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Catalytic converters: Which vehicles are most at-risk for theft?

Reports of theft have only increased amid the pandemic. Is your car a target? (Getty Images)

(NEXSTAR) – Should you be worried about thieves stealing your car’s catalytic converter? The answer may depend on what kind of car you’re driving.

Catalytic converters, which help scrub pollutants from your engine’s exhaust, have become more and more attractive to thieves in recent years. Thanks to the increasing prices of the precious metals used in the production — i.e, platinum, rhodium and palladium — an ill-gotten catalytic converter can “typically” fetch between $50 and $250 when sold to an unscrupulous recycling facility, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).

The pandemic has only driven up demand and prices of these precious metals. Rhodium, alone, is currently valued at over $16,000 per ounce.

“We have seen a significant increase during the pandemic,” explained David Glawe, the president and CEO of the NICB, in a previous statement shared with Nexstar. “As the value of the precious metals contained within the catalytic converters continues to increase, so do the number of thefts of these devices.”

“There is a clear connection between times of crisis, limited resources, and disruption of the supply chain that drives investors towards these precious metals,” Glawe added.

In 2018, for instance, there were 108 catalytic converter thefts reported per month, on average, according to a study from the NICB. But in 2020, the number of reported thefts increased from 652 cases per month in January (pre-pandemic) to 2,347 in the month of December.

The actual number of stolen catalytic converters is very likely to be significantly higher, the NICB noted, as many automobile owners choose not to report these thefts. For starters, many drivers don’t have comprehensive coverage plans that would cover such theft in the first place. And those who do have coverage may choose to pay out of pocket, seeing as the cost to replace or repair a converter could be less than a plan’s deductible.

Every vehicle on the road has a catalytic converter — they’ve been required as of 1975 — meaning every vehicle is also a potential target for thieves. Some cars, however, may be at increased risk simply because of how they’re built.

According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), vehicles that sit higher off the ground — or high-clearance vehicles — are common targets as they allow thieves easier access to converters. These types of vehicles include trucks, SUVs and vans, although buses and delivery vehicles are also at risk.

Hybrids — and Toyota Priuses in particular — are also a “major target” as their converters tend to be less worn than those of traditional automobiles, the NICB said. AAA also reported that Priuses carry more “hefty amounts” of precious metals than many other models.

AAA noted, however, that these types of theft are crimes of opportunity, above all else. It only takes minutes for a skilled criminal to remove a converter, and it’s not unheard of for thieves to target an unguarded bus or truck depot and abscond with an entire lot’s worth in just one night.

The best way to thwart theft, experts say, is to make your vehicle less desirable or more difficult to target. There are several different types of cages or clamps that can be installed by an experienced mechanic, but all vehicle owners should take basic precautions, too. Park your car in a locked garage, if you have access to one, or install cameras and motion-sensor lighting in the driveway, the NICB recommends.

If possible, AAA also suggests a process whereby the catalytic converter itself is etched with the vehicle’s VIN number, making it easier to trace and, in some cases, return.

It’s a bit of a hassle, maybe, but it sure beats the alternative.

“A new catalytic converter, to install, because the cost of those precious metals are up … are usually over $2,000 in the metropolitan areas where they’re sold,” Glawe said in 2021.


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