Which cars are most likely to have a catalytic converter stolen?

Which cars are most likely to have a catalytic converter stolen is a question of the value of the converter, as well as the ease of stealing it.

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Rachel Bodine graduated from college with a BA in English. She has since worked as a Feature Writer in the insurance industry and gained a deep knowledge of state and countrywide insurance laws and rates. Her research and writing focus on helping readers understand their insurance coverage and how to find savings. Her expert advice on insurance has been featured on sites like PhotoEnforced, All...

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Written by Rachel Bodine
Insurance Feature Writer Rachel Bodine

Leslie Kasperowicz holds a BA in Social Sciences from the University of Winnipeg. She spent several years as a Farmers Insurance CSR, gaining a solid understanding of insurance products including home, life, auto, and commercial and working directly with insurance customers to understand their needs. She has since used that knowledge in her more than ten years as a writer, largely in the insurance...

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Reviewed by Leslie Kasperowicz
Farmers CSR for 4 Years Leslie Kasperowicz

UPDATED: Jun 6, 2022

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What You Should Know

  • Catalytic converters are a key component of your car’s exhaust system 
  • Catalytic converters contain rare earth metals and thieves are able to sell them for hundreds of dollars
  • Low emission vehicles and Trucks/SUV’s are more at risk for a stolen catalytic converter

Have you heard about a rising number of catalytic converter thefts in your area? Unfortunately, the trend is all too common in the U.S. Catalytic converters are valuable, and—compared to grand theft auto and other related crimes—they’re easy to steal. 

In fact, a well-practiced catalytic converter thief could nick one from a parked car in under five minutes without the owner even noticing. So why do people steal catalytic converters?

In this article, we’ll start with the basics of defining what a catalytic converter does in your car. Then, let’s break down why catalytic converter theft is so common and what you can do to protect yourself, including understanding auto insurance and how it covers catalytic converter theft.

Before you start, protect yourself from financial loss after catalytic converter theft with the right insurance. Enter your ZIP code above to compare quotes from top insurance companies for free.

What are catalytic converters?

Catalytic converters are a key component of your car’s exhaust system. Their purpose is to turn the dangerous pollutants that are produced in your car’s engine into benign compounds. The ultimate goal of this auto part is to decrease the environmental harm caused by vehicle emissions.

Catalytic converters turn harmful emissions, such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen gas, nitrogen oxides, and hydrocarbons, into compounds that are healthier for humans and the environment, such as carbon dioxide or water vapor. They use both physical and chemical filtration.

Because they’re so important for reducing harm to health and the environment, properly functioning catalytic converters are checked during government vehicle inspections. They’re also designed to last for years, so they usually will not spontaneously develop problems without some kind of tampering.

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Why are catalytic converters stolen?

There are various reasons why thieves would specifically target a car’s catalytic converter as opposed to other car parts.

  • Valuable metals – Catalytic converters contain rare earth metals, some of which are worth more than their weight in gold (literally). Palladium, rhodium, and platinum are all used to make these pricy parts. Thieves can sell catalytic converters to a metal scrap dealer for a few hundred dollars per part.
  • Ease of Access – Catalytic converters are relatively easy to reach underneath your car. All a thief needs to do is saw through the parts that connect it to your exhaust system. Then, after a few minutes, they can walk away with your catalytic converter with very limited effort. This is much simpler than stealing an entire car. With less risk, faster turnaround, and possibly a higher payout, stealing just the one part is the better choice.
  • Economic Turbulence – There are multiple ways an unstable economy can contribute to the problem. Higher unemployment generally leads to high crime rates and more people looking for quick cash. Further, more people out of work or working from home means more vehicles are sitting unattended for long periods.

These factors combined make a recipe for a tempting and easy crime.

Which cars are most likely to have a catalytic converter stolen?

Catalytic converters are a necessary part of every fuel-powered car that was manufactured after 1978. So, they aren’t exactly scarce. This means that the majority of the cars on the road are potentially at risk. However, some trends indicate what kinds of vehicles may have a greater risk. We’ve given a few examples of cars with catalytic converters that are more likely to be targeted. 

Low-Emissions Vehicles

Low-emission vehicles are designed to have highly effective filtration systems, meaning they have high-quality catalytic converters. Their catalytic converters will often have higher platinum, rhodium, and palladium levels than regular-emissions vehicles to improve functionality. The higher the concentration of these expensive precious metals, the higher the profit of a thief who sells to a scrap yard.

