January 10, 2022

The Rise in Catalytic Converter Theft

Why is this emissions control device so appealing to steal?

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You may not have heard of catalytic converters or know what they do, but since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve become a big target for thieves. Catalytic converters, which control your engine’s emissions, are easy to steal and lucrative to sell because they contain precious metals. In this guide, we’ll show you how common catalytic converter theft is and how you can avoid it.

What Is a Catalytic Converter?

A catalytic converter is a vehicle part that controls emissions of harmful gases. If you’ve ever gotten a smog check, your mechanic was inspecting your catalytic converter, which converts smog-causing pollutants through an exhaust system to create compounds that aren’t as harmful. Catalytic converters are a very common part of vehicles.

How Common Is Catalytic Converter Theft?

Put simply, catalytic converter theft is the theft or burglary of catalytic converters. Due to the shaky economy during the COVID-19 pandemic, catalytic converter theft has more than tripled since the initial stay-at-home orders, based on the number of insurance claims. But these numbers likely underestimate the number of actual thefts, as not every theft is covered under an insurance claim. For example, if someone doesn’t have comprehensive insurance, they can’t claim catalytic converter theft, so the real numbers could be much higher.

Auto Vandalism

Catalytic converter theft is the theft or burglary of catalytic converters.

Month Year Number of catalytic converter theft claims in the U.S. Percentage difference month over month
January 2019 134 N/A
February 2019 106 -21%
March 2019 152 43%
April 2019 183 20%
May 2019 211 15%
June 2019 240 14%
July 2019 265 10%
August 2019 377 42%
September 2019 353 -6%
October 2019 360 2%
November 2019 430 19%
December 2019 578 34%
January 2020 652 13%
February 2020 811 24%
March 2020 755 -7%
April 2020 779 3%
May 2020 1,034 33%
June 2020 1,040 1%
July 2020 1,122 8%
August 2020 1,131 1%
September 2020 1,268 12%
October 2020 1,650 30%
November 2020 1,844 12%
December 2020 2,347 27%

From 2019 to 2020, catalytic converter theft claims in the U.S. increased by 326 percent on average.

But we don’t mean to scare you. Even though rates of catalytic converter theft have increased recently, it’s still relatively uncommon compared with the number of registered vehicles on the road.

How Common is Catalytic Converter Theft?
Total number of catalytic converter theft claims in 2019 3,389
Total number of registered cars in 2019 276,491,1701
Percentage of registered cars with catalytic converter theft claims in Q4 2019 0.00123%
Total number of catalytic converter theft claims in 2020 14,433
Total number of registered cars in Q3 2020 2,838,800,0002
Percentage of registered cars with catalytic converter theft claims as of Q3 2020 0.00051%

FYI

Catalytic converter theft only happened to 0.001 percent of cars in 2019, compared with 0.005 percent of cars in 2020, according to insurance claims data.

The Cost of Catalytic Converter Theft

If you lack comprehensive coverage and your catalytic converter is stolen, you might have to spend $1,000 to $3,000 to repair your car. More on comprehensive coverage later.

How to Spot Catalytic Converter Theft

You can spot catalytic converter theft in a few ways. Suspicious activity around your vehicle could clue you in, or you could see signs on the vehicle itself. Here’s what to look for.

Suspicious Activity

  • Someone peeking inside your vehicle when it’s parked
  • A vehicle near yours that’s moving slowly without any lights or following the same course over and over, which could be a sign of a burglary stakeout
  • A parked car with people inside, which could be a lookout for an in-progress burglary
  • Multiple car repairs at noncommercial locations
  • Someone changing cars quickly
  • The sound of glass breaking3

Signs of Catalytic Converter Theft

  • A loud, roaring sound as you start your car
  • A sound that gets louder as you accelerate
  • Bumpy driving
  • A sputtering sound when you change speeds

How to Avoid Catalytic Converter Theft

In order to prevent catalytic converter theft, you’ll need to know what thieves look for so you can avoid these types of vehicles and circumstances.

What Thieves Look For

  • Priuses and other common targets: Certain types of cars are common targets for catalytic converter theft. The most common, according to mechanics from multiple states, are Toyota Priuses. Due to their hybrid nature, the metal coating of their catalytic converters are in better shape and less corroded.4 In addition, Priuses contain two catalytic converters, not one. Other common cars for catalytic converter theft include pickup trucks, Honda vans, and box-style trucks.5 According to Tully Lehman, public affairs manager of the National Insurance Crime Bureau, larger vehicles like pickups and delivery vehicles tend to be targeted more, as they’re often stored in yards and left unattended overnight.
  • Low visibility: Thieves are more likely to steal cars that are parked in public in dark, secluded areas without a lot of people.

