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Catalytic Converter Theft

A car’s catalytic converter is composed of valuable and precious metals. As a result, it’s often stolen—by total jerks!—if the right precautionary measures aren’t taken.

What is a catalytic converter?

If you hadn’t heard, cars aren’t the most environment-friendly machines. A catalytic converter is designed to reduce vehicle emissions by limiting the amount of toxic gasses and pollutants that an internal combustion engine vehicle emits into the atmosphere. They became mostly standard in the 1970s. 

Depending on the type of vehicle you own, you’ll have at least one catalytic converter. 

Why does catalytic converter theft occur?

Catalytic converters are stolen for two main reasons. 

The first is that they’re extremely easy to steal, which makes them a tempting target for lazy thieves who don’t have the skills to break into safes or plan bank heists. 

It takes just a few minutes, and minimal skill and tools. That, combined with the value of the precious metals that the converters are made of—including palladium, platinum, and rhodium, —makes for an attractive steal. The price of these precious metals are soaring, reaching even higher levels than gold. 

Once a catalytic converter is removed, it’s easy to sell it to a junkyard or metal dealer, or even to hawk it on the black market. Since the scrap metal rate is high, a few minutes underneath your car can yield a jackpot for the thief. 

To be clear: We are not encouraging you to do this, we’re just explaining why it happens a lot. 

Which cars are most at risk for catalytic converter theft?

There are a couple different kinds of cars that are more likely to have their catalytic converters swiped. To start, cars with a high clearance (like pickup trucks) are more likely to be cannibalized for precious metals because they’re simply easier to access.

In recent years hybrid cars, like Toyota Priuses and Honda Insights, have been especially at risk for catalytic converter theft. Why? It’s because the car doesn’t rely as heavily on the catalytic converter, so the device is usually in better condition than it is on other cars.

What theft prevention measures can be taken?

Considering how common catalytic converter theft is, you’ll want to do what you can to prevent yours from ending up on the black market. There are some simple ways that you can prevent the theft of your vehicle’s catalytic converter. 

In order to steal it, the converter has to be easy to remove, and the thief has to have the opportunity to have a few minutes alone with your car. 

An aftermarket catalytic converter theft prevention device can be installed by a mechanic for a fee. This anti-theft device makes it harder to remove the converter and typically comes in the form of a shield, or a cage. If your mechanic doesn’t have one on hand, your local auto parts store may be able to hook you up. (While such devices help prevent theft, the cost of installing them usually won’t be covered by your car insurance.)

You’ll also want to think about leaving your car in safer places. Police departments advise parking in closed garages whenever possible. If that’s not feasible try parking in a brightly lit or busy area, or one with security cameras, as a theft prevention strategy; this way thieves won’t have the opportunity to remove your converter without being spotted. Avoid leaving your ride in parking lots designed for commuters; thieves know that cars there will be left unattended for the entire day, and might be planning to hit a slew of vehicles in one lot all at once. 

Some car owners will also have their vehicle identification number etched on the catalytic converter itself, so that if the converter is stolen it may be returned to them after an attempted resale.

What theft prevention measures shouldn’t you take?

Do not do something cute, like leaving a note duct-taped to your catalytic converter that says “I know you want my sweet, precious metals, but please don’t be an asshole.” The success rate for this tactic is less than 1.1%.

It’s also inadvisable to park your car in an abandoned location, and then wait underneath the chassis with a crowbar in the hopes that you’ll catch a catalytic converter thief in the act. 

How will I know if my catalytic converter has been stolen?

You won’t have to get down under your car to check! If you are the victim of a catalytic converter theft, you are likely to notice as soon as you turn on your car. It will make a loud roaring sound, even louder than if you had a muffler fall off. At Lemonade, we call this “the Howling Curse of the Nabbed Catalytic.” 

Does car insurance cover catalytic converter theft?

It depends. If you only have liability coverage, or liability and collision, your policy won’t cover the theft of your catalytic converter. 

However, if you have comprehensive insurance coverage, the theft of a catalytic converter will be covered by your policy. But keep in mind that even when catalytic converter theft is covered by your policy you’ll need to pay your deductible. 

If you suspect that your catalytic converter has been stolen, start by contacting the police to report the theft, then contact your insurance company and file a claim. If you have comprehensive coverage on your policy, the loss will likely be covered. Try not to drive your car until you speak with a qualified repair shop. They may advise you to drive it to the repair facility, or may suggest the vehicle be towed.

Are there any good movies about catalytic converters?

Glad you asked! There’s only one film we can think of whose dramatic plot involves catalytic converter technology. It’s called No Sudden Move, by Steven Soderbergh, and you should watch it right away (well, not while you’re driving). 

Catalytic Converter Theft
Please Note: These definitions don’t alter the terms, conditions, exclusions, or limitations of policies issued by Lemonade. They are intended for educational purposes only - they’re not meant to be used in lieu of professional legal or financial advice. We’ll do our best to keep them updated, but they may not always reflect current industry developments. Feel free to use the terms with attribution (friends don’t let friends plagiarize!)
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