Nov 15, 2023 - Politics & Policy

What's behind the surge in catalytic converter thefts

A brand new catalytic converter sits on a car lift July 11, 2022, in San Rafael, California. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Catalytic converters are a hot commodity.

Why it matters: The anti-pollution device located underneath cars — packed with rare precious metals — has been stolen in record numbers over the past few years.

  • While thefts are down so far in 2023 after a nationwide surge last year, they're still almost 21 times higher than in 2019, per an August report from BeenVerified.
  • Lawmakers across many states are aiming to combat the phenomenon with legislation and enforcement.

Catch up quick: From Minnesota, to Colorado, Virginia, Texas and beyond, catalytic converter thefts skyrocketed in the U.S. during the coronavirus pandemic.

  • The National Insurance Crime Bureau recorded 64,701 insurance claims for converter thefts last year, up significantly from 16,660 claims in 2o20.
  • That's probably an undercount. The bureau's reports leave out other thefts reported to law enforcement or thefts from uninsured vehicles.
  • In 2022, the Justice Department said they had taken down a $545 million catalytic converter theft ring and made searches, arrests and seizures across at least nine states.

Here's a breakdown of some reasons behind catalytic converter thefts:

Why catalytic converters are stolen

  • Catalytic converters are made up of precious metals such as rhodium, platinum and palladium, making them highly valuable.
  • The metals from these converters can be recycled and resold.
  • With only tiny portions of these metals inside each converter, there is more value in stealing dozens at once, per Vox.
  • Despite the decreasing price of these precious metals in a post-pandemic world, the metals inside the converters remain among the most rare and valuable on Earth.

Thefts are hard to track

  • Tracking stolen converters has proven difficult. A New York Times investigation found that stolen catalytic converters "pass through middlemen, smelters and refineries in the United States and overseas."
  • The unknown origins of the stolen converters leaves the thefts' beneficiaries with "plausible deniability and little incentive to stop them," per the Times.
  • Plus, the converter can be sawed off beneath a car in only minutes.

How to protect your catalytic converter

  • If the catalytic converter on a car has been stolen, the vehicle will make a very loud noise once started.
  • To better protect against these thefts, BeenVerified recommends installing a catalytic converter anti-theft device or motion alarm.
  • Parking in a locked garage, well-lit area or any place with high pedestrian traffic can also help deter thefts, according to BeenVerified.

Go deeper: Philly tow company snared in catalytic converter theft ring

Go deeper