www.Registercitizen.com, Nicole Funaro, November 5, 2021
Catalytic converters are being stolen off cars around the country and in Connecticut. But what is a catalytic converter? And what makes them such a sought-after item?
From where they are stolen and how to protect your car from being targeted, here’s what you need to know about catalytic converter theft.
What is a catalytic converter?
According to Farmers Insurance, a catalytic converter is a filter bolted to the underside of gas-powered cars. It's part of the car's exhaust system that reduces harmful emissions.
How do I know if my catalytic converter was stolen?
Allstate Insurance notes that starting the engine of a car will often indicate whether the converter is missing. If it is missing, the car “will make a loud roaring sound that will get louder as you push the gas pedal,” according to information Allstate attributes to The Spruce. The car could also “make a sputtering sound as you change speed” or not drive smoothly, Allstate notes.
Why are catalytic converters stolen?
According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau president David Glawe, the motivation to steal these car parts — which has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic — might be connected to supply and demand.
“As the value of the precious metals contained within the catalytic converters continues to increase, so do the number of thefts of these devices,” he said in a statement. “There is a clear connection between times of crisis, limited resources, and disruption of the supply chain that drives investors towards these precious metals.”
Farmers Insurance notes that the metals contained in catalytic converters are “more precious than gold,” making them especially desirable by thieves.
Where are they typically stolen?
According to NICB, catalytic converters tend to be stolen from anywhere cars are parked.
“We’ve seen them stolen from fleet yards where there are a lot of vehicles in one spot and thieves can steal many in very short order,” according to a statement provided by NICB to Hearst Connecticut in an email. “We’ve seen them stolen from in front of homes, right from the driveway and even just cars parked on the street.”
Where have catalytic converters been stolen in Connecticut?
Individuals and organizations have reported thefts of catalytic converters across the state over the past year, including:
• a Greenwich nonprofit organization that provides rides to community residents
• Norwalk's senior center
• two cars parked outside a Newtown business
• a fleet of school buses in Middletown
• a commercial area of a Stamford neighborhood
• a Fairfield parking lot
• a swimming pool company in Stafford
Are certain types of vehicles targeted more often than others?
According to NICB, converters tend to be stolen from larger vehicles, such as pickup trucks or delivery vehicles, due to their higher clearance and easier access to the underside of the car. Additionally, the Toyota Prius tends to be a “major target” of catalytic converter theft, NICB notes, since they “contain two catalytic converters as well as the fact that as a hybrid, these converters tend to see less wear (corrosion) than those of other vehicles with equal miles, and therefore more valuable to thieves.”
Farmers Insurance also notes that SUVs can be targeted because of their higher clearance; all-electric cars do not have catalytic converters and are considered safe from this type of theft.
How much does it typically cost to replace a catalytic converter?
According to auto parts retailer Auto Zone, direct-fit replacement converters can cost between $300 and $2,500 for the cost of the part, depending on the model necessary for the car. Labor costs can also range from $70 to $130 per hour to install the part.
What metals are in catalytic converters that make them a target for theft?
Information provided by the National Insurance Crime Bureau lists platinum, palladium and rhodium as the three valuable metals used in catalytic converters. These metals also come with high price tags per ounce. Rates available on KITCO.com, an online retailer of precious metals, showed that prices for rhodium had a 2021 high between March 19 and March 22 with a rate of $27,000 per ounce, according to NICB.
In the first week of November, KITCO.com showed rhodium prices at $13,250 per ounce, according to NICB, while palladium was $1,934 per ounce and platinum was $1,028 per ounce. Palladium reached its 2021 peak price on May 6 at $2,890 per ounce, according to NICB, while platinum’s 2021 peak came on Feb. 19, totaling $1,266 per ounce, prices on KITCO.com showed.
Is catalytic converter theft on the rise?
According to a report by NICB, data does show an increasing trend toward stealing the car parts nationwide.
“In 2018, there were 1,298 catalytic converter thefts reported. In 2019, it was 3,389 reported thefts,” the report notes. “In 2020, reported catalytic converter thefts jumped massively to 14,433, with December leading the way with 2,347 thefts, or roughly 16 percent of the yearly total – in just one month.”
However, the report provided a snapshot of the national trend based on claims data, not a number of total thefts, according to information provided by NICB to Hearst Connecticut Media.
“The reason for this is in our look at thefts, we realize that the reported thefts — in other words, thefts for which an insurance claim was filed — would be significantly underreported, and they are underreported,” NICB information states in clarifying that the report does not show the total number of catalytic converter thefts.
Why is there not a total number of catalytic converter thefts available?
While auto insurance does cover the replacement of stolen catalytic converters, NICB states that there are some caveats. Liability insurance — which covers damage to another car in an accident caused by the policy holder — is mandatory in all states, but collision coverage (for damages in an accident) or comprehensive coverage (for theft or damage not caused by an accident) is not required, according to NICB. This means those driving older cars, for example, may not opt for comprehensive coverage, NICB notes, while those leasing cars or with car loans might have comprehensive coverage.
But even if they did have coverage for stolen converters, a driver’s deductible then comes into play.
“If the deductible was $1,500, and the cost to repair was less than the deductible, there would be no coverage,” according to NICB. “Even if slightly above, the victim may decide it isn’t worth filing a claim to recoup $100 to $200 or so. Lastly, some victims even with coverage may treat the problem as a mechanical issue and just pay for it themselves and never notified their insurer.”
How can I protect my car from catalytic converter theft?
According to Farmers Insurance, there are three ways to protect a vehicle from converter theft:
• Etch the license plate number on the converter to make the part easily identifiable to police.
• Park in well-lit areas and set a vehicle alarm. Adding bright motion-sensor lights to outdoor areas where possible can help deter thieves, as well.
• Install an anti-theft metal shield to the car frame to cover the catalytic converter.
NICB also notes that any fleet vehicles — such as those belonging to a rental car company — should be parked in an enclosed and secure area that is locked, well-lit and alarmed.
What do I do if my catalytic converter was stolen?
NICB recommends notifying local police and contacting your car insurance company to report the catalytic converter theft. Article