Catalytic converter theft is on the rise. Thieves often target them because they contain valuable heavy metals. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), the average number of monthly thefts in 2018 was 108, which more than doubled to 282 in 2019. By 2020, however, catalytic converter thefts hit a new record at 1,203 per month.
Catalytic converters convert exhaust into less harmful gases and any vehicle made after 1974 must have one installed. If your catalytic converter gets stolen, you must replace it. In some cases, your insurance may cover this cost — if you have the right coverage type.
Is Catalytic Converter Theft Covered by Insurance?
Generally speaking, if you have comprehensive auto insurance, you will be covered for catalytic converter theft. Comprehensive insurance covers your car against loss or damage that was not the result of a collision. Covered incidents include vandalism, damage from falling trees or objects, weather damage, and theft. If someone steals your catalytic converter, you may be able to claim it under your comprehensive auto insurance policy. However, you should keep in mind that Collision Coverage does not cover you in the even of an auto accident involving an animal.
This type of insurance is an optional add-on to standard liability insurance, which covers your vehicle in the case of an accident. In some cases, such as with leased or financed vehicles, the lender may require you to purchase comprehensive coverage.
However, while comprehensive policies are generally similar, they are not required to offer a standard set of coverages. Confirm with your insurance company about whether your auto insurance policy has catalytic converter theft coverage.
The Growing Problem of Catalytic Converter Theft
Catalytic converter thefts have been growing steadily over the past few years. In states like California, Texas, and Illinois, the average number of thefts per month rose from 652 in January 2020 to 2,347 by December of the same year. By February 2021, 18 states were considering legislation to help curb the spread of catalytic converter thefts.
What Is a Catalytic Converter and What Does it Do?
Catalytic converters reduce the impact of harmful gases created by engine emissions. This is accomplished with a catalyst, which is often made of a rare metal like platinum, rhodium, or palladium. Gases pass through an input pipe into the converter itself, which looks like a metal box. The catalyst metal then converts potentially hazardous gases into safer alternatives.
Converters use two primary types of catalysts: reduction and oxidation. Reduction catalysts break up nitrogen oxide (NO) into nitrogen (N) and oxygen (O) gases, which are harmless on their own. Oxidation catalysts add oxygen to pollutants such as carbon monoxide (CO) to make it carbon dioxide (CO2). Converters may also combine hydrogen (H) and oxygen (O) to create water vapor (H2O).
Thieves target catalytic converters for two main reasons:
- The metal inside the converter is valuable, making it easy to resell these devices to scrap yards or other buyers.
- Catalytic converters mounted under vehicles are usually easy to access and remove using power or even hand tools.
In addition, catalytic converters are widely available. All vehicles manufactured in the U.S. after 1974 must have catalytic converters. Even vehicles shipped from overseas must have a compliant catalytic converter; if it lacks one, a new one is usually installed before sale.
How Much Does a Catalytic Converter Cost?
Depending on the size and type of a catalytic converter, it can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000 to replace. Larger converters, such as those found in trucks or vans, may cost more. The same is true of hybrid vehicles, which may retain more precious metals since they burn less gasoline over time, wearing down the catalytic converter more slowly.
Depending on the replacement cost, you can determine if using your comprehensive insurance makes sense or if you want to pay out of pocket. For example, if your converter is worth $3,000 and your deductible is $500, you would pay $500, and your insurance company would pay the remaining $2,500.
However, suppose your converter is worth $1,500 and your deductible is $1,000. In that case, it may not be worth filing a claim because your insurer would only cover the remaining $500 after you meet your deductible. In addition, filing multiple claims could lead to an increase in your premiums later on.
How to Check if Your Catalytic Converter Has Been Stolen
Your catalytic converter is under your car, so it may not be immediately obvious if your converter is missing. Here are 6 common signs to look for:
1. It looks like something is missing underneath your car
This sign offers certainty that something has been removed from your car — and in most cases, it is your catalytic converter. If you get under your car and see that there are missing pieces, often indicated by open holes, broken pipes, or missing bolts, you are the victim of theft.
2. Your car is louder than usual when driving
A common indication that your catalytic converter is missing is that your car is louder than usual while driving. Much like your muffler, converters help dampen the engine sound. If you start your car and notice that it sounds significantly louder than usual, check under your vehicle to see if anything is obviously missing.
3. The check engine light is on
Your check engine light may come on if your catalytic converter is missing. This is especially indicative if your other instruments note that your engine temperature and oil pressure are normal.
4. You feel unwell when the windows are down
Gases such as carbon monoxide can cause headaches, dizziness, and nausea when inhaled. If you are driving with your windows down and start to experience these symptoms, your catalytic converter may be missing. As a result, toxic gases are no longer being converted into less dangerous alternatives.
5. You have less low-end torque
In some vehicles, such as larger cars, SUVs, and trucks, the loss of a catalytic converter can result in less low-end torque. Torque is the rotational force often associated with tasks like towing, hauling, or climbing. If you notice that your vehicle is struggling in these areas, check to see if your converter is still in place.
6. Your exhaust is a different color
Catalytic converters typically turn vehicle exhaust white or pale gray. If you notice that your car exhaust is now black or brown, it may indicate that your catalytic converter is missing.
If you discover your catalytic converter is missing, take your car to a repair shop and have it replaced as soon as possible. While your car will not break down without a converter, you may face fines for driving without one installed.
How to File a Claim for Catalytic Converter Theft
To file a claim for catalytic converter theft, contact your insurance company. You will need your license, registration, and insurance card. Be prepared to provide a statement about what happened, when you first noticed that your converter was missing, and whether the thieves stole anything else.
Your insurance company then reviews your claim and approves or denies it. If approved, your insurer covers the cost of the new converter minus the deductible, which you pay out of pocket. You may receive a check from your insurance company for the replacement cost, or it may send the payment directly to the shop.
Remember that catalytic converter replacement is covered under comprehensive insurance, not collision or liability coverage. This means that if you do not have comprehensive coverage, you must pay out of pocket for the entire cost of replacement.
How to Protect Your Car’s Catalytic Converter From Theft
Although all catalytic converters are valuable to thieves, they target some car makes and models more than others. Popular vehicles include the Toyota Prius, the Chrysler 200, the Honda CR-V, the Chevrolet Silverado, and the Ford Econoline series of vans.
No matter what type of vehicle you drive, however, there are ways to reduce the risk of catalytic converter theft:
- Park in a well-lit or secured area. Parking in a well-lit or secured area helps deter thieves by making it harder for them to get to your vehicle without being seen.
- Use a car alarm. Using a car alarm that goes off when someone comes too close to your vehicle can alert you to a problem and scare off would-be thieves.
- Install an anti-theft device. You can also install an anti-theft device such as a cable lock around your catalytic converter. While this won’t stop determined thieves, it increases the time it takes to remove your converter and may convince them to go elsewhere.
- Inscribe your VIN. If you have your VIN inscribed on your catalytic converter, thieves find it harder to resell it. This may also help law enforcement return the device if found.