What Is a Catalytic Converter and Why Are They Stolen?

What Is a Catalytic Converter and Why Are They Stolen?

Catalytic converters are part of the exhaust system on all vehicles. These converters are what help reduce harmful emissions from your vehicle. The catalytic converter was first introduced in 1975 and has now become a standard part of every vehicle sold.

The catalytic converter works by converting exhaust into water vapors, making it safe for the environment. How does it do this?

Inside the catalytic converter is a ceramic plate that is coated with precious metals. Most converters are coated in platinum, palladium, and rhodium. Each manufacturer has its own combination of these metals for their vehicles. When the emissions are moved across this converter plate, there is a chemical reaction that changes the carbon monoxide into water vapors. However, due to the charging plate containing precious metals, catalytic converters are valuable and therefore a target of theft.

Why Do These Items Get Stolen So Often?

Most catalytic converters only have about six grams of precious metal in each. This is such a small amount when you consider that it takes a little over 28 grams to make just one ounce. However, when you look at the price per ounce of these metals, you can see why thieves find them so alluring.

While precious metal values change daily based on demand and availability, platinum was valued at almost $1,000 per ounce at the time of this writing. This is the least expensive of the three. Palladium was valued at $2,200 per ounce, and rhodium was just over $10,000 per troy ounce.

As you can see, these figures are much more attractive than gold or silver prices and are the main reason thieves will go to great extents to steal these items.

How To Tell If your Converter Has Been Stolen?

If your converter has been stolen, you will be able to tell the next time you drive the vehicle. The exhaust system may start banging because it is bouncing up and down from being disconnected, and your car may even sound much louder. Depending on how much damage the thieves did to the muffler system, you may have to replace everything not just the catalytic converter when repairing your car.

What Is a Catalytic Converter and Why Are They Stolen?

How To Protect Your Converter From Being Stolen

It is sad to think that you may have to take extra steps to protect your catalytic converter, but if thefts are high in your area, it is something that you should do. Replacing your catalytic converter can cost around $1,000, and for some vehicles, that price may be doubled.

To protect your vehicle, you should always:

  • Park in a well-lit area. If you have the ability, install a bright motion detector light that faces where your car is parked.
  • Make sure that you have your car alarm set at all times.

How Long Does This Part Last?

A catalytic converter usually lasts about ten years before needing replacement. Many people even drive for fifteen or more years without a problem. It really depends on how well the part was manufactured and what type of gas you use.

Some gas has a lot of additives to it, and this can cause trouble with your converter. Gas stations that allow water to get into their tanks and sell “bad” gas can also cause a strain on these converters. Excess water inside the converter can lead to residue buildup and rust.

Make Sure To Check This Part When Purchasing A Used Vehicle

If you are purchasing a used vehicle, you will want your mechanic to verify that the catalytic converter is still in place and working on the vehicle. These parts are necessary for emissions controls.

When Purchasing A Vehicle

Always remember to run a VINsmart report on any used vehicle before making a purchase.  A VINsmart report runs a complete history on the vehicle including whether it has ever been reported as stolen, involved in a major accident, or listed as a totaled vehicle.

VINsmart reports will also give you a registration history and mileage at registration.  It reports any significant incidents related to the vehicle, such as being involved in a fire or flood.

When you are going to purchase a used vehicle, the best way to ensure you are making a good purchase is to know the vehicle’s complete history.


To get started with VINsmart, click here.

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