Why is catalytic converter theft skyrocketing, and what can you do about it?

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), catalytic converter thefts have seen a significant increase across the country since March of 2020, the start of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Catalytic converter theft is on the rise in Kentucky
Catalytic converter thefts reported to KFB Insurance more than quadrupled from 2019 to 2020. | Photo credit: Adobe Stock

Catalytic converters are part of a car’s exhaust system that helps to reduce toxic emissions and pollutants. In the U.S., catalytic converters have been required on all gasoline automobiles since 1975.

But now these essential components on our vehicles are disappearing at an alarming rate – and for nefarious reasons. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), catalytic converter thefts have seen a significant increase across the country since March of 2020, the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thieves are stealing converters for the precious metals inside of them—rhodium, platinum, and palladium—which can bring in high prices on the black market.

Kentucky Farm Bureau (KFB) Insurance data reflects this rising trend on a local level. Catalytic converter thefts reported to KFB Insurance more than quadrupled from 2019 to 2020. Preliminary data shows that 2021 is following the same trajectory.

“Catalytic converter theft has certainly been on the rise in the past year,” said Geoff Brown, a physical damage appraiser for KFB Insurance. “Demand for these metals has greatly increased, creating a surge in recent prices. This surge has helped drive the rise in theft.”  

Several states are evaluating legislative actions to help curb the problem by requesting tighter regulations and proposing penalties on recycling and scrap metal facilities that accept the stolen goods.

While a thief may rack up a couple hundred dollars for your car’s catalytic converter, it could cost you thousands to repair the damage. Here are some tips to help reduce the risk of catalytic converter theft:

  • If you are in a public space, park near high traffic areas or building entrances.
  • Park personal vehicles in a garage. If you do not have access to a garage, consider installing motion sensor security lights. While these lights do not guarantee complete security, they may make some thieves think twice.
  • Park fleet vehicles in an enclosed and secured area that is well lit, locked, and alarmed.
  • If your car has an alarm, always remember to set it!
  • Keep in mind that the higher your vehicle sits off the ground, the easier it is for a thief to access your catalytic converter.    
  • Install a catalytic converter anti-theft device, such as a “cat strap” or “cat clamp,” which are available from various manufacturers, You can also have your catalytic converter welded to your car or engrave your vehicle’s VIN number directly onto the device.

According to Brown, “Theft is typically unnoticed until the vehicle is started. Once started, the exhaust is extremely loud as catalytic converters are located very close to the engine.”

Should you become a victim of catalytic converter theft, call local law enforcement and your insurer as soon as possible. Catalytic converter theft is covered under your KFB Insurance auto policy (minus your deductible) if you have “other than collision” coverage.

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