Catalytic converter theft became, and continues to be, a disproportionately large problem during the pandemic. Although it may seem that the crime spree has calmed down, it has in fact stayed its course, and catalytic converters are still regularly stolen. It’s an expensive part to replace, so people have been figuring out how to prevent theft. Eric The Car Guy, one of YouTube’s original home mechanics, helps with another excellent explainer video.
Nationwide, the NICB reports a clear rise in thefts since the beginning of the pandemic. Starting in 2018, 108 catalytic converters were stolen per month on average. In December of 2020, it had skyrocketed to 2,347 catalytic converters stolen. Suffice it to say, that is a steep increase.
In response to the trend, there have been a few approaches by agencies and individuals to prevent catalytic converter theft. According to Eric, police have been spraying converters with high-temperature paint with no distinct markings, which helps identify stolen goods. My local sheriff’s department in Los Angeles County has opened free clinics where car owners can get their VIN etched onto the converter as a means of identifying a stolen converter. The paint method only helps police determine a generally stolen converter with no restitution for the victim.
Many of you might have seen the most popular method, catalytic converter armor, on various social media channels and advertising. Some companies have even been born specifically as dedicated protection, custom cut for each vehicle. It’s a burgeoning industry, though it’s still small and relatively niche. Many have come up with DIY methods like welded rebar, chicken wire, stainless steel cables, and a few other methods of deterring and preventing theft, too.
The idea is that converter thieves want an easy in-and-out job without the danger of getting caught. Even if some forms of armor aren’t foolproof, it might scare a prospective thief away from your car, which is protection in itself. I’m personally the biggest fan of this method because it can physically prevent theft, and you can get creative with it. I can see myself using extra chassis bracing or aerodynamic paneling to hide my catalytic converter and gain performance.
Eric presents an interesting theory for the final method: Replacing your valuable original equipment converter with a cheaper aftermarket piece. He says that thieves don’t care for aftermarket converters with less precious metal. In comparison, parts from the major automakers tend to be larger and typically contain a significantly higher amount of precious metals that thieves value highly. Factory converters last longer too, so the yield is higher even on a high-mileage catalytic converter.
For us Californians, this theory doesn’t work. We have strict emissions laws that only allow certain converters to be installed on our cars that have a similar density and materials to factory ones. Although Eric argues that selling the factory converter and installing an aftermarket unit can even out where he lives in Ohio, some states have more stringent emissions that drive costs up. For us, the physical protection idea is mighty appealing.
Although local authorities and a limited number of recyclers have taken steps to stop theft, like identity verification and vehicle ownership verification, most still accept any converters that come through their doors. Watch Eric’s video and learn how to keep your car from having an unfortunate straight-pipe conversion.
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