Tips to Prevent Catalytic Converter Theft

  1. Adjust your vehicle’s alarm to make it more sensitive.
  2. If you park your car in your driveway or garage, install motion-activated lights.
  3. Park in private garages whenever possible.
  4. Install a theft prevention device on your converter, be it a strap, shield, or plate.
  5. Etch or engrave your catalytic converter with your vehicle identification number (VIN). Even if someone steals it, the scrap dealer will be able to see it’s stolen and identify the owner.
  6. If you have to park in public, choose high-traffic, well-lit areas.

Why Do People Steal Catalytic Converters?

People steal catalytic converters for two main reasons:

  1. They’re easy to steal with basic tools.
  2. Thieves can sell them for up to hundreds of dollars at recyclers or scrap yards.6

Why are these devices so lucrative? It’s because of their precious metals.

Precious metal Value per ounce in December 2020 Peak value per ounce Date of peak value Increase in value from December 2020 to peak value (rounded to nearest whole number)
Platinum $1,061 $1,266 February 2021 16%
Palladium $2,336 $2,890 May 2021 19%
Rhodium $14,500 $27,000 March 2021 46%7

As catalytic converters contain precious metals like rhodium, platinum, and palladium, thieves can sell them for $50 to $250 per device.8

What to Do if Your Catalytic Converter Has Been Stolen

If you’ve discovered that your catalytic converter is missing, follow these steps:

  1. File a police report. You’ll need a police report to file a car insurance claim, so call 911 first thing.
  2. Use your tracking device. If you installed a tracking device on your catalytic converter, use it to try to find the converter yourself.
  3. File an auto insurance claim. If you have comprehensive coverage, contact your auto insurance provider to file a claim.
Insurance company Email Phone number Mailing address Where to submit online claims
21st Century claimsdocuments
@farmersinsurance.com
888-244-6163 P.O. Box 268994

Oklahoma City, OK 73126-8994

Medical/PIP documents involving FL, NJ, NY:
P.O. Box 268995

Medical/PIP documents involving all other states: P.O. Box 268993

www.21st.com/
contact-21st-century-insurance.htm
AAA None Enter ZIP code to find claims number:

www.aaa.com/stop/

The Auto Club Group Claim Department

P.O. Box 9001

Royal Oak, MI 48068-9826

www.aaa.com/stop/
AARP None 800-243-6860 The Hartford

P.O. Box 14219

Lexington, KY 40512

www.thehartford.com/
aarp/car-insurance/how-to-file-claim
Allstate None 800-255-7828 Allstate Insurance Company

P.O. Box 660636

Dallas, TX 75266

www.allstate.com/
auto-insurance/auto-claims-info.aspx
Amica None 800-242-6422 Amica Scan Center

P.O. Box 9690

Providence, RI 02940-9690

www.amica.com/en/
customer-service/contact-us.html
Bristol West None 800-274-7865 Bristol West Claims Service

P.O. Box 258806

Oklahoma City, OK 73125-8806

www.bristolwest.com/
home/claims
CarShield ClaimsDocs@
americanautoshield.com
800-531-1925 1597 Cole Blvd., Suite 200

Lakewood, CO 80401-3418

https://
americanautoshield.com/
report-a-claim/
Clearcover None 855-444-1875 None https://clearcover.com/
claims/
Concord None Maine: 800-482-7443

Massachusetts: 800-422-5246

New Hampshire: 800-888-6050

Vermont: 800-660-3838

Concord Corporate Office

4 Bouton St.

Concord, NH 03301

www.concordgroupinsurance.com/
claims/report-a-claim
Dairyland None 800-334-0090 None www.dairylandinsurance.com/
auto/claims
Direct None 800-403-1077 Direct Auto Insurance Claims Department

P.O. Box 1623

Winston Salem, NC 27102

www.directauto.com/
claims/make-a-claim
Erie None 800-367-3743 Erie Branch Claims Office

P.O. Box 13002

Erie, PA

16514-3002

www.erieinsurance.com/
support-center/claims/auto
Esurance None 800-378-7262 Esurance Customer Service

P.O. Box 5250

Sioux Falls, SD 57117-5258

www.esurance.com/
file-a-claim-online
Farmers None 800-435-7764 Farmers Customer Service

6301 Owensmouth Ave.

Woodland Hills, CA 91367

www.farmers.com/
cmp/s/filealoss?SO=01
Foremost None 800-274-7865 None https://claims.
bristolwest.com/
cmp/s/filealoss?SO=04
GAINSCO None 866-424-6726 GAINSCO Inc.

