Over the past few years, catalytic converter theft has become a growing issue among drivers of all kinds. No matter where you live or what you drive, there's always a chance some clown with a battery-powered Sawzall might sneak up and hack your cat out when your back is turned. This not only compromises your vehicle's street-legal emissions status, but also causes a terrible exhaust sound, poor performance, and expensive repairs. We did some research in an effort to locate trends within this recent rash of crimes. Read on and see if your location, vehicle, or some other factor might make you more susceptible to catalytic theft.
Catalytic converters are sought by thieves because they contain small amounts of the precious materials platinum, rhodium, and palladium. In recent years the price of these metals has shot up significantly. The current prices on this chart look mighty tempting, but keep in mind there are such tiny amounts of these metals in catalytics that they sell to scrap yards for only $40-200 each.
Depending on the vehicle, your converter may be either bolted or welded to your exhaust system. Thieves are usually equipped with a reciprocating saw, though sometimes a wrench will do. An experienced thief can get under an automobile, cut out or unbolt its converter, and take off undetected in under 3 minutes with little effort. Some thieves are so good that they can do this in public areas, and in broad daylight!
Repair and Replacement
Crooks may get just a few $20 bills for your converter, but the cost to you will be much greater. Certain converters retail for several hundred dollars, and that's before factoring in labor costs for installation. Furthermore, if your converter was cut out with a saw, additional fabrication and repair will be necessary on the rest of your exhaust. Throw in potential damage to sensitive sensors and brackets during the theft process, and costs continue to climb. Add it all up, and at the end of the day a stolen catalytic converter might cost you over $1,000 to replace, and in some cases more than twice that.
The charts below are based on sales of CatClamps, catalytic converter locks that secure the converter to your vehicle and deter theft, over 2012. We utilized our own sales stats, as well as data provided by the fine folks at CatClamp, to find these figures. Admittedly, these are not actual crime figures, but most customers buy these locks either in response to their converters getting stolen or a rash of thefts in the surrounding area.
Over a quarter of CatClamps' products end up on one vehicle: the Honda Element. In fact, they sell 67.5% more of these for Elements than for those tied at #2 on the list, Toyota's 4Runner and Tacoma. All three of these top vehicles have pretty high ground clearance, making it especially easy for a thief to crawl underneath them and get to work. Statistics from 2012 show that if your vehicle sits high off the ground, there's no question it's an easier target for converter thieves.
Take this graph with the one above it, and it's clear that owners of Honda Elements living in Chicago should look out! Four of the top ten cities are in central California, though, and another three are warm weather metropolises, validating the theory that warm weather increases incidents of catalytic converter theft. This theory does not hold for Indianapolis, Omaha, or Chicago, of course, but 7 out of 10 suggests a pattern worth considering.
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This is a more general map, showing the percentages of CatClamp sales in certain metropolitan regions across the country. While Chicago dominated the previous chart, this one spells out pretty clearly that the coast of California (in particular the central corridor of San Francisco/Oakland/Sacramento) is worse overall. Converter theft is not a scourge of large cities on the East Coast, though, as places like New York City, Washington, D.C., Boston, and Philadelphia don't show much activity on this front.
Plotting the dates of our CatClamp sales over 2012 shows a pretty predictable trend, with more clamps sold during summer months and a relative dip over the winter and early spring. It seems logical that thieves do much of their work when it's nice outside, just like we've seen with warm-climate cities. As for the relatively high number in January, we're not quite sure what might cause that. Perhaps folks get desperate when their post-holiday credit card bills come in the mail?
Based on your location and what kind of vehicle you drive, you may run a high risk of getting your converter ripped off (look out, Element owners in Chicago!). That said, here's some info from Pro Vigil on how you can deter criminals from making an attempt on yours:
- Have your license plate and/or VIN etched into the shell of the converter. This makes it easy for folks at the scrap/recycling yard to track where it came from and know whether or not it's been stolen, so if the thief knows what's good for him he'll skip your vehicle.
- Invest in a CatClamp Catalytic Lock. These devices act as a locking cage that wraps around your catalytic, preventing it from getting cut out of your exhaust system.
- Spray paint your converter with brightly-colored, high-temperature paint. Many recycling yards refuse to buy marked parts from individuals, so a bright orange catalytic can also aid in telling criminals to move on. It's under your vehicle, after all, so doing so shouldn't affect your exterior appearance.
- Keep your community in the know if you or someone you know experiences a theft. By talking with your neighbors, posting flyers, or even sharing info on online message boards, you can help your whole community be more informed and on the lookout.
Have you been the victim of catalytic converter theft, or has there been a rash of thefts in your area? Or maybe you've taken some other theft-deterring steps that we didn't mention? If so, tell us about it in the comments section below. We want your insights and stories!
This page was written by Packy AutoAccessoriesGarage