The plague of catalytic converter theft is most highly publicized in L.A. — but is experienced in equally astounding rates nationwide. Easily removed by thieves within a couple of minutes, they are readily resold on the black market. Scrap metal dealers will pay several hundred dollars each for these devices, which contain such precious metals as platinum, rhodium, and palladium. As the value of these metals has skyrocketed over the past few years, so have the number of converter thefts. While thieves operate locally, many of the criminal metal dealers run their operations over the internet, with their operations based out of states such as Ohio, Indiana and Louisiana.
What can you do?
It is important to make it as difficult as possible for a criminal to access your vehicle and, specifically, to access your catalytic converter. While a determined thief will never be fully deterred by any single measure, the more preventative steps you takes, the less likely your car is to be targeted.
Vehicles that are most susceptible to these thefts are those whose design make it easiest to remove the devices. These include: Toyota Prius, Honda Accord, and elevated trucks whose distance from the ground make them an easy target. The Prius is said to be the number one target for “cat” thefts in many areas, including in LA and other urban areas. As an ultra low-emissions vehicle, the Prius has a catalytic converter that contains a larger quantity of the precious metals that render pollutants harmless.
Consider the following recommendations:
Park your car in a secure well-lit location. Garage parking is more secure than on-street parking BUT vehicles in garages and in secured garages have been vandalized for their converters. Parking your car down a driveway rather than in close proximity to the street also reduces access. Do what you can to limit access to your car. Trucks parked overnight in an unattended parking lot are considered to be at elevated risk.
Consider Installing an anti-theft device that places a layer of protection that must be breached in order to get to the catalytic converter. The options can be installed by many auto mechanics, body or muffler shop in our neighborhood. Check NextDoor for recommendations and references. Anything that adds extra time and the need for extra tools for removal of the converter can serve as a deterrent. However, nothing will stop determined thief who may be prepared to overcome such deterrents. Options include:
- A steel shield that fits over the catalytic converter, requiring time and extra tools to remove. An example of such a device is the “Cat Shield” that can be ordered online. It has both a metal shield and tamper-proof bolts.
- Cages made of rebar or other high-strength steel that’s difficult to cut.
- Stainless steel cables welded from the catalytic converter to the car’s frame. (Some muffler shops will custom-weld such a device to your car.) (The “Catstrap” is a similar product.)
- Welding the converter in place. (Note that attaching the catalytic converter directly to the car’s frame can be noisy since the exhaust system otherwise is suspended from the car by sound-buffering hangers.)
Etch your automobile’s VIN number or license plate number on the catalytic converter to make it more difficult to fence and identifiable if recovered by police. The LAPD is hosting metal etching events for this purpose from time to time. Contact LAPD to inquire about any upcoming dates.
Paint your catalytic converter. Some sources recommend using a high-temperature fluorescent orange paint, such as those sprayed on barbecue grills, on your catalytic converter and then inscribing your vehicle identification number in the painted surface. This makes it traceable, and in theory at least, a reputable scrap metal dealer might decline to buy it.
Set an alarm or camera to catch thieves. You can turn up the sensitivity of your car alarm so that it goes off when thieves jostle your car. (That’s fine until a squirrel or cat jumps on the car in the middle of the night.) If your alarm is calibrated so that vibration sets it off, it will activate if a thief tries to saw off the converter. Other alarms are designed to be activated when the car is tilted, such as when it’s jacked up. Installing a motion-sensitive dash cam can notify you of a theft in progress or possibly record the license plate of the getaway car. There is also a heat-activated alarm (Cateye Alarm) that activates a siren when its infrared sensor detects heat/human activity.
Review your auto insurance policy. Comprehensive insurance policies cover the replacement of a catalytic converter. If you have full coverage (liability insurance, plus collision and comprehensive policies that repair or replace your car, you are covered, minus the deductible amount (and are usually required to have such coverage if you have an auto loan or lease). If you have a vehicle at high risk for a catalytic converter theft, you might consider lowering the deductible amount. If you carry only liability coverage, you are not covered for theft.
Watch for suspicious activity. Be aware of what is going on in the neighborhood. If out late at night, be aware of any vehicles circulating or circling in an area. Note vehicles traveling with headlights off. Let those casing a vehicle know that they are being seen and watched. Make your presence safely known if you believe that a vehicle is being targeted. Report suspicious activity to LAPD. Report all thefts to the police.
Encourage and support the adoption of legislation (local, state and national) that makes it harder for stolen catalytic converters to be sold for scrap.
Current California legislative proposals (2022) regarding catalytic converter thefts include:
- Senate Bill 919 RN2206134 v6 (cssrc.us)
- Senate Bill 1087 Bill Text – SB-1087 Vehicles: catalytic converters
- Senate Bill 986 Bill Text – SB-986 Vehicles: catalytic converters
- Assembly Bill 1984 Bill Text – AB-1984 Vehicles: possession of stolen catalytic converter
- Assembly Bill 1740 Bill Text – AB-1740 Catalytic converters
- Assembly Bill 2398 Bill Text – AB-2398 Catalytic converters
- Assembly Bill 2682 Bill Text – AB-2682 Vehicles: catalytic converters
- Assembly Bill 1622 Bill Text – AB-1622 Smog check program: catalytic converter theft
- Assembly Bill 2407 Bill Text – AB-2407 Vehicle tampering: theft of catalytic converters