If it sounds like your car’s muffler is missing when you start it, chances are you’ve had your catalytic converter stolen. Catalytic converter thefts have seen a sharp spike — as many as 153,000 in 2022 per Carfax — as thieves make quick cash from the precious metals within the converters.
The catalytic converter — an emissions control solution established by the National Emissions Standards Act — helps lower the toxic pollutants released by your car’s exhaust as it converts gases into water vapor and carbon dioxide.
Find out what vehicles thieves tend to target, how to protect your vehicle and what to do if your converter is stolen.
- The most targeted vehicles for catalytic converter theft are Ford F-series trucks, Honda Accords and Toyota Priuses.
- Catalytic converter thieves seek the platinum, palladium and rhodium in the converter, which can net $50 to $250 each through a recycler.
- Comprehensive insurance will typically cover some of the costs of replacing a stolen catalytic converter.
What is a catalytic converter and why are they being stolen?
When you look under your vehicle, you’ll likely see a metal box connected to two pipes, one in the front and one in the back. This is your catalytic converter — an essential component of your vehicle’s exhaust system. Its primary purpose is to take your engine’s gases and convert them into safe gases through a catalyst chemical process. These are emitted through your tailpipe.
While this box may not look that valuable, what it’s made out of is. Thieves are after the precious metals inside — platinum, palladium and rhodium. Once sold, these metals are removed and melted down, turning a high cash profit.
Catalytic converters are easy to remove quickly with power tools and are difficult to track. This makes locating converters and identifying thieves challenging for authorities.
How much are catalytic converters worth?
It’s no secret that platinum is an expensive metal. Recently, it was trading for about $971 per ounce. However, rhodium and palladium are pricier, trading at about $1,271 per ounce and $4,200 per ounce, respectively. During the height of the pandemic, rhodium was trading for about $29,000 per ounce, palladium at about $2,963 per ounce, and platinum at about $1,289 per ounce.
Typically, there are three to seven grams of platinum in a standard converter, two to seven grams of palladium and one to two grams of rhodium, according to UTI, the Universal Technical Institute.
On average, a recycler pays between $50 to $250 for a typical catalytic converter and $800 to $1,500 for a hybrid converter. Hybrid vehicles generally have higher emission control standards and use more precious metals in their converters.
Which cars are being targeted by catalytic converter theft?
There are specific makes and models targeted for catalytic converter theft. Namely, those that are easy to access and those with pricier converters. Catalytic converters were added to cars in 1975, so vehicles made before 1975 are not a theft risk. Electric cars also don’t have converters since they don’t produce emissions, and diesel engine converters don’t contain precious metals.
The top 10 most targeted vehicles for catalytic converter theft
According to a recent Carfax report, the most targeted cars ranged from trucks and SUVs to hybrids, sedans and CR-Vs. Some cars provide easier access for thieves to remove the converter and others have higher selling profits.
Vehicle theft rankings in 2022 with rank changes from 2021
- Ford F-Series Truck: No change
- Honda Accord: No change
- Toyota Prius: +4 increase
- Honda CR-V: +2 increase
- Ford Explorer: +9 increase
- Ford Econoline: -2 decrease
- Chevrolet Equinox: +1 increase
- Chevrolet Silverado: -3 decrease
- Toyota Tacoma: +15 increase
- Chevrolet Cruze: +5 increase
The vehicles that were most frequently stolen from 2021 to 22 are the Ford F-Series truck, Honda Accord and Toyota Prius. The Toyota Tacoma and Ford Explorer SUV saw a significant theft increase from 2021-22, up 15 and nine points, respectively.
The Ford Econoline and Chevrolet Silverado saw dips in their numbers between 2021-22 by two and three points, respectively.
How do you prevent catalytic converter theft?
You can take several steps to ensure your vehicle’s catalytic converter remains fully attached. Some are simple, and others may require you to secure your converter to your car. Awareness and preparation can help keep your vehicle safe.
- Park in well-lit areas, garages and driveways, and avoid dark streets and alleys
- Install motion-sensor lights around your driveway
- Weld or bolt your catalytic converter to your vehicle frame
- Attach an aftermarket metal cage to cover the converter
- Install a car alarm with a vibration alert sensor to alert you to potential theft
- Engrave your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on the converter to identify it if removed
What to do if your catalytic converter is stolen
Replacing your catalytic converter can cost between $500 to $3,000, which may be covered through your comprehensive car insurance coverage policy after your deductible.
“Comprehensive coverage helps pay to replace or repair your vehicle from fire, theft or larceny, windstorm, falling objects, earthquakes and similar causes other than collision,” says Haibo (Stephen) Yao, assistant professor of Insurance & Risk Management at the University of Central Arkansas’ College of Business. “Catalytic converter theft is typically covered by your comprehensive coverage to replace the stolen catalytic converter and repair any related damage from its removal.”
You must act quickly after your catalytic converter has been stolen — confirmed by a loud roar when you start your car or press on the gas, the smell of exhaust, warning indicator lights within your vehicle’s dashboard and looking under your vehicle and seeing the converter is missing.
Driving without a catalytic converter can damage your vehicle, so don’t drive anywhere. Instead, follow these steps:
- Contact your local police department: They’ll instruct you on how to file a report and may have access to pulling video footage from the area your converter was stolen from to identify the thieves.
- Call your insurance company: Some insurance companies will cover a catalytic converter replacement. You need to discuss your options and policy coverages with your insurer, and they may need additional documentation for the claim, such as a police report.
- Repair your vehicle: Once you’ve determined what coverage you have available, tow your car to your mechanic. They can begin the repair process and provide you with additional security measures for the future, such as adding a cage cover or bolts.
Yao says installing a new catalytic converter usually takes about an hour, but repairing any related damage from its removal takes more time.
“The whole time taken in a repair shop depends on a key factor … the supply chain. With catalytic converters in high demand and short supply, it could take more time for the repair shop to order and get one,” he says.
Final thoughts: Catalytic converter theft
Being proactive and aware are your best defenses for keeping your vehicle safe. If you own a car that is often targeted, preventive action may help ensure your catalytic converter isn’t stolen. If it is, your insurance coverage will help with the replacement costs.
Contact your insurer to discuss your policy and protections, call your local mechanic to learn more about the options available for your vehicle and check with your local police department to see if they have resources or programs available to the public.
Resources & Methodology
- BullionVault. “Platinum and palladium price chart.” Accessed August 2023.
- Carfax. “Catalytic converter theft: 10 most targeted vehicles.” Accessed August 2023.
- Chapel Hill Tire. “Catalytic converter theft: Everything you need to know.” Accessed August 2023.
- JD Power. “Which cars are least likely to have catalytic converters stolen?” Accessed August 2023.
- Money Metals. “Rhodium prices: Check live and historical rhodium spot prices.” Accessed August 2023.
- Universal Technical Institute. “What is a catalytic converter and what does it do?” Accessed August 2023.