The surge in catalytic converter thefts across Canada has become a concerning trend, leaving vehicle owners vulnerable to significant financial losses. In this guide, we’ll delve into effective measures to safeguard your vehicle against catalytic converter theft, helping you navigate the rising risk and protect your investment.
Understanding catalytic converter theft
While largely inconceivable less than a decade ago, Canada is experiencing an ongoing and escalating issue with catalytic converter theft, one that shows no indication of waning anytime soon.
True, this crime wasn’t quite unheard of in decades gone by, but the significant increase we’ve been witnessing since the mid-2010s has only grown more pronounced in recent years – to put it mildly.
Allstate Insurance (Canada) reports a staggering 60 percent increase in catalytic converter theft in Canada over the past year alone. And if that doesn’t get your attention, their data reveals an even more alarming 1700 percent increase in these thefts between 2018 and 2022.
So what’s going on here?
Catalytic converters are vital components of a vehicle’s exhaust system, containing precious metals such as platinum, palladium, and rhodium. Due to the soaring prices of these metals in recent years, catalytic converters have become valuable and easy targets for thieves.
One major challenge is that catalytic converters lack individual identification markers, making them difficult to trace once stolen. Plus, there’s a lack of stringent regulations in place to monitor the sale and purchase of these devices, allowing stolen converters to enter the black market easily. So long as the demand for the precious metals extracted from them remains high, this literal crime wave is likely to continue.
While stealing a catalytic converter from a parked car can vary in difficulty depending on certain factors, generally, an experienced thief can remove a catalytic converter from your vehicle within minutes.
One reason why they’re so easy to steal is that catalytic converters are rarely secured to a vehicle’s frame, making them relatively simple to detach, so once a thief is under your vehicle, basic handheld power tools like reciprocating saws, cordless angle grinders, or pneumatic cut-off tools will cut through the exhaust pipes on either side of the catalytic converter; quickly, without much noise or hassle.
These thefts are typically carried out in secluded or dimly lit areas, further reducing the chances of getting caught. Thieves often target multiple vehicles in a short span, amplifying their gains.
The profitability of stealing catalytic converters combined with the relatively low risk involved has attracted organized crime groups and a host of opportunistic thieves across the country – although it’s not strictly a Canadian problem. The quick turnaround for selling stolen converters and the high resale value of the extracted metals has incentivized thieves the world over.
Which cars are most likely to have catalytic converter stolen?
In 2023, these were the top ten vehicles in Canada most likely to have their catalytic converters stolen. Bear in mind that to date the problem has been most pronounced in the GTA, Ottawa, Montreal, Calgary, and Edmonton. Which might sound somewhat comforting if you live in, say, Gander or Sudbury, but don’t let that give you a false sense of security, rest assured these thefts are happening daily across the entire country.
- Honda CR-V
- Hyundai Tucson
- Hyundai Santa Fe
- KIA Sportage
- Honda Element
- Ford E450
- Ford F150
- Toyota Prius
- Ford E350 Van
- Honda Pilot
Some vehicle makes and models, combined with where they’re parked, simply make them more vulnerable to catalytic converter theft than others. Prime examples are:
- Hybrid vehicles
Hybrid cars, like the Toyota Prius, Honda Insight, and various models from Lexus, are frequently targeted. These vehicles use larger and more valuable catalytic converters due to their reliance on battery-assisted engines, making them lucrative targets for thieves.
- SUVs and Trucks
These vehicles, particularly those with higher ground clearance, are often targeted because their elevated chassis makes it easier for thieves to access the catalytic converters without specialized equipment. The converters in these vehicles are also larger and contain more precious metals compared to smaller cars.
- Commercial vehicles
Delivery vans, buses, and other commercial vehicles are at higher risk due to consistently being parked in the same overnight lots, often in less secure areas. Thieves target these vehicles due to their accessibility and the potential for stealing multiple converters from a fleet of vehicles in a relatively short period of time.
- Older cars
Older vehicles typically lack modern security features and/or have less robust exhaust systems, making it easier for thieves to remove their converters. Moreover, the converters in older cars might contain a higher concentration of precious metals due to their less advanced emissions control technology.
- Vehicles parked in vulnerable areas
Any vehicle parked in a secluded or poorly lit area is at heightened risk of catalytic converter theft. Thieves look for easy targets where they can operate discreetly and quickly without drawing attention.
Who buys stolen catalytic converters?
Stolen catalytic converters are usually sold to scrap yards or illicit buyers who melt them down to extract their precious metals. These metals fetch a high price, making them attractive to black-market buyers.
So, how much is a stolen catalytic converter actually worth? While the value can vary widely based on the volume and type of metal in the converter and its current market price, most stolen catalytic converter will see a return of anywhere from $150 to $1500.
Here’s where stolen catalytic converters usually wind up:
- Scrap yards and metal recycling facilities
Some unscrupulous scrap yards or metal recycling facilities might knowingly or unknowingly purchase stolen catalytic converters. These establishments buy converters for their valuable metal content without thoroughly verifying their origins or legality.
- Metal smelters and refineries
Once stolen catalytic converters are acquired by middlemen or individuals involved in illegal trade, they can be sold to metal smelters or refineries. These facilities process the converters to extract precious metals which are then sold in the global marketplace.
- Online platforms and underground networks
The rise of online platforms and underground networks has facilitated the sale of stolen goods, including catalytic converters. These platforms provide anonymity and an extensive network for buyers and sellers to trade stolen converters.
Catalytic converter theft prevention strategies
Fortunately, vehicle owners aren’t helpless when it comes to protecting their catalytic converters. There are several effective strategies to help prevent catalytic converter theft, and if you own a vehicle that’s more vulnerable to this crime, you’d be wise to consider employing one or more of the following strategies.
- Install a protective shield or cage
Consider installing a protective shield or cage around the catalytic converter. Various aftermarket products are available that act as deterrents by covering the converter, making it more time intensive and challenging to steal. These physical barriers make it significantly harder for thieves to access and remove the converter quickly.
And remember; if stealing your catalytic converter proves to be more hassle than stealing the one in the car parked beside you, guess whose catalytic converter is going to get stolen first?
- Use catalytic converter locks or clamps
Anti-theft devices such as catalytic converter locks or clamps can be installed to secure the converter to your vehicle’s frame. These devices require specialized tools to remove, again making it more time-consuming and difficult for thieves to steal your converter.
- Park in well-lit, secured areas whenever possible
Thieves are less likely to attempt theft in highly visible or monitored locations. If feasible, park in a garage or areas with surveillance cameras and active security patrols.
- Engrave identification marks
Engrave your vehicle identification number (VIN) or a unique identifier onto the catalytic converter. This makes it easier for law enforcement to trace stolen converters back to the original vehicle and increases the likelihood of recovery.
- Utilize security cameras and alarms
If you live in an area where this kind of theft is prominent., it can be a good idea to install security cameras around your property and/or use motion-activated lights to deter thieves. Additionally, consider installing a vehicle alarm system that triggers when the vehicle is tampered with, alerting you and potentially scaring off thieves.
If you own a vehicle known to be a prime target for catalytic converter theft, you’d be wise to take the extra precautions. Discuss with a trusted mechanic about reinforcing the catalytic converter’s mounting or utilizing welding to make it more challenging to remove without proper equipment.
By employing a combination of these prevention strategies, vehicle owners can significantly reduce the risk of catalytic converter theft.