P.O. Box 199023

Dallas, TX 75219-9023

www.gainsco.com/
customers/report-a-claim/
GEICO None 800-841-3000 None www.geico.com/claims/
GMAC Claims@NGIC.com 800-468-3466 None https://claims.
nationalgeneral.com/report
Good2Go Claims@good2go.com 800-727-6664 Good2Go Auto Insurance

P.O. Box 1930

Blue Bell, PA 19422-0479

https://mypolicy.
good2go.com/account/login#
Infinity customer.service@ipacc.com 1-800-334-1661 Infinity Insurance

200 E. Randolph St., Suite 3300

Chicago, IL 60601

www.kemper.com/
claims/report-a-claim
Kemper None 888-253-7834

For California customers: 800-508-5833 (formerly Alliance United) and 800-234-3606 (formerly Kemper Specialty California)

Kemper Claims

P.O. Box 2855

Clinton, IA 52733

www.kemper.com/
claims/report-a-claim/
report-a-claim-auto
Lemonade carclaims@lemonade.com 844-733-8666 (for claim emergencies) None www.lemonade.com/car
Liberty Mutual None 800-225-2467 Liberty Life Assurance Company of Boston

100 Liberty Way

Dover, NH 03820

https://fileaclaim.
libertymutual.com/
Mercury None 800-503-3724 Mercury Insurance

1700 Greenbriar Lane

Brea, CA 02921

www.mercuryinsurance.com/
claims/auto-claim.html
MetLife — Farmers Auto Insurance None 800-435-7764 Farmers Insurance Customer Service

6301 Owensmouth Ave.

Woodland Hills, CA 91367

www.farmers.com/
cmp/s/filealoss?SO=01
Metromile None 888-595-5485 None https://claims.
metromile.com/
Nationwide None 800-421-3535 None https://claimsselfservice.
nationwide.com/claims/
index.html#/file-claim
Omega contactus@omegaautocare.com 877-850-0443 None www.omegaautocare.com/
claims/
Plymouth Rock None 844-346-1225 Plymouth Rock Assurance

P.O. Box 55165

Boston, MA 02205

https://efnol.
plymouthrock.com/#/login
Progressive None 800-776-4737 None www.progressive.com/
claims/auto-process/
Protect My Car None 844-256-4762 None https://blog.protectmycar.com/
claim-protect-my-car
Root None New claims: 866-980-9431

Existing claims: 866-489-1985

Root Insurance Claims Department

80 E. Rich St., Suite 500

Columbus, OH 43215

www.joinroot.com/
claims/
Safeco None 800-332-3226 None https://fileaclaim.
safeco.com/
State Farm None 800-732-5246 None www.statefarm.com/
claims/file-a-claim
The General None 800-280-1466 None www.thegeneral.com/
car-insurance/basics/claims/
Travelers None 800-252-4633 None www.travelers.com/
claims/report-claim
USAA None Shortcut mobile number: #8722

210-531-8722 or

800-531-8722

USAA

9800 Fredericksburg Road

San Antonio, TX 78288

www.usaa.com/inet/
wc/auto-insurance-claims
  1. Replace your catalytic converter. Take your car to a repair shop to get a new catalytic converter.

Does Insurance Cover Catalytic Converter Theft?

Auto insurance doesn’t always cover catalytic converter theft or auto theft in general. It only covers theft if you have comprehensive coverage, which covers damage to your car from events other than collisions (compare collision vs. comprehensive coverage here). When you buy your auto insurance policy from an insurance agent or broker, make sure to include comprehensive coverage, even though no state requires it in its auto insurance requirements.

Insurance Claim Form

Auto insurance doesn’t always cover catalytic converter theft.

