Thieves want your catalytic converters at alarming rates. Claims of catalytic converter theft increased more than 1,200% from 2019 to 2021, according to the most recent data from the National Insurance Crime Bureau as reported by Carfax.
In 2021, there were 52,206 reported catalytic converter thefts versus 3,969 thefts in 2019. The number could be higher, since owners might not report the theft to their insurance provider. Either way, the staggering increase means new and old vehicles are susceptible, and owners could be on the hook for repairs and replacements that range from $1,000 to $3,000, according to the NICB.
Mandated since 1975 for most passenger vehicles, the pollution controlling device looks like a mini muffler set in the center of the exhaust system between the two axles. Since it's beneath the car, it's easy for thieves to access by sliding underneath the vehicle and cutting it loose from either end of the exhaust pipe.
What's so special about catalytic converters, other than their environmental benefit? The precious metals required to make them.
The spike in catalytic converter thefts reflects the skyrocketing value of rhodium, palladium, and platinum. Thieves can make anywhere from $300 on standard cats to $1,400 on hybrid ones, Carfax reported.
"As the value of the precious metals remains high, so do the number of thefts of these devices," the NICB said in a statement. "There is a clear connection between times of crisis, limited resources, and disruption of the supply chain that drives these thefts."
Some vehicles make for better targets than others. It should come as no surprise that the bestselling vehicles are the most affected, just by the sheer presence of the models on streets and driveways. Carfax broke down the most frequent thefts by region, as well as nationwide, by looking at service reports from more than 60,000 service centers across the country.
Even though the bestselling Ford F-150 had the highest number of cat thefts nationwide and in three of the four regions, the Toyota Prius hybrid had more thefts in the west region, indicating that location matters.
Toyota Prius and all hybrids flagged for catalytic converter thefts
While it didn't list the actual number of models affected, it did rank the vehicles by volume:
1989-2020 Honda Accord
2007-2017 Jeep Patriot
1990-2022 Ford Econoline vans
2005-2021 Chevrolet Equinox
1997-2020 Honda CR-V
1987-2019 Toyota Camry
2011-2017 Chrysler 200
2001-2021 Toyota Prius
The takeaway? Catalytic converter thieves don't discriminate.
"Thieves target a wide variety of models, regardless of the size of the vehicle, its age, or the automaker’s home country," Carfax reported.
Both sources recommend installing an anti-theft device or getting the converter etched with the car's VIN to make it easier for law enforcement to trace. Additionally, parking in an enclosed area or garage will limit the risk of theft.