Hit by the Hot New Crime: Catalytic Converter Theft

Written on by Kathryn Lerro

Two weeks ago if I had seen someone’s legs sticking out from underneath a car, or if I’d heard the sound of a power saw coming from under a car, I’d have thought,

Gee, I guess this person has no other place to work on their car.

Then, one morning when my husband started our car to come home after work, he realized something was very wrong. The normally quiet engine was now VERY LOUD, and was not running smoothly.

It only took our mechanic a few seconds to diagnose the problem; he knew just what to look for. . . .

Our catalytic converter had been stolen.

It’s kind of funny that I worry about a million things which never end up happening, and then something happens which I didn’t know was even a possibility.

I had no idea that these devices could be sold to recyclers for several hundred dollars each because they contain valuable metals, like platinum, palladium, and rhodium. (Some, like that of a Toyota Prius, go for much more.)

Our mechanic told us these thefts have become a regular occurrence. He said one of his customers had her catalytic converter stolen from right in front of her house—twice!

He said another of his customers was shopping at Target, here in South Philly, in the afternoon, when hers was stolen. Target’s security cameras recorded the thief coming and going, but whether that helped the police make an arrest, he didn’t know.

Our SUV was a prime target because trucks and SUVs sit up high enough that their undersides can be accessed without use of a jack. 

An expensive lesson.

Right away I knew this crime was going to cost us $1000, because that was our insurance deductible. Because there’s a chance this could happen again, and because I do not want to pay another thousand dollars, I called my insurance company. I asked how much my premiums would go up if I lowered my deductible. I learned something about auto insurance I wish I’d known a long time ago.    

I learned that the comprehensive portion of my car insurance covers things that happen to the car when it is not in motion—including theft of parts. And I learned that comprehensive coverage costs much less than collision coverage. I learned that I could reduce my comprehensive deductible to zero for only about twelve additional dollars per month. And, of course, I did.

So, while I hope this doesn’t happen to our car again, if it does, all it will cost us is irritation.

Ways to protect your car:

  • Determine where your catalytic converter is. If yours is located under the hood, lucky you—it is unlikely to be stolen. If it is located under the chassis, where it is easy to access, consider installing a catalytic converter cage or lock. There are several varieties available and they are proving to be an effective deterrent to thieves. (If ours should be stolen again, we’ll definitely have a cage installed along with the new converter.)
  • Try to park in well-lit areas, close to building entrances.
  • When possible, park near obstacles, such as a curb or parking berm, making it harder for a thief to get under your car.
  • If you have a garage, park in it when you’re at home.
  • Calibrate your car alarm to activate when it senses vibration.

Several states are working on legislation which would make it illegal to possess a used catalytic converter without proof of ownership. Hopefully as laws like this go into effect, thefts will begin to decrease.

But in the meantime, if I see someone under a car—and especially if I hear the sound of a power saw coming from under a car—I’ll call the police.  And I’ll watch from a safe distance and try to take a photo of the thief, and possibly the license plate of the getaway car.


Photo by Bastian Pudill via Unsplash




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