What Is a Catalytic Converter and Why Are They Stolen?

A mechanic fixing a catalytic converter.

Flanges, calipers, flywheels, and spindles – are all parts and pieces within your car that you might not be familiar with. Even if you don’t understand what each vehicle component does, you can still protect your car from unexpected breakdowns and costly repairs. Following a routine maintenance schedule can help you avoid unplanned visits to a repair facility or certified mechanic, but protecting your vehicle’s vital components from theft is another story. 

One often misunderstood part of a vehicle also happens to be one of the most frequently stolen items: the catalytic converter.

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What Is a Catalytic Converter?

A vehicle’s catalytic converter is the canister in the exhaust system, usually located before the muffler, that converts toxic gases into less poisonous fumes to reduce harmful emissions. Simply put, a catalytic converter is a critical component in any vehicle’s emissions system and can be found anywhere on a vehicle between its engine and muffler.

As a part of the emissions system, the converter helps to reduce the number of pollutants produced by combustion engines, such as hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxide. To do this, your car’s catalytic converter uses a chemical process using a “catalyst” to “convert” those harmful emissions into water vapors and carbon dioxide (CO2). 

Due to this conversion, having a working catalytic converter is essential to pass your state’s emissions test. These catalysts are also what make a catalytic converter one of the most stolen items out of any vehicle.

Why Are Catalytic Converters Stolen?

Your vehicle’s catalytic converter uses precious metals as the necessary “catalysts” to create the chemical reaction needed to convert those harmful pollutants into less toxic water vapor and CO2. To achieve the necessary chemical reactions, catalysts are typically made from precious metals such as Rhodium, Platinum, and Palladium. 

As recently as March 2021, an ounce of Platinum is worth $1,135 per ounce, and Palladium at $2,332 per ounce. Rhodium alone can have an unsteady price with a single ounce ranging from $10,000 to over $21,000. Though, most catalytic converters only have six or fewer grams of these precious metals inside of them. Despite this, there were a reported 14,000+ catalytic converters stolen across the United States in 2020. In Wichita, Kansas alone, more than 500 converters were reported stolen. 

Vehicles, such as the Toyota Prius, are also more prone to theft due to hybrid cars putting less stress on their converters, resulting in less wear and tear damage and a better overall condition — resulting in a better price when sold. Catalytic converter theft can also be quick, with thieves needing only a few minutes to use either a saw or a wrench to remove the converter before selling the item on the black market or scrap yards. 

Are Catalytic Converters Covered in an Extended Warranty?

Simply put, a vehicle’s catalytic converter generally not covered component by an extended auto warranty or vehicle service contract, so replacing them can be expensive.  

While not included in a warranty, because catalytic converters are vital to a vehicle’s emissions system, they are included under the Federal Emissions Warranty as a part of the Clean Air Act. This protection covers a vehicle’s catalytic converter for up to 8-years/80,000-miles due to failure but will not cover you for the cost of a replacement if your converter is stolen. Your auto insurance provider, however, should cover theft or damage caused by an accident or inclement weather.

Protect your vehicle from unexpected breakdowns and repair bills with a comprehensive auto protection plan like EnduranceAdvantage™. Covering your vehicle’s other vital components, such as the engine and transmission, you can rest easy knowing you’re protected from paying out-of-pocket for repairs. You can also receive up to $3,500 in routine maintenance services like tire rotations, oil and filter changes, and more at no additional cost.

What Is the Cost to Replace a Stolen Catalytic Converter?

As a critical piece of any vehicle’s emissions system under the Clean Air Act, it is recommended that a damaged or missing catalytic converter be replaced by a licensed repair facility. Performing this type of DIY maintenance on your own or by a friend or family could not only result in more expensive repairs, but it could void your warranty as well. 

Replacing a catalytic converter can be expensive, as professional labor and fees can cost anywhere between $500 and $2,000+ depending on the make/model of your vehicle, such as:

  • Ford F-150 V8: $930
  • BMW 328i: $1,170.
  • Chevrolet Silverado V8: $550
  • Honda Accord: $625
  • Toyota Highlander V6: $860
  • Toyota Prius: $3,000 to $5,000

Other vehicles, such as the Ferrari F430, can cost up to $3,770 for a new catalytic converter. Because the F430 requires two converters, a total replacement would cost over $7,540 before labor.

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How Can I Protect My Catalytic Converter from Theft?

To protect your vehicle’s catalytic converter from being stolen, there are few steps you can take:

  • Park your car in your garage and keeping the door closed if you own a home.
  • Park in a well-lit area that is close to a building’s entrance. 
  • Ask a repair facility to weld your converter to your vehicle’s frame.
  • Engrave your vehicle identification number (VIN) onto your converter or painting it bright/fluorescent colors. Doing so can help alert scrap yards that the item may be stolen and can help make it easier to be returned to you.
  • Reset or configure your vehicle’s alarm system to go off when vibrations are detected, such as when a thief uses a saw or wrench.

Calling your local repair facilities or authorities to learn about the vehicle makes/models targeted in your area can also help you prepare. If you find these car types match your vehicle, avoid potential theft of your catalytic converter using the above steps or additional advice from an auto technician or authorities.

Protect your vehicle and your wallet with an Endurance vehicle protection plan. We offer the most comprehensive selection of auto protection plans in the industry – working with a wide range of vehicles and budgets to find drivers the best coverage available. Each plan comes with 1 year of FREE Endurance Elite Benefits for even more perks and savings, including tire repair/replacement, key fob replacement, roadside assistance, and more.

Signs of a Faulty or Missing Catalytic Converter

While physically checking to see if your converter is still on your vehicle may be the best way to know if it was stolen, other common signs of a faulty or missing converter include:

  • Lowered Engine Performance. A telltale sign of a failing catalytic converter can be a reduction in overall engine performance. 
  • Rattling Noise. If you hear any noises coming from under your vehicle, such as a “rattling” sound, your converter may be damaged.
  • Foul Smell From Exhaust. A sulfur-like smell coming from your exhaust can indicate a missing or failing catalytic converter. A buildup of carbon, engine oil, or coolant can also cause this smell. 
  • Check Engine Light Comes On. As with many other components within your vehicle, a missing or damaged converter will also cause your “check engine light” to come on. 
  • Failed Emissions Test. Without a properly functioning converter, your vehicle will not be able to pass an emissions test.

Protect Your Vehicle with Endurance

Staying up-to-date on preventative maintenance is also essential when owning a vehicle. Even though a catalytic converter may not be fully covered, with an auto protection plan like EnduranceAdvantage, you can receive comprehensive vehicle coverage and essential services at no additional cost. With this plan, services like tire rotations, oil and filter changes, and alignment checks are included. EnduanceAdvantage customers also receive yearly engine diagnostic exams and state safety inspection services, so you can be sure your vehicle is prepared for your next emissions test. 

Request a free, no-obligation quote today for more information about any Endurance protection plan, or visit the Learning Center to discover more informative and helpful articles.

A Vehicle Service Contract (VSC) is often referred to as an “auto warranty” or an “extended car warranty,” but it is not a warranty. A VSC does, however, provide repair coverage for your vehicle after the manufacturer’s car warranty expires. A VSC is a contract between you and a VSC provider or administrator that states what is a covered repair and what is not. Not all vehicles qualify for coverage; Endurance does not offer VSCs in California.