Why your car may be a magnet for thieves

Catalytic converters have been fitted to cars since about the mid-1970s to reduce emissions. They convert pollutants such as nitrogen oxides into less harmful emissions.

The problem is, inside the casing (that looks like a small muffler) is a ceramic structure coated in precious metals such as platinum, palladium and rhodium. It is these valuable metals that are attracting the attention of thieves. The price of rhodium has skyrocketed, most recently sitting at about $470 per gram. Platinum is worth more than $40 per gram and palladium nearly $90 per gram.

The problem is especially prevalent in the US. Seattle in Washington State reports an average of six catalytic converter thefts every day. Tulsa Oklahoma last year discovered that its five blood drive vans had been attacked.

The US National Insurance Crime Bureau reports a nearly tenfold increase in thefts since 2018, with more than 14,000 converters being removed in 2020.

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For the unfortunate victims, replacement is an expensive exercise. Expect to pay anywhere from $300 to $3000 depending on the make and model of your vehicle. Typically, replacement is around $1500, with most of that being for the catalytic converter itself.

What vehicles are targeted?
Thieves in the US are targeting the Toyota Prius, trucks and SUVs.

Prius vehicles older than 2009 are the prime target because their catalytic converters contain more precious metals. Small trucks and SUVs are targets for a completely different reason: their high ground clearance makes it easy for thieves to slide under a vehicle and not have to jack up the vehicle to get access.

Signs your catalytic converter has been stolen
Oh, you’ll know!

With the converter removed, your exhaust system dumps straight into the open air, before the exhaust gases have passed through any mufflers or resonators. The noise will be horrendous.

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Second, the engine light on your dash will probably illuminate. If the converter is missing, the O2 sensors have probably done with it, or they won’t be able to read the emissions, so the ‘check engine’ light comes on.

Take a quick look underneath the vehicle and if the converter has been removed, the missing section of your exhaust should be immediately obvious.

What to do to avoid becoming a victim
The first and most obvious thing is to park somewhere secure.

If you can’t park in a locked garage or secure parking area, park somewhere well lit.

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If your vehicle is parked in a driveway with street access, or on the street itself, consider installing motion-sending exterior lighting and security cameras visible from the street.

Finally, you could install a catalytic converter security device. It’s an extreme measure, but these plates and cables are a visual deterrent to thieves who will probably look for easier pickings elsewhere.

This article first appeared on seniordriveraus.com and is reproduced with permission.

Were you familiar with catalytic converters? Did you know that the minerals in them were so valuable? Why not share your experience in the comments section below?

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Written by Paul Murrell