The catalytic converter, a required anti-pollution device in all automobile exhaust systems, contains several rare precious metals that are extremely valuable to fast-working thieves. In recent years, the number of catalytic converter thefts has accelerated at a rapid pace, prompting states and the federal government to consider catalytic converter theft legislation to help slam the brakes on the recycling of stolen devices.
Catalytic converters help keep our air clean.
Located between the muffler and the engine, the catalytic converter reduces the number of harmful contaminants in engine exhaust that get into the atmosphere. Inside the converter, there are rare metals that heat up a ceramic honeycomb element, which in turn helps to convert harmful combustion byproducts into harmless water vapor. In some vehicles, you can find multiple catalytic converters, but every automobile produced since 1975 has at least one.
A quick thief can make big money.
The catalytic converter is the most stolen part on motor vehicles today. People steal the devices because they contain rhodium, palladium, and platinum which metal recyclers will pay a lot of money for. Catalytic converters are relatively easy to remove from a car or truck. Assuming a thief can access the underside of a vehicle, converters can be removed in a few minutes with battery-operated power tools, or simple hand tools. Stolen converters can then be processed to remove the precious metals, which is what makes them so valuable to scrap metal dealers and thieves.
How much is a catalytic converter worth?
The average worth of a catalytic converter can vary widely depending on the age and type of vehicle it comes from. A typical catalytic converter contains 3 to 7 grams of platinum, 2 to 7 grams of palladium, and 1 to 2 grams of rhodium. Kitco, a website that tracks precious metals trends, estimates the current price for an ounce of platinum is $1,000, while palladium costs more than $2,300, and rhodium—which is extremely rare—costs more than $20,000.
Thefts of catalytic converters have exploded since the pandemic began, fueled by a surge in the value of these metals. Thieves made off with 12 times as many catalytic converters in 2021 as they did in 2019, according to data from the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NCIB), an organization that tracks these thefts.
Victims foot the bill for replacement.
After a catalytic converter is stolen, the victim of the theft will likely pay far more for a new catalytic converter than the thieves will get by selling their old one. Depending on the type of car, a new converter can typically cost $2,000 or more — and that’s not including the labor to install it.
Some insurance policies can cover replacement of a stolen catalytic converter, but only if there’s a comprehensive policy in place. Comprehensive auto insurance covers events like theft and weather damage, but many people who have older, less valuable cars don’t carry it because the premium isn’t worth the potential payout if something goes wrong.
Top Cars Targeted for Catalytic Converter Theft
According to Carfax, as many as 153,00 catalytic converters were stolen in 2022.
The top vehicles targeted nationwide included:
- Ford F-Series Truck
- Honda Accord
- Toyota Prius
- Honda CR-V
- Ford Explorer
- Ford Econoliner
- Chevy Equinox
- Chevy Silverado
- Toyota Tacoma
- Chevy Cruze
Tips for curbing converter theft
States are working to slam the brakes on converter theft.
The growing problem of catalytic converter theft has prompted states to get involved by passing new legislation. Hawaii, Minnesota, and California are the three states considering the most pieces of converter theft legislation. Most other states are considering between one and a half-dozen new laws.
For example, the governor of New York has signed legislation that restricts car dismantling firms and scrapyards in the way they buy, sell, and stockpile catalytic converters. Every 60 days, businesses are now required to report how many catalytic converters they have received and show the records. New-vehicle dealers are now also required to offer serial number etching kits to customers, which must be sold at cost.
In Connecticut, it is now illegal for vehicle recyclers to acquire a converter that’s not connected to a car, and recyclers now need to keep written records of any transactions involving converters.
Mississippi’s new law increases fines for anyone caught stealing a converter and requires sellers to provide their personal ID and the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) of the vehicle that the converter came from in order to sell it. Buyers also need to pay by check.
Congress is acting too.
In addition to the more than 150 pieces of state legislation that the National Insurance Crime Board (NCIB) is tracking on its website, there’s also a bipartisan bill currently being introduced in Congress called the Preventing Auto Recycling Theft (PART) Act. This bill would codify the federal penalties for anyone convicted of stealing a converter and also set some federal rules on making catalytic converters trackable by stamping VINs onto them in new cars. The bill would also require that people who buy and sell converters keep records of these transactions.
Useful examples of catalytic converter theft legislation from the eCode360® Library
If your community is simply interested in reducing catalytic converter theft by legislating or updating ordinances related to this topic, here are some useful examples that can be found in our eCode360 Library:
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- Why Do People Steal Catalytic Converters? – AutoZone
- Why There Is Big Money In Stolen Catalytic Converters : NPR
- Catalytic converter thefts have gotten so bad that Congress is trying to fix it
- With Catalytic Converter Theft Exploding, State Lawmakers React
- How to Prevent Catalytic Converter Theft – Consumer Reports
- Catalytic converter thefts are skyrocketing. Here’s why | PBS NewsHour
- Governor Hochul Announces New Actions to Crack Down on Catalytic Converter and Auto Theft | Governor Kathy Hochul
- Will new laws stop thieves from taking your catalytic converter? | News | Palo Alto Online |
- Catalytic Converter Theft: 10 Most Targeted Vehicles – CARFAX
- Justice Department Announces Takedown of Nationwide Catalytic Converter Theft Ring | OPA | Department of Justice
- National Insurance Crime Bureau: Catalytic Converter Theft Bills 2023