When Kurt Mueller headed out to his Hyundai Santa Fe on a bright fall morning, his mind was on a dozen things other than his vehicle. Mueller lives on a busy street corner in St. Louis, and it’s not unusual for his car to be the recipient of hit and run dings and dents. On this particular morning, the car looked great and Kurt started it up to head to work.
It didn’t sound great.
The loud rumbling noise spoke of problems. Immediate problems. So rather than heading to work, Mueller headed to his local, trusted mechanic and dropped off the car. A short while later he was startled by the text he received.
Finding: Catalytic converter has been removed. Exhaust diagram shows 2 flanges on either side of cat but those have also been cut out. It may be difficult to weld in a new cat because of the angle the cut and the pipe itself is at. May need to replace the Y pipe to successfully install a new cat.
$1,182 later, Mueller was all too familiar with a crime that is becoming an increasing issue across the nation. According to a report by the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), there has been a staggering 1013% increase in catalytic converter thefts from 2018 to 2020. In December 2020 alone, the number of thefts outpaced all reported incidents from the entire year of 2018 by 80%. In just the first five months of 2021, there were 25,969 reports of theft.
Let’s walk through everything you need to know:
- What is a catalytic converter?
- Why are catalytic converters being stolen?
- How are catalytic converters removed?
- Which vehicles are most at risk?
- What can you do?
What is a catalytic converter?
Catalytic converters clean harmful gases from a vehicle’s emissions through chemical reactions. To comply with stricter EPA regulations about vehicle emissions, most gasoline powered vehicles included catalytic converters starting in 1975. In addition to vehicles, the converters are often included on mining equipment, electrical generators, forklifts, and other gasoline-powered machines.
Catalytic converters reduce the amount of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, nitric oxide, and nitrogen dioxide from vehicle emissions. Located under the vehicle, they are built using valuable precious metals including platinum, palladium and rhodium. And therein lies the problem.
Why are they being stolen?
Those precious metals inside the converters are extremely expensive and the costs are rising. Platinum is currently worth $1,029 per ounce. Palladium is currently at $2,088 per ounce. And rhodium is currently at a whopping $11,650 per ounce.
Sadly (for thieves), your catalytic converter is not fetching those prices per ounce. Extracting the precious metals is not easy, and there is less than .25 ounces of each of the metals inside an average converter. Still, thieves are able to get $150-200 per converter at junk yards and that’s a pretty good return for something that isn’t hard to steal.
How are they being stolen?
Easily. Very easily. A catalytic converter can be removed from a vehicle in under two minutes with either a wrench (if they are bolted on) or reciprocating saw (if they are welded on). The pandemic has contributed to the increase in thefts in a variety of ways:
- Reduced foot traffic and closed businesses makes it less likely someone will notice a thief crawling under a car.
- The economic downturn correlates to a rise in theft in general.
- Prices for precious metals are up an average of 26% since 2018.
So which vehicles are most at risk? Technically all of them. But the ones most frequently targeted include:
- Toyota Prius
Hybrid vehicles don’t run their gasoline powered engines at all times, which means their converters don’t work as hard and are in better condition. While all hybrid vehicles are prime targets for thieves, the Toyota Prius is the best selling and one of the most recognizable models.
- Trucks and SUVs
This one is simple—they sit higher off the road and are easier to climb under to remove the converter.
- Vehicles in certain states
Thefts were most common in California, Texas, Washington, Minnesota, and Colorado. Colorado, Connecticut, and Arizona saw the biggest spike in thefts.
What can you do to prevent your catalytic converter from theft?
Like anything else you value, you need to protect your vehicle by having eyes on it. When that’s not possible—because humans have jobs, families, and binging Squid Game—a dash camera is the next best thing. For fleet managers overseeing multiple vehicles, it’s essential.
The Linxup Dash Camera operates 24/7 and captures motion around vehicles at any time. The motion-triggered LED light is a powerful deterrent to thieves. By sharing dash cam footage with police and insurance, you are more likely to be successful in capturing the people responsible and processing reimbursements.
In addition to dash camera footage:
- Park in well-lit and high visibility areas when possible.
- Park high-riding vehicles next to walls, fences, high curbs, or other low-riding vehicles to make it more difficult to access the undercarriage.
- Etch your VIN in the catalytic converter to make it easier to trace if stolen.