Across the country, police departments are investigating a rise in thefts of catalytic converters from underneath cars and trucks. A catalytic converter is part of your vehicle's exhaust system, and its purpose is to reduce dangerous emissions by converting harmful substances into less harmful by-products.
Catalytic converter theft is a lucrative trade for thieves. This part of your car contains precious metals like platinum, palladium, and rhodium, which can be sold on the black market. A thief can make several hundred dollars on each one they manage to steal.
Thieves, usually working in teams, are able to jack up a car or truck, saw off its catalytic converter from underneath the vehicle, and be on their way to their next theft in as little as 30 seconds! It happens so fast that you can go into a store for fifteen minutes, come back to your vehicle, turn it on, and realize something's not right.
You'll know the second your engine turns over that your car has been tampered with. You will hear a loud roar, and when you start to drive, it'll feel rough and acceleration won't be smooth.
Thieves tend to target certain makes and models. The Toyota Prius is a popular target because its catalytic converter contains more precious metals than other makes/models of cars. They also like trucks and SUVs, such as the Toyota Tacoma, Ford F-150, and Lexus and Honda SUVs, which are high off the ground so thieves can get underneath them without a jack. However, any car or truck can be attractive to a thief given the right opportunity.
Your car can still be driven without a catalytic converter; it'll run and you won't damage your car driving your car or truck without one. However, since a catalytic converter is part of your vehicle's emissions system, your car or truck won't pass your state's emissions inspection without one so you'll need to get it replaced or else run the risk of being unable to register your car—or worse, suffer additional pain in the form of a hefty fine. (It is actually illegal for a car's owner to tamper with a catalytic converter, so don't be tempted to remove it yourself.)
Unfortunately for the victims, replacing a stolen catalytic converter can cost thousands of dollars and take months to replace because of the current shortage of automotive parts.
A determined thief, given the ideal conditions, will be able to get what they want from your car, so make it harder for them. Here's how you can protect your car (and your wallet!) from these criminals:
- When you park your car in a shopping center or car lot, park in a well-lit, well-trafficked area close to a busy entrance and/or in view of any security cameras you see. If you're doing a quick errand, bring an adult companion with you who can stay with the car. A thief will be less likely to target a car that contains an occupant.
- It can be tempting to leave your car in the street or driveway overnight, but if you have access to a secure garage space, take the extra step and use it. If you have more vehicles than garage space, use the space to house the vehicles that are more likely to be vandalized.
- If you have an alarm system on your vehicle, set it so that the alarm goes off when the car vibrates. It can also be useful to install front- and rear-facing dashcams that can be triggered to switch on by movement, even when the car is not turned on. At home, a driveway camera can be a good deterrent, although some thieves are brash enough not to care about being caught on tape.
- Consider having your catalytic converter protected by an anti-theft device. Your mechanic can recommend and install a shield that will have a would-be thief move on to their next target without damaging your car. While these devices can be removed by a determined criminal, most thieves want to move quickly, something an anti-theft device will prevent them from doing. You can also have your mechanic engrave your catalytic converter with your vehicle's VIN so that it can be traced if it's stolen then recovered.
- If you happen to come upon thieves tampering with your vehicle, for your own safety do not confront them. Instead, dial 911 and focus on getting as many details as you can about the theft from a safe distance, such as a description of the thieves, the make and model of their own vehicle along with its plate number, the time of the theft, etc. This is information that will be helpful to law enforcement.
- If you're unlucky enough to have your catalytic converter stolen, check your auto insurance policy. If you have comprehensive coverage, the theft should be covered. If you don't have comprehensive coverage and feel like your car is at risk for this type of theft, it might be worth calling your agent for a quote for additional protection. Hanscom Insurance Agency can get you a quote quickly.
- Before you bring your car to a mechanic to have a stolen catalytic converter replaced, call the police and file a report. Your local law enforcement may want to take fingerprints, especially if car thefts are running rampant in your neighborhood. Having evidence against the culprits will be key to getting these thieves off the streets.
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