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Thieves want your catalytic converter

Penny Gusner

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CarInsurance.com

Catalytic converter theftsYou probably won’t even realize anything is wrong until your car sounds funny and warning lights erupt on the dashboard.

Police across the country are reporting increased thefts of catalytic converters -- devices that remove some noxious gases from your car’s exhaust. (Here are recent incidents from Detroit, Boston and Sacramento, Calif.)

Insurers often report increases in claims for catalytic when times are tough. The scrap value of the precious metals of platinum, palladium and rhodium in your car’s catalytic converter is just too tempting for some people to pass up, especially when the crime takes only seconds and is relatively low risk.

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Thieves don’t have to break into your car; instead, they can slide under your car (high-riding SUVs are the preferred targets), make a couple of cuts with a saw and be gone in minutes. While the thief may get $100 to $200 for your stolen catalytic converter, a new one can cost you as much as $1,000 -- and many cars have more than one. If the thieves have damaged sensors or other parts of the car in their haste, repair costs can mount quickly.

You’re covered for catalytic converter theft, but only if you have comprehensive coverage on your car. Even if you do, you may not want to file a claim.

When to claim it -- and when not to

Why wouldn’t you want to claim the damage if you have comprehensive coverage -- the portion of your policy that pays for incidents such as theft and vandalism?

  • First, it’s likely that the cost of a single converter would be met or nearly met by your deductible amount, which typically is $500 to $1,000.
  • Second, using your insurer for the repairs may mean your car won’t receive original-equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts. Most states allow auto insurers to use aftermarket parts that are of like kind and quality when compared to OEM parts. You don’t have to accept aftermarket parts, but if you insist on OEM parts, your insurer may insist you pay the difference in cost. We found OEM catalytic converters for a 2006 Civic, for example, at prices as high as $478. Aftermarket, they were as cheap as $67.  
  • Third, even though a single comprehensive claim usually won’t increase your rates, multiple claims in a short period of time could do so. If you end up making another claim or two within a short period of time, your insurance company is going to look at you as a bigger risk.  (See “Does a comprehensive claim increase your premium?”)

Insurance is for the big things, not the little ones. But if thieves have taken multiple catalytic converters from your car, or caused other damage in the process, the bills might merit a claim.

Then why bother with comprehensive insurance?

Maybe you shouldn’t. While comprehensive is generally the cheapest portion of a “full coverage” auto insurance policy (liability, collision and comprehensive), you usually can’t buy it without purchasing collision as well.

We ran quotes for a 35-year-old single male in Houston driving that 2006 Honda Civic, with state-mandated minimum liability coverage of 30/60/25. The lowest rate we could find was $476 a year. Adding comprehensive and collision, the cheapest quote rose to $908 -- but comprehensive was just $106 of that amount.

These extra coverages aren’t for everyone. If your car is worth only a few thousand dollars, or you don’t care if it’s damaged or totaled, then you don’t need to carry physical damage coverages on it. Otherwise, there is no harm in at least pricing out a policy that includes these coverages (and pays out if your car is stolen, burned, flooded or vandalized).

Until then, maybe it’s time to start parking in the garage. (Which, by the way, doesn’t cut your rates one red cent. See “Does a garage cut your car insurance?”)

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