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How to Protect Your Car from Increasingly Common Catalytic Converter Thieves

Catalytic converter theft is a growing problem in Canada, and no vehicle owner is immune. It doesn’t take much time for a thief to jack up a vehicle, crawl underneath, saw off a catalytic converter, and disappear.

Gene Myles, Agency Manager at Allstate Insurance says his company has been crunching numbers to determine how big a problem this is and how quickly it’s growing. According to Allstate’s stats, “Between 2018 and 2022, the increase in reported thefts was up 1,710 per cent,” Myles says.

No matter what you drive and where you live, your vehicle is a target. Catalytic converter thieves seem to be operating in every province, in every city, town, and everywhere in between. They’re going after all makes and models, and both older and newer vehicles are targeted. Thieves want the precious metals used inside the common car part and will sell it on the scrap metal market for big profits.

“This is a crime of opportunity,” Myles adds. “We’re seeing it both in rural and urban areas, and the frequency is proportional with the population. So you may see a slightly lower number of thefts in rural areas, only because fewer people live there.”

Bryan Gast, VP of Investigative Services at Équité Association says that consumers aren’t the only victims. “Sometimes thieves hit car dealerships,” he says. “So the dealer shows up in the morning only to find that some of his vehicles are missing catalytic converters.”

Although thieves are targeting all types of vehicles, Allstate’s Myles says thieves find it easiest to pull catalytic converters out of larger and taller vehicles with more ground clearance. “Cars are less vulnerable, while trucks and SUVs are more likely to be a target because the catalytic converter, or multiple catalytic converters, in some cases, are located under the vehicle,” he explains. “So it’s easier for thieves to slide under a truck or SUV with a portable torch or a hacksaw, and they can pretty much take the catalytic converter, and be gone quickly without having to jack up the vehicle.”

Protect Your Vehicle

The Hawkesbury Detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police recently issued a news release alerting the public to the increase in the number of catalytic converter thefts in their area. They also offered crime prevention tips that vehicle owners can implement to lower the risk of becoming a victim.

These include always parking your vehicle in a well-lit area, leaving exterior lighting on at your house at night, parking your vehicle in a garage if possible, reviewing notifications from home security camera systems, looking for any suspicious activity, and always locking your vehicle and ensuring that the security system is active.

Besides these common sense preventive measures, Myles says there are other tactics drivers can use to keep their catalytic converters safe. “You can go to a mechanic and have them install a cage or a protective plate over the catalytic converter, which is essentially a metal plate that’s welded in place,” he explains.

Installing an alarm system that is set off by vibrations or by the vehicle being tilted is another way to make it more difficult for thieves to get away quietly with your catalytic converter. In fact, they might decide to take off as soon as the alarm draws attention to your vehicle.

Another preventive measure, according to Myles, is etching your vehicle’s VIN (vehicle identification number) into the catalytic converter, thus making it less attractive to thieves who might want to resell the stolen item to a third party.

“This makes it less attractive,” Myles adds, “and I know that there is a sticker program that some garages are instituting where the sticker warns thieves that the vehicle’s catalytic converter is etched and recorded, which may deter some thieves.”

Of course, etching the VIN only works if the thief intends to sell the catalytic converter. In some cases, thieves are after the precious metals within the catalytic converter, which means a VIN etching won’t deter them because their plan is to extract the precious metals and discard the housing of the catalytic converter.

“I’ve seen catalytic converter theft throughout my whole career,” says Équité Association’s Gast. “However, in the last several years, catalytic converters are being stolen primarily for the precious metals: platinum, palladium, and rhodium. Each catalytic converter contains trace amounts of these precious metals, but in bulk, criminals are making significant profits.”

Insurance Coverage

Catalytic converters are expensive to replace. “They can cost as much as $14,000 to replace,” says Équité Association’s Gast. “Others might be in the $2,000 to $3,000 range.”

The only good news is that catalytic converter theft is covered by insurance. “It’s part of your comprehensive coverage,” Allstate’s Myles explains, “which has to do with theft and vandalism of a vehicle. It’s a not-at-fault claim under comprehensive coverage. If you’re not sure if you have comprehensive coverage, make sure you speak to your provider and get that checked out.”