The car that experiences the most catalytic converter theft is the Toyota Prius, a very common low-emissions vehicle. A car owner of a Prius made in 2009 or earlier should be particularly wary, as the older models have a higher concentration of that precious metal than newer models. 

To further illustrate how valuable Prius catalytic converters are, let’s estimate the average catalytic converter price at around $50 to $200. A catalytic converter from a Prius would average about $400 to $500, at least doubling the profits.

Trucks and SUVs

In contrast to smaller cars like Priuses, thieves will also target taller vehicles like pickup trucks and SUVs. These vehicles have some of the easiest catalytic converters to steal. This is because these cars have more room for a person to crawl underneath without using a jack, making it easier to get in and out quickly.

Two Honda vehicles that are targeted are the Element and the CRV. These SUVs have high-value catalytic converters with the added benefit of a taller height.

Additionally, almost any pickup truck will face the same issues due to their elevated ground clearance.

Routinely Parked Cars

In addition to the physical build of the car, your behavior as a driver can impact your risk of theft.

If you regularly leave your car parked out in the open, it has a much higher chance of being tampered with. This is particularly true if you adhere to the same schedule every day, such as for work or school.

If you are particularly worried about catalytic converter theft, the most effective thing you can do as a driver is to develop good parking habits (detailed further below).

How do I tell if my catalytic converter has been tampered with?

If your catalytic converter has been tampered with or stolen, it’s important to remedy the issue as soon as possible. Although you technically can drive the vehicle without one, it’s not a good idea. Driving with a catalytic converter that isn’t properly functioning can have long-term consequences, the most severe being engine shutdown.

If you think your catalytic converter may be the culprit behind your car’s problems, watch out for both physical signs and differences in the way your car drives. The following are a few ways to tell that your catalytic converter may be damaged:

  • ‘Check Engine’ light appears on the dashboard
  • Plumes of black smoke from the exhaust pipe
  • Extremely loud noises, particularly when starting the engine or accelerating
  • Sudden drop in fuel efficiency
  • Difficulty getting the engine to start
  • Difficulty with acceleration 

Checking on your exhaust system as soon as you notice these symptoms ensures that your vehicle gets the replacement parts it needs before the problem worsens. Additionally, it can prevent you from facing future inconveniences (such as not passing inspection or, worse—engine failure!).

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How do I prevent my catalytic converter from being stolen?

To avoid falling victim to thieves scavenging for high-value parts, you can implement both behavioral and physical precautions, including:

  • Be careful where you park – Unprotected, parked cars are easy targets. If you have a garage at home, utilize it. A locked garage is ideal. Try to park in well-lit, publicly visible areas when you’re on the go. The more people there are, the harder it is for someone to mess with your car without anyone noticing. If you routinely park in the same public place, such as your workplace, check if they have security cameras. Try to park so that the cameras have a clear view of your car.
  • Install a protective device – If you’re willing to spend some money to prevent the issue, consider having a protective device installed. Shields and guards prevent easy access to the part. The downside to this solution is the price; one installation could cost hundreds of dollars and likely require the work of a professional.
  • Install an alarm – Vibration sensor alarms are another way to deter a thief who has set their sights on your vehicle. To steal your catalytic converter, they will have to saw through it. The vibrations from the sawing will set off the alarm. Some newer vehicles will come with these alarms preinstalled. As a bonus, anti-theft devices can lower insurance rates.
  • Engrave the VIN – Although it might not help you prevent theft, engraving your car’s vehicle identification number (VIN) onto the catalytic converter could help prevent it from being illegally sold. If you report the theft to the police, they’ll know how to locate a stolen car by its VIN. Then, it’s easier to track transactions involving that part and find the culprit.

Ultimately, it’s very difficult to prevent catalytic converter theft, but these actions are a step in the right direction. You can also protect yourself from the cost of theft by carrying the right insurance. Adding comprehensive coverage to your car insurance policy provides coverage for a stolen catalytic converter.

Catalytic Converter Theft: The Bottom Line

You should now have a better understanding of why catalytic converters are stolen and what you can do to avoid the issue. However, these precautions are not foolproof. There are a lot of inherent risks to owning a vehicle, and car theft is just one of them. 

Auto insurance can provide and buffer against these risks and protect you from unexpected losses. Comprehensive auto insurance covers the theft of a catalytic converter.

Get the coverage you need to protect yourself from catalytic converter theft. Compare quotes from top insurance companies when you enter your ZIP code below right now.

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