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.
You’ve probably never worried about a catalytic converter before, in fact, some of us weren’t even sure what it was until recently. But the alarming rise in catalytic convertor thefts has captured the attention of all car owners and for good reason.
A catalytic convertor is an important part of every vehicle. It has been made a mandated requirement since the year 1975 in an effort to protect the environment against harmful emissions. Therefore, it is essential for every car to have a catalytic convertor.
Now many of you may be wondering, why do people steal catalytic converters? Well, there are several reasons why. These reasons will be discussed in the article to help you give an idea about the worth of these devices.
Who would have thought that someone would sneak under someone’s car to steal a catalytic convertor. It seems like locking your car is clearly not enough anymore. However, we can keep in mind a few tips that will prevent this from happening. Read along to find out what these tips are and if your car is in the list of vehicles whose catalytic convertors are more likely to be stolen.
Why do we need a catalytic converter?
While cars have evidently made our lives easier, they are responsible for generating a great 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 amount of emissions being produced by various industries.
Later on, an amendment known as the National Emissions Standards Acts, set out the first federal standards for vehicle emissions. Henceforth, each state has regulations that adhere to federal standards. In fact, many states require that all registered cars must be tested to evaluate their emission output.
The modern exhaust system in cars consists of various features and parts that help limit the output of emissions hence making them more environment 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 exactly 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 1950’s, Eugene Houdry, a mechanical engineer received a patent for his research to build a catalytic convertor for gasoline engines.
Eugene’s development of the device came from his concerns about the air pollution that was being caused by the exhaust pipes of all automobiles. He had viewed the results of a study carried out in Los Angeles and hence, decided to take up on the challenge to reduce the pollutant emissions being produced by cars.
Catalytic convertors were further developed after the establishment and enforcement of 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 convertor 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.
A catalytic convertor is located on the underside of a vehicle and looks like a large metal box. There are two pipes 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 which is connected to the engine of the vehicle. These gasses are blown over the catalyst which results in a chemical reaction that breaks apart harmful pollutants. Now the gasses being less harmful travel through the second pipe or the output pipe that is connected to the cars tailpipe.
Why do people steal catalytic convertors?
According to Matteo Cargnello, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at Stanford, the most important components of a catalytic converter are: rhodium, palladium and platinum. If you think gold is precious, you’re in for a surprise as these components are ten times more expensive than gold.
These precious metals help facilitate the chemical conversion of harmful emissions to less harmful ones. Moreover, they are stable elements that are not affected by any other components found in gasoline.
Burglars steal catalytic converters because of the trace amount of these valuable metals present in them. Thus, money is the main reason for catalytic converters being stolen. The prices of these metals have risen exponentially during the early 21st century.
Priced by ounce, the price of platinum went from an average of $530 per ounce in 2001 to around $1100 in 2021. On the other hand, the price of palladium has gone up from $600 in 2001 to up to $2400 in 2021. But out of these three components, its rhodium whose price has skyrocketed recently.
In 2001, the cost of rhodium was $1600 per ounce and by 2021, it jumped to an average of $18,000 per ounce! In contrast, the price of gold in 2021 was $1800.
The rise of cost of these valuable metals automatically increases the price of the converter itself. Thus, these convertors are stolen and are sold as scrap where metals are recovered and sold.
As a result, junkyards are more actively collecting catalytic convertors. The price of this device varies greatly and according to a few “mail-them-to-us” ads, the price can range anywhere from $140 to a whopping $3800 or more in some cases.
This exponential increase in value of the catalytic converters has prompted thieves to steal these devices especially since they can very easily be cut out from under a car parked on a street.
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 aforementioned factors in mind, here’s a list of cars that are more prone to having their converters stolen:
- 1985-2021 Ford F-Series pickup trucks
- 1989-2020 Honda Accord
- 2007-17 Jeep Patriot
- 1990-2022 Ford Econoline vans
- 1999-2021 Chevrolet Silverado pickup trucks
- 2005-21 Chevrolet Equinox
- 1997-2020 Honda CR-V
- 1987-2019 Toyota Camry
- 2011-17 Chrysler 200
- 2001-21 Toyota Prius
Let’s say your car did not make the above list, that does not mean that your catalytic converter cannot be stolen. It is always good to remain cautious. There are some vehicles that 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, coming in at a whopping $3,770 each. The F430 has two converters, so they’re a pretty 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 total cost.
Older cars: Due to 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.
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.
All vintage cars that were built before 1974 do not come with a catalytic converter. Hence, you don’t have to worry about catalytic converter theft when it comes to these antique models.
Diesel based cars come with catalytic convertors that do not consist of any precious metals. So they are of little to no value to thieves. This, if you have a diesel car, you’re safe from catalytic converter theft.
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 down a few signs that suggest that your catalytic converter has been stolen. Read along to find out what these signs are.
1) Your car is suddenly too loud
The most obvious sign of your catalytic converter being stolen is that your car starts making too much noise. You will immediately notice the loud noise and wonder if there’s something wrong with your car. If you at any point feel as if 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
In most cases, when a catalytic converter is detached from a car, it 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, as well as the emission control systems.
Within one full drive cycle, the engine control unit will run its tests and realize something is not right. It will turn on the check engine light if your catalytic converter has been stolen.
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 though, the ECM will just 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 produced by cars by 95%. Therefore, without a converter, you will be exposed to 20 times the amount of carbon monoxide than you would with an intact exhaust system.
That being said, if the fumes from the emission reach the cabin of your car,you may start to exhibit signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. One of the most common symptoms being a headache. Some other symptoms include limited reaction time and confusion.
If you feel like you have any of the above symptoms immediately seek help and ask for a mechanic to check if your catalytic converter has been stolen or not.
4) Less low-end torque
Many people think that removing a catalytic converter can increase the horsepower of your engine; however, doing so has a negligible effect on the horsepower of your car. In fact, 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 allows your vehicle to be more responsive and for you to have a better driving experience in general. 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 just check underneath your car. You can do this from time to time for your and your cars safety. When you visually inspect your exhaust system, you will notice that the pipes of the converter have been cut.
In case your catalytic converter has been stolen, you are going to 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 clearly cut out.
How to prevent catalytic converter theft?
Now that you know which cars are prone to countering converter theft, let’s talk about some safety tips that can prevent this from happening.
- If you don’t have a secure garage, it is best to park near buildings that are well-lit and are busy most part of the day.
- You can weld the catalytic convertor to the frame of your car. This will make it much harder for thieves to remove it.
- Consider buying an aftermarket part similar to a metal cage that can be installed to cover the converter.
- It is suggested that you install a car alarm that comes with a vibration alert sensor. This way, if anyone ever tries to steal the converter, you will be alerted immediately and the thief would not dare go ahead with his plan to steal.
- Engrave your vehicle identification number (VIN) to the converter. This can help make selling the part harder and help alert you if your converter is stolen.
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.
1) Never use low grade fuel
Leaded fuel can be harmful for your car as it can cause lead poisoning and reduce the efficiency of your converter. Always go with a high grade fuel to prevent your car from encountering such issues on the long run. By using low grade quality fuel, you may think you’re saving money, 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, which when combusted produce by-products that can damage the converter.
3) Low clearance
If your car has a low clearance or if you’re 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 and 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?
To be exact, in a standard catalytic converter, there are 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 the exhaust system of the car. 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 found in these converters declines over time, thieves are most likely to 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, then 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 there are no identifying numbers 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.