Thieves Want Your Catalytic Converter — How to Protect It

Replacing a stolen catalytic converter can cost up to $3,000 for some vehicles. Take these precautions to protect your car and money.

Nicolle Monico
Updated 14 February 2022
Thieves Want Your Catalytic Converter — How to Protect It

United States Automotive Scam Statistics 2020

14% increase in reports
120k reports

7th largest scam category

Source: 2019-20 Consumer Sentinel Report

Sections on this page
  1. 6 Ways to Protect From Catalytic Converter Theft
  2. What is a Catalytic Converter?
  3. Why Do People Steal Your Catalytic Converter?
  4. How to Tell if Your Catalytic Converter Has Been Stolen
  5. What To Do Following Catalytic Converter Theft

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), since the start of the global pandemic in March 2020, catalytic converter theft has seen a significant increase going from 282 average monthly robberies in 2019 to 1,203 per month in 2020

Unfortunately, to replace a stolen catalytic converter, the average cost to get it installed is around $945 and $3,000 including parts and labor. With this type of theft on the rise, it’s important to know how to protect your car and save you thousands of dollars in replacement costs.

6 Ways to Protect From Catalytic Converter Theft

There are several ways to deter catalytic converter theft and protect yourself from having to pay high costs for a replacement which include:

Determine if You Car is a Target

While low-emission vehicles like hybrids are often the most-sought after types of cars for catalytic converter theft, any car can be targeted for this type of crime.

Call a few local muffler stores to get an idea of what cars are being targeted in your area, they’ll typically have a list of the catalytic converters they’ve had to replace in the last year.

In general, top-selling hybrids, hybrids without a matching all-gas equivalent, SUVs, and trucks (because of their high clearance) are some of the most targeted models. Additionally, if you own an all-electric vehicle (EV), you’re safe from catalytic converter since they don’t need a catalytic converter.

Choose Safe Parking Spots

Seems simple enough, but making sure you park in safe, well-lit areas can be one of the best ways to protect your catalytic converter from getting stolen. If possible, choose secured garages or well-trafficked streets with plenty of lighting.

Or, if you park in front of your home but don’t have too many lights, install a motion-sensor light where you park—this may dissuade criminals from targeting your car.

Install an Anti-Theft Device on Your Catalytic Converter

It can be expensive upfront to protect your catalytic converter but it’s worth the investment to avoid paying much higher costs to replace it if stolen. One way to do this is by buying an anti-theft device.

If you’re handy with cars, you can install the device for as cheap as $30, but most will need to have a mechanic install it for you. The latter can cost anywhere from $75-$800 depending on the device and shop you use.

Some of the most popular options are:

  • A steel shield: This is typically fitted over the catalytic converter and requires extra tools to remove it.
  • Stainless-steel cables: These are welded from the catalytic converter to your car’s frame.
  • Rebar cages: These cages are made of rebar or other high-strength steel that is challenging to cut.

Install a Motion-Detection Dash Cam

Although you can adjust your car’s alarm to be more motion sensitive, it could get a bit frustrating every time a cat runs across your hood or a pedestrian accidentally bumps into it. Instead, install a motion-detection dash cam that will go off if a theft is in progress.

A good quality dash cam will run between $100 and $400 depending on its features and video quality. Some features you may want to have include:

  • Good temperature control for extreme weather
  • Wi-Fi and/or Bluetooth
  • A smartphone app
  • Access to cloud video management

Paint & Engrave Your Catalytic Converter

Get creative and paint your catalytic converter a fluorescent color; this will often deter thieves and will make it less attractive to parts dealers. To do this, you’ll need to purchase high-temperature (1,300 to 2,000 0F) automotive exhaust spray paint and use a generous amount to help it standout.

You can also inscribe or engrave your vehicle identification number (VIN), license plate number, and your state’s initials on it to help identify if it is stolen.

Verify Your Car Insurance Coverage

Make sure you have comprehensive insurance which covers stolen auto parts such as catalytic converters. Typically, full coverage auto insurance will cover the cost to replace it (minus your deductible).

But if you car is a prime target in your area, it may be a good idea to lower your deductible amount. If you lease your vehicle, this is a requirement, so you should already have comprehensive insurance on your car.

What is a Catalytic Converter?

A catalytic converter is a device that uses a catalyst to convert your car exhaust's harmful compounds into harmless ones. These compounds are:

  • Hydrocarbons: Unburned gasoline which produces smog
  • Carbon Monoxide: Formed by the combustion of gasoline and is poisonous for humans and air-breathing animals.
  • Nitrogen Oxide: Created by you car's engine heat which nitrogen to mix with the oxygen in the air, which leads to smog and acid rain.

Inside a catalytic converter, the catalyst is in the form of platinum, palladium, or rhodium and is coated onto a ceramic honeycomb or beads within the muffler-like package attached to the exhaust pipe.

catalytic converter theft
A catalytic converter is designed to reduce the pollutants and toxic gas your car's emissions system produces.

Why Do People Steal Your Catalytic Converter?

Why do thieves want catalytic converters? These metals inside of it are quite expensive since they contain platinum, palladium and rhodium. These metals are more valuable than gold and their value has been escalating in recent years with automakers working harder to reduce emissions.

According to Farmers Insurance, as of May 2021, the value of these metals was:

  • Platinum - $1,277 per ounce
  • Palladium - $2,896 per ounce
  • Rhodium - $27,900 per ounce

How to Tell if Your Catalytic Converter Has Been Stolen

In some cases, you may not even realize your catalytic converter has been stolen until you start your car. When it has been removed, your car will make a loud roaring sound that continues to grow in strength as you accelerate.

It may also make a sputtering sound as you change speeds, or you’ll notice it’s not driving as smoothly as you’re used to.

What To Do Following Catalytic Converter Theft

Here are a few things you should do after your catalytic converter has been stolen:

  • Take photos of where the converter was removed and file a police remote as soon as possible.
  • Notify your insurance provider about the incident.
  • Speak with your mechanic and ask whether you can drive the car to the shop or if it will cause further damage before moving it.
  • Ask with your mechanic about an aftermarket catalytic converter when choosing to repair it. These are less desirable to thieves and may prevent future theft.
    • Note, these are not allowed in all states so you’ll want to check first before purchasing.
  • When your new catalytic converter is being installed, ask the repair shop about adding an anti-theft security device to prevent the theft from happening again.


Featured Reads