After a pleasant time in the grocery store or a hard day of work, you walk out to your car and unlock it. Everything appears normal. You quickly throw your work bag into the back seat or unload the cart (and place it in the cart return because you are a decent human being). Still, everything appears to be fine. Then you start the car and instead of its quiet, contented purr, it roars. Suddenly, your vehicle no longer sounds like a sensible mid-size SUV or functional pickup truck. No, now it sounds like a tricked-out hotrod without a muffler. I hate to say it, but your vehicle was just the victim of a crime—its catalytic converter was stolen.
I know next to nothing about cars. In fact, my definition of a good car is that it goes when I push the gas and stops when I press the brake. I have no idea how the combustion in the pistons (that’s where the combustion happens, right?) works and I honestly think the inside of a car’s hood is a dangerous and messy place. I bless my mechanic for keeping my car in prime condition because it would have to fall apart before I noticed anything was wrong. Obviously, I am no car expert, nor am I trying to be one. However, thanks to the handy, all-knowing Google, I gained some understanding of what a catalytic converter is, where on the vehicle it is located, and why it is the frequent target for thieves.
What is a catalytic converter?
The catalytic converter is located beneath the vehicle, between the exhaust manifold and the muffler (hence the roaring sound if yours is stolen). Through some chemistry that I won’t even pretend to understand (unlike my now expert level of understanding of cars), they convert harmful pollutants into less harmful emissions as they exit the vehicle’s exhaust system. Starting with the 1975 model year, all cars and trucks in the United States are required to have a catalytic converter as part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulations.
Why are they stolen?
Catalytic converters are easy to remove. All it takes is a couple of minutes and the thief will crawl under your vehicle and either unbolt or saw off the converter. Not only are they easy targets, but inside the converter are precious metals like platinum, palladium, and rhodium that are essential for the chemical reaction. Thieves steal the catalytic converters and sell them to recycle facilities who extract the metals and resell them for thousands of dollars per ounce. (Just to give you an idea on how precious these metals are, the current price of rhodium is $28,000 per ounce.) Catalytic converters only have a couple of grams of the precious metals. Typically, the thief only makes a couple hundred bucks by selling the converters to recycling plants, while the owner of the vandalized car has to pay between $1,000 and $3,200 to replace the stolen part.
Recently, a general manager at a car dealership was beset with catalytic converter thefts and it hurt their business. Thieves stole a dozen converters in one night from vehicles parked on the lot. They struck again two weeks later. While this cost tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of damage, it also made those vehicles impossible to sell or trade. Instead, they were forced to pay taxes on the vehicles and wait until they were able to repair them.
How to prevent the thefts
While there is no surefire way to prevent the theft of your catalytic converter, there are several ways to deter would-be thieves from crawling under your car. Of course, the simplest is to park in a garage or other places where it is hard to get to your converter. However, it is impossible to stay home forever (although 2020 put this theory to the test) and many people do not have access to a garage even when they are at home. Furthermore, catalytic converters are often stolen in broad daylight while people are working, shopping, eating at a restaurant, etc.
There are other ways to deter the thieves. Some are as simple as installing a cage or guard around it or welding rebar to either side so it is trickier to saw through. However, the easiest way is to park in a well-lit area, close to the entrance of a building that is covered by surveillance. While this is no guarantee, thieves typically go for the low hanging fruit on the outskirts of the property.
How LVT helps
One of the main use cases for LiveView Technologies, is to deter, detect, defend from thieves. This includes those stealing catalytic converters. All of our technology (optical and thermal cameras, bounding boxes, flashing lights, and two-way speakers) is aimed at making our surveillance noticeable wherever it is placed. Our units are completely mobile and provide world-class security for those in retail, law enforcement, construction, transportation, and more. We combine top-of-the-line, overt hardware with proprietary software for a full security solution that can be placed anywhere in the world—from a busy big-box retail parking lot to the lonely jobsite. We want to make a more secure world for our clients so they, in turn, can have higher safety for their customers and employees.
Update—In 2021, catalytic converter theft increased by more than 244%. Read more here.