Catalytic converter thefts are on the rise everywhere—especially if you drive a hybrid vehicle or large pickup truck.
In fact, catalytic converter theft has increased from 3,389 reported thefts in 2018 to 14,443 in 2020, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). That's a 977% increase in just two years.
If you’re like the general population, you might not know what a catalytic converter is—only that they’re apparently valuable to thieves and scrapyards. But this relatively obscure car part plays a major role in your car’s exhaust function. Unfortunately, catalytic converters contain certain types of precious metals, making them popular targets for theft.
Certain types of vehicles are at a higher risk for theft…but don’t get nervous yet! Car expert and super app Jerry is here to help. In this article, we’ll cover the basics of catalytic converters, why certain cars are the most and least likely to be targeted, and how to protect your car from theft.
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What is a catalytic converter?
A catalytic converter is a crucial part of a car’s exhaust system. When a vehicle’s engine uses fuel, it’s converted to toxic gasses, like carbon monoxide and nitric oxide. Through a series of chemical reactions, the catalytic converter then changes these harmful pollutants into carbon dioxide and water before they’re emitted through the exhaust pipe.
Catalytic converters are typically located somewhere between your car’s engine and muffler. Some vehicles have a front and back catalytic converter, but many cars just have one.
Why do people steal catalytic converters?
People steal catalytic converters because their materials can be sold at a high price and they're easy to steal.
Catalytic converters contain valuable metals like platinum, rhodium, and palladium to catalyze their chemical reactions.
These precious materials make catalytic converters targets for thieves who then cash in by selling the parts to scrapyards or metal recycling plants. Thieves can make anywhere from $25 to $300 for a standard catalytic converter, and ones from hybrid vehicles can sell for up to $1,400.
These parts are also relatively easy to access from under the vehicle. Catalytic converters generally hang lower than other components of the vehicle, making them easy targets for thieves to simply slide under the car and cut them off.
Which cars are most likely to have their catalytic converter stolen?
While catalytic converter thefts can often be crimes of opportunity, many thieves target specific vehicles based on the cost of the catalytic converter, how common the vehicles are, and how easy it is to access the catalytic converter.
By referencing their partner repair shops, CARFAX found that these vehicles that are the most targeted for catalytic converter theft:
- 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
However, these are just the models that most commonly get their catalytic converters stolen. Your vehicle could also be at risk for catalytic converter theft based on a few other factors. Here’s an idea of which types of vehicles are even more at-risk for catalytic converter theft:
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.
The more emissions-friendly the vehicle, the more valuable its catalytic converter tends to be. These vehicles require a higher concentration of the precious metal palladium, upping the total value.
Due to their concentration of valuable metals and their general non-eco-friendliness, catalytic converters in larger, older vehicles are worth more than newer, more efficient vehicles.
SUVs and trucks
Larger trucks and SUVs tend to be targeted for 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.
Second, their height from the ground makes their converters easier to access for thieves.
Other models with valuable catalytic converters
Of course, there are cars that aren’t targeted for a specific category but tend to have more valuable catalytic converters for one reason or another.
- Honda Element
- Honda Jazz
- Lexus RX & all
- Lexus SUVs
- Toyota Auris
Which cars are the least likely to have their catalytic converter stolen?
The value of a catalytic converter can generally be determined by the vehicle’s make, year, and type of engine.
Cars built before 1974 didn’t have converters, so antique and vintage models are in the clear.
Diesel converters have almost no precious metals, so they have little value to thieves.
Since electric vehicles don’t run on gas, they have no need for catalytic converters. All-electric vehicles, like the following, are completely safe from catalytic converter theft:
- Audi E-Tron
- BMW i3
- Chevrolet Bolt EV
- Fiat 500E
- Honda Clarity Electric
- Hyundai Ioniq EV
- Hyundai Kona EV
- Hyundai NEXO
- Jaguar I-Pace
- Kia Soul EV
- Nissan Leaf
- Volkswagen e-Golf
Least at-risk makes
There are quite a few manufacturers whose catalytic converters are generally less valuable and less at-risk for theft.
Cars lower to the ground also tend to be the least likely targets for theft.
How to prevent catalytic converter theft
With thefts on the rise, it’s more important than ever to protect your car from catalytic converter theft. If you don’t have a garage to park your car in, you aren’t out of luck. Here are a few safety tips to protect your vehicle:
- Consider installing a catalytic converter protection device. Many mechanic shops can install a metal shield to cover your converter, but there are other options.
- Always park wisely. Try to park with your exhaust pipe close to the wall if possible, and always park in well-lit areas.
- Etch your license plate or VIN number onto your catalytic converter. This will make the part more identifiable and trackable if the thief tries to resell it.
Get airtight insurance coverage with Jerry
Getting a catalytic converter replaced is rarely cheap, often running your bill into the thousands when you include labor costs. Another major way to protect your vehicle is by having the right car insurance coverage. For instance, if you have comprehensive coverage, catalytic converter theft and replacement will be covered.
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How do I know if my catalytic converter was stolen?
There are a few key symptoms you’ll need to look for if you suspect your catalytic converter has been stolen:
Your vehicle is much louder than usual due to a disconnected muffler.
Your car is less responsive.
You notice it’s not accelerating as it should.
There’s a bad smell coming from the exhaust.
You can confirm your suspicions by checking underneath your car. There will likely be an obvious hole or empty space near the muffler. While it’s not impossible to drive without a catalytic converter, it can be hazardous, so be sure to get it checked out and replaced ASAP.