Why do people steal catalytic converters?

(KRON) — It is not uncommon to read headlines about catalytic converter theft. This week, police found at least 300 stolen catalytic converters at a local business in Fremont. Pacifica and San Mateo have also seen catalytic converter thefts since the beginning of August.

Catalytic converter theft has grown much more common over the past few years. In 2018, there were 1,298 reported thefts nationwide, according to data collected by the National Insurance Crime Bureau. By 2020, this number grew to 14,433.

But what exactly is a catalytic converter, and why are they so commonly stolen?

What is a catalytic converter?

A catalytic converter is a device installed in the exhaust system of a car between the engine and the muffler.

Used to decrease the amount of harmful pollutants released into the atmosphere by engine exhaust, a catalytic converter is composed of three precious metals. These metals help in the reaction that converts hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide into less harmful water vapor, nitrogen and carbon dioxide.

The converter is placed close to the car’s engine for the heat necessary for the conversion, and some cars require the use of multiple converters. Catalytic converters have been commonly used in most car engines since the 1970s.

Why are catalytic converters stolen?

The three precious metals that are commonly used in catalytic converters — platinum, palladium and rhodium — sell for high prices, making them an appealing target for theft.

Platinum sold for about $1,100 per ounce in 2021, and palladium sold for nearly $2,400 per ounce in 2021, according to cars.com. Rhodium could sell for an average of $18,000 per ounce in 2021, at one point during the year selling for as much as $26,000.

When a catalytic converter is stolen, these precious metals can be recovered and sold. There are some companies that will purchase converters and pay anywhere from $140 to $1,500.

Converters are also easy for many thieves to steal, with an experienced thief often able to remove a converter within minutes with the help of tools from the hardware store, according to Allstate.

Newer and more advanced models of converters, such as those in hybrid cars, are highly targeted because they contain more precious metals. Thieves may also be more likely to target taller cars that are easier to get underneath.

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How can you protect against catalytic converter theft?

Though catalytic converter theft is increasingly common, there are ways to protect your vehicle as recommended by Allstate, NICB and American Family Insurance.

  • Park in well-lit areas, in a closed parking garage or in a secured lot.
  • Install anti-theft devices on your catalytic converter such as a steel shield or locking device.
  • Weld your converter to the car.
  • Install a motion sensor light in your driveway to deter thieves. If possible, park in your garage.
  • Install a camera facing your car to visually deter thieves, and to help in identification if your converter is stolen.
  • Etch your VIN or license plate number on your converter to indicate to potential buyers that it is stolen.
  • Paint your catalytic converter.
  • Ensure that you always lock your vehicle and set the alarm.
  • Regularly move your car.
  • Opt for insurance that covers catalytic converter theft.