What is Catalytic Converter Theft?

A catalytic converter is a vehicle component used for the purpose of controlling or minimizing emissions while maximizing efficiency. All or most of the cars on the road today (with few exceptions) have one included during their manufacturing process. First conceived of in France in the 1800s for older vehicle types, it wasn’t until the 1950s in the U.S. that research into catalytic converters for gasoline engines had begun. (They are also found in diesel engines, though there are some differences in functionality.) Years of development later, the first version of a produced catalytic converter was in 1973, with the practice of equipping them in vehicles gaining their foothold in America starting in 1975 after EPA regulations.

So what is catalytic converter theft, and why is it happening? Catalytic converter theft is when an individual uses a saw or some other cutting device to remove the catalytic converter from vehicles they do not own, with relative ease and quickness – sometimes in only a few minutes. Further, due to the space found under high-clearance vehicles like SUVs, pickups, and other large trucks, it can make these vehicles particularly attractive to catalytic converter thieves.

That’s what makes this so common, frustrating, and unfortunately “worth it” for criminals. There are three primary, valuable metals used in catalytic converter manufacturing: rhodium, platinum, and palladium. When sold for scrap, depending on the vehicle it was stolen from and the recycling facility purchasing it, these criminals can make anywhere from as low as $50 (for older vehicles) to as high as $3,500 (like those found in luxury vehicles). On average, the culprits can pocket at least a few hundred dollars. Unfortunately, for vehicle owners who are the victims of catalytic converter theft, the bill to repair their vehicle will often be much, much higher than that.