A valuable car part you’ve likely never thought about

Un voleur tente d’entrer dans une voiture en ouvrant la portière du conducteur

If you had to take a moment to guess what item of your vehicle is among the most prone to theft what would that be? Would you guess the entertainment system? Air bags? The wheels?

Though those items have been popular targets for theft throughout the years, none come close to the current hot item stolen from many vehicles across Canada: the catalytic converter.

What is a catalytic converter?

The catalytic converter is a small cylindrical device that’s an important part of the exhaust system of gas-powered vehicles. It’s located under the vehicle between the engine and the muffler.

This catalytic converter is responsible for converting dangerous exhaust gases such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide from engine combustion into something less noxious before it flows out through the muffler. Catalytic converters have been included in vehicles since the 1970s to help reduce transportation emissions.

A catalytic converter performs this chemical reaction by having the exhaust gases react with certain materials. What makes this important part of your vehicle attractive to thieves is these materials are among the most valuable on Earth.

Rhodium, for example, is one of the world’s rarest elements which, as a result, has a price of more than $500 per gram (or more than $225,000 per pound). Catalytic converters can also contain other valuable materials, such as platinum and palladium.

Small amounts, but big enough for theft

Of course, a single catalytic converter contains only very small amounts of these precious metals, but there is enough to make them a big target. Some police departments say thieves can get about $200 for each stolen unit.

Prices have also increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, making theft of these items more lucrative and attractive. The Ontario Provincial Police issued a warning in the spring of 2021 about a “dramatic increase” in such incidents.

The bad news for vehicle owners is that a catalytic converter is relatively easy to steal since it’s not locked inside your vehicle. A thief equipped with a saw or other cutting tool simply crawls under the vehicle and detaches the exposed part within five to 10 minutes.

RCMP in British Columbia arrested a man in August 2021 after he rode off on a bicycle carrying a stolen catalytic converter.

The higher your vehicle is off the ground, the easier it is to crawl under, which makes SUVs, vans, and pickup trucks, as well as other large trucks, attractive targets.

What happens without a catalytic converter

An owner may not notice that something is missing from their vehicle until starting the engine, which will then sound very loud. Because the exhaust system is now missing an important component, the exhaust gases aren’t treated, and the muffler is no longer connected. Replacing a catalytic converter can cost up to $2,000.

Tips to prevent catalytic converter theft

The RCMP offers several tips:

  • Install good lighting and functional security cameras where you normally park your vehicle. Learn more about these kinds of systems here
  • Park overnight in a locked garage, secure parking area or somewhere well-lit in view of security cameras
  • Call 911 if you see suspicious activity and think a theft or other crime is in progress
  • Report any theft (or attempted theft) to police as soon as possible

Besides taking care in where you park your vehicle, there are other tips to help you deter catalytic converter theft:

  • Engrave the catalytic converter with your vehicle identification number (VIN), which makes it easier to identify as stolen property. Some Canadian municipalities or police departments have started holding special events where they provide this service for free or attach a special identification sticker and engrave a QR code on the converter using a special fluid. Watch for such an activity in your community or urge local officials to hold one
  • Have the converter welded to your vehicle, making removal more difficult
  • Purchase a special clamp or cage to make removal more difficult
  • Purchase a car alarm that is sensitive to the vibration caused by attempts to saw off the catalytic converter

While ensuring your vehicle is as protected as possible against the theft of the catalytic converter, don’t forget about protecting it from vehicle theft overall. To learn more, see important tips here.

Also speak with your insurance professional to make sure you have the right type of coverage against damage or theft. Contact your Allstate agency or find one here.

Previously published November 2021

Disclaimer: This information has been provided for your convenience only and should not be construed as providing legal or insurance advice.