive and can be effective in deterring theft.
  • Etch or mark your catalytic converter: Engraving or marking your catalytic converter with unique identification information can make it less attractive to thieves. This makes it harder for them to sell stolen converters and easier for law enforcement to identify the rightful owner.
  • Install protective shields or cages: Consider installing protective shields or cages around your catalytic converter. These physical barriers make it more time-consuming and difficult for thieves to access the converter, discouraging theft attempts.
  • Park strategically: When parking, try to position the vehicle close to a wall or another obstacle on the side where the catalytic converter is located. This makes it harder for thieves to access the converter and provides an additional obstacle.
  • Check your insurance policy: Review your insurance policy to ensure it covers catalytic converter theft. If not, consider adding coverage or exploring additional policies that offer such protection.
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  • Report suspicious activity: If you notice individuals acting suspiciously around vehicles or attempting to remove catalytic converters, immediately report it to the local authorities. Provide accurate descriptions or any available information that can aid in identifying potential thieves.
  • Alarm system: Install a car alarm system with sensors for detecting motion or vibration. A loud alarm can cause thieves and draw attention to the vehicle.

Implementing these preventive measures can reduce the risk of catalytic converter theft and protect your vehicle.

How to keep your catalytic converter in good shape?

Here are a few tips that will ensure that your catalytic converter remains in good shape and does not reduce the efficacy of your exhaust system.

 Image Source: MarketWatch

Image Source: MarketWatch

1)   Never use low-grade fuel

Leaded fuel can be harmful to your car as it can cause lead poisoning and reduce the efficiency of your converter. Always use high-grade fuel to prevent your car from encountering such issues in the long run. You may think you’re saving money by using low-grade fuel, but you will have to pay a high cost for repairing an engine that has suffered lead poisoning.

2)   Lubricants and fuel additives

It is recommended that you only use fuel additives and lubricants that are approved by the manufacturers or, in other words, OEM-approved. Lubricants that have not been approved are likely to contain components that, when combusted, produce by-products that can damage the converter.

3)   Low clearance

If your car has a low clearance or is on a bumpy road, drive your car carefully to ensure that the converter does not hit any bumps. The heart of the catalytic converter is made of ceramic; upon high impact, it can shatter.

4)   Avoid puddles

Catalytic converters are supposed to work at a high temperature. When the converter comes in contact with water, it can cool it down, which can cause the substrate to break, and you most certainly don’t want that to happen.

5)   Early detection

When you take your car for service, be sure to check the converter to look for any cracks or damages. Moreover, do not dismiss any unusual sounds that your car may be making; it could be due to a faulty converter.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

What’s in catalytic converters?

A standard catalytic converter has 3 to 7 grams of platinum, 2 to 7 grams of palladium, and 1 to 2 grams of rhodium.

How do thieves steal a catalytic converter?

Thieves can steal catalytic converters by silently sliding under your car and cutting them from its exhaust system. A thief that may be experienced can complete the entire process in just a few minutes with the help of a hand-held power saw.

Since the concentration of the precious metal in these converters declines over time, thieves will most likely target newer vehicles.

Will my alarm go off if someone tries to steal my catalytic converter?

If you have installed a highly responsive motion-detecting alarm, it may detect someone sneaking under your car and cutting the pipes of the converter. However, these alarms are very unpopular amongst car owners due to false alarms triggered by the vibrations of a passing truck or a small animal bumping it.

Can stolen converters be tracked down?

Unfortunately, stolen car converters cannot be tracked down yet. Since no identifying numbers are linked to these car components, there is no way to monitor or identify them once they have been taken from your vehicle and sold to a junkyard or on the black market.


It can be frustrating to have your catalytic converter stolen, and considering that it is an important component of your car’s exhaust system, you will have to replace it at all costs. Be sure to check underneath from time to time to ensure your converter is still intact and follow the prevention measures listed above to save your car from catalytic converter theft.