How to Know if Your Catalytic Converter Was Stolen

If your engine sounds louder than normal after you start your car, your catalytic converter may have been stolen.
Written by Mary Alice Morris
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
Although it might not be immediately obvious, you may be able to tell that someone stole your catalytic converter if your vehicle sounds extremely loud after you start it. You may also notice that your Check Engine light is on, and you could get a headache from the increased emissions.
The catalytic converter is an important component of every fuel-powered vehicle produced since 1974. It takes the emissions from your vehicles and converts the majority from dangerous gasses into carbon dioxide and water vapor. Unfortunately, due to the precious metals used to make catalytic converters, they’re also a valuable target for thieves. 
But there are steps you can take to help protect your vehicle from theft, and there are signs to watch for that could indicate your catalytic converter was stolen.
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How to know if your catalytic converter was stolen

There are a few tell-tale signs indicating that your catalytic converter has been stolen. You may want to check under your car or have a mechanic take a look if you notice any of the following:

Your car is suddenly much louder

It could sound like a roar. Your vehicle will be obviously much louder than you remember, and it might get even louder as you drive and accelerate. 

You smell exhaust fumes or feel unwell while driving

You may notice an increase in exhaust fumes, or you might develop a headache or ill feeling from driving. The exhaust that normally is filtered by the catalytic converter could be making it into your car’s cabin, causing you to inhale carbon monoxide

Your Check Engine light is on

Lots of things can cause your
Check Engine light
to come on, but if you notice other clues that point to catalytic converter theft, you should probably investigate further. 
If your vehicle feels or sounds like it just isn’t driving right, and your Check Engine light is on, you should inspect it for catalytic converter theft.
MORE: What do car dashboard lights mean, and what should you do?

There appear to be parts missing from under your car

When someone steals a catalytic converter, they will literally saw a chunk of your exhaust system off of your vehicle. If you can crawl under your vehicle and take a look, it should be obvious. 

Why would someone steal a catalytic converter? 

Catalytic converters may be stolen and sold to parts retailers, or they might be taken apart and melted down for their precious metals
Unfortunately, they’re fairly easy to steal for someone who knows how to do it, and the entire process can be completed in just a few minutes. Unless you install a tracking device or modify your car’s converter with an ID number, they’re impossible to trace. 

What kinds of vehicles are targeted?

Vehicles that have a higher ground clearance, like pickup trucks and SUVs, tend to be easy targets for catalytic converter theft. Their high ground clearance gives more room for someone to shimmy under the vehicle and start sawing away at the exhaust. The Toyota Prius is also frequently targeted because it has two catalytic converters

What can I do to protect my car from catalytic converter theft?

There are several things you can do to deter someone from stealing your car’s catalytic converter. A few suggestions include:
  • Secure your parking area by installing bright lights or a security camera.
  • Engrave your catalytic converter with your vehicle identification number (VIN), making it traceable. 
  • Install a tracking or
    anti-theft device
    on your catalytic converter.
  • Paint your catalytic converter a bright color using automotive exhaust spray paint to deter thieves or alert parts buyers. 
These steps can help law enforcement catch the thief or compel a potential thief to move on from your vehicle.

Protect your car with the right insurance

If you’re worried that your car may be at high risk for thieves, you may want to get
comprehensive insurance
, which typically will cover catalytic converter theft. And adding this coverage type doesn’t have to be super-expensive—just try
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Tall vehicles that are easy to crawl under with a tool, like SUVs and pickup trucks with a high ground clearance, are easy targets for catalytic converter thieves. The Toyota Prius is also targeted because it has two catalytic converters.
You’ll hear a loud roaring or rumbling sound when you start your car up. It will be much louder than your car usually sounds, and the noise will probably get worse when you hit the gas.
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