Catalytic Converter Theft Is Skyrocketing

Written By: Jerry Reynolds | Mar 24, 2021 1:00:00 AM

Pile of catalytic converters
Photo Credit: Fru-fru/

This happened to dear friends of mine. Their Tundra was sitting right in front of their business in broad daylight when the catalytic converter was stolen. Our DFW Toyota dealer, Freeman Toyota, had four Tundra catalytic converters stolen one night recently right under the nose of a security guard.

Catalytic Converter Thefts Are Up Nationwide

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), catalytic converter thefts have seen a significant increase across the country since March of 2020, the start of the global pandemic.

"Vehicle thefts, carjackings, and break-ins are all crimes we've witnessed trending upward for several months, and now catalytic converter thefts are also on the rise," said David Glawe, President and CEO of NICB. "We have seen a significant increase during the pandemic. It's an opportunistic crime. 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."

Thefts are an issue around the country, including LA as well as the Houston area. Just check out these recent tweets from the Harris County Sheriff (below) and Houston Police Department (right.)


Why Thieves Are Targeting Them

A catalytic converter is a device that looks like a small muffler along with the exhaust system. It is designed to convert the environmentally hazardous exhaust emitted by an engine into less harmful gasses. To do this, manufacturers use platinum, palladium, or rhodium. In recent years, the values of these precious metals have increased significantly. As of December 2020, rhodium was valued at $14,500 per ounce, palladium at $2,336 per ounce, and platinum going for $1,061 per ounce. Typically, recyclers will pay $50 to $250 per catalytic converter.

Roadshow by CNET has a terrific video explaining all this and more.


Thefts By Month

According to NICB's Operations, Intelligence and Analytics study of reported thefts, there were 108 catalytic converter thefts per month on average in 2018, 282 average monthly thefts in 2019, and 1,203 average thefts per month in 2020. During this time period, the top five states for catalytic converter thefts were California, Texas, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Illinois. In 2020, there was a continual climb in thefts. January had the fewest number of thefts at 652, but it continued to climb markedly throughout the year, with December having 2,347 thefts.

Catalytic Converter Thefts by Month

The NICB reports that as of the end of February 2021, 18 states - Arkansas, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia - are evaluating potential legislative actions to curb the theft problem.

"Removing a catalytic converter takes only minutes using some basic, readily-available, battery-operated tools from a local hardware store," added Glawe. "And for the vehicle owner, it's costly due to the loss of work, finding and paying for alternate transportation and then paying anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 to get your vehicle fixed."

What Car Owners Can Do

Some law enforcement agencies are offering free etching where you can have your license plate number or VIN etched on the converter that could potentially thwart thieves efforts or help return the converter to their rightful owner. CBS 11 in Dallas reports that Duncanville police will hold a "Operation Etch and Catch" March 27th from 9-12am. Read the details here.

The NICB further recommends these tips to vehicle owners:

  • Install a catalytic converter anti-theft device. These are available from various manufacturers and can provide a level of security from theft.
  • Park fleet vehicles in an enclosed and secured area that is well lit, locked, and alarmed.
  • Park personal vehicles in a garage. If not possible and vehicles must be parked in a driveway, consider installing motion sensor security lights. While lights may not provide complete security, it may make some thieves think twice, making them leave the area and your vehicle untouched.
  • Call local law enforcement and your insurer should you become the victim of a catalytic converter theft.

In some cases, the NICB says this theft is covered by insurance. The optional comprehensive portion of your insurance policy, the portion that covers damage caused to your vehicle not caused by accident, covers this kind of loss. However, the owner will be responsible for paying the deductible. If your deductible is $1,000 and the cost to repair the damage costs $1,000 or maybe a few hundred dollars more, drivers may not opt to file a claim. The NICB advises drivers to contact their insurer to report the theft and determine the best course of action.