Even if you have comprehensive coverage and your catalytic converter theft is covered, you’ll still need to pay your comprehensive deductible (if you haven’t already paid it) before your insurance kicks in. After you reach your deductible, your insurance provider will cover the rest of the cost of a new catalytic converter and installation up to the limit you’ve set. Learn more about deductibles in our deductibles FAQs.

Can You Drive Without a Catalytic Converter?

If you lack comprehensive coverage or don’t want to pay your deductible, technically, you can drive without a catalytic converter. However, your car will be loud and your ride won’t be as smooth,9> so it’s best to replace a catalytic converter as soon as possible.

NOTE

Catalytic converters are required in certain cities and states. Check out your local smog laws before you drive without a catalytic converter.10

How Catalytic Converter Theft Affects Your Insurance Rates

Many factors affect car insurance rates, including your age, how much you drive, and whether you live in a city or a rural area. Your catalytic converter being stolen won’t make your premiums go up, though, even if you have a covered claim. Unlike at-fault accidents, auto theft doesn’t affect car insurance costs, so you don’t have to worry about higher premiums once your car is repaired.

Recap

With a few simple precautions, you can reduce your risk of catalytic converter theft. While catalytic converters may seem simple, thieves love them for their high resale value, so make sure to park in private garages and install anti-theft devices to protect yours.

Frequently Asked Questions

Read more about catalytic converter theft and why it’s becoming more commonplace.

How much is a stolen catalytic converter worth?

A stolen catalytic converter is worth $50 to $250, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

What cars are most targeted for catalytic converter theft?

The cars that are most targeted for catalytic converter theft are Toyota Priuses, SUVs, and pickup trucks of all brands. Larger vehicles like pickup trucks and delivery vehicles are often targeted, as they’re left unattended overnight and easy for thieves to access.

What happens to your car if someone steals your catalytic converter?

If someone steals your catalytic converter, you’ll notice a roaring sound when you start your car. The sound will get louder as you accelerate and make a sputtering sound anytime you change speeds. You’ll also notice a bumpier ride than usual.

Why are people stealing catalytic converters?

People are stealing catalytic converters because they contain precious metals like palladium, rhodium, and platinum, which are valued at thousands of dollars per ounce. As a result, thieves can sell catalytic converters for $50 to $250 each, and they’re relatively easy to steal with a few basic tools.

Citations

  1. Number of motor vehicles registered in the United States from 1990 to 2019. Statista. (2020, Nov).
    https://www.statista.com/statistics/183505/number-of-vehicles-in-the-united-states-since-1990/

  2. Changes in US vehicles in operation: Light duty vehicles. Experian. (2021, Dec.)
    https://www.experian.com/content/dam/marketing/na/automotive/infrographic/market-trends-quarterly-infographic/auto-quarterly-vio-infographic.pdf

  3. Reporting Suspicious Activities. Montgomery County, Maryland Department of Police. (2022).
    https://tok.md.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/reporting-suspiciousbrochurefinal.pdf

  4. These cars are the biggest target for catalytic converter thieves, but here’s how you can protect them. KHOU 11. (2021, Jul 22).
    https://www.khou.com/article/news/how-to-prevent-yourself-from-becoming-the-latest-victim-of-catalytic-converter-thefts/285-d978572e-c12a-4142-b331-c782201b082b

  5. Police say Toyota Prius is most targeted car for catalytic converter theft. WBTV. (2021, Sep 23).
    https://www.wbtv.com/2021/09/23/police-say-toyota-prius-is-most-target-car-catalytic-converter-theft/

  6. Catalytic Converter Theft and the Smog Check Program. Department of Consumer Affairs – Bureau of Automotive Repair. (2022).
    https://www.bar.ca.gov/Consumer/Smog_Check_Program/Catalytic_Converter_Theft

  7. Live Gold Prices. Kitco. (2022).
    https://www.kitco.com/

  8. Catalytic Converter Theft Skyrocketing Nationwide. National Insurance Crime Bureau. (2021, Mar 9).
    https://www.nicb.org/news/news-releases/catalytic-converter-theft-skyrocketing-nationwide

  9. Protect Your Vehicle Against Catalytic Converter Theft. Allstate. (2018, Nov).
    https://www.allstate.com/tr/car-insurance/catalytic-converter-theft.aspx

  10. Smog Laws by State. FindLaw. (2016, Jun 20).
    https://www.findlaw.com/traffic/drivers-license-vehicle-info/state-emissions-standards-and-testing.html