It’s a cold morning as you head out the door on the way to work. You climb in the front seat of your car, turn the ignition with your key, and then you hear it: a low rumbling noise that can only mean one of two things. Either your muffler has wet the bed or your catalytic converter is missing.
A quick look under the car confirms your worst fears: someone has stolen your catalytic converter. Now what? You don’t need this kind of headache when you have to be to work in 20 minutes. On top of that, you really can’t afford an expensive repair bill. You resign yourself to the fact that what’s done is done. Still, you want to know what the deal is with people stealing catalytic converters.
Without getting into all the science, a catalytic converter reduces the pollution in car emissions by filtering out some components and sending others back to the engine to be burned a second time. What eventually does come out the exhaust pipe is a lot cleaner than it would have been without the catalytic converter.
Every car sold in the United States must have a working catalytic converter. Most states have made it illegal to drive a car without one. However, there are states that don’t require annual inspections. So it’s possible in those states to continue driving without a catalytic converter just so long as a licensed mechanic doesn’t take a look underneath.
Note that it is completely safe to do so. A catalytic converter is merely an emissions control device. It doesn’t make your car any safer to drive. Your car is in no danger of blowing up if you drive it without a catalytic converter. Doing so will be noisier though, because the break in your exhaust line means the muffler is no longer in play.
Now, onto the question that has your mind racing right now: why would anyone steal a catalytic converter? In a word, money. Catalytic converters are expensive. Not only that, they contain rare metals that are equally expensive. Stealing catalytic converters makes money for thieves in two ways.
First, they can sell catalytic converter straight up on the black market. Unscrupulous auto mechanics and drive-by night operations will gladly purchase black market converters rather than paying full price on the legal market. They turn around and charge their customers retail price, pocketing the extra themselves.
Thieves can also sell the converters to recyclers looking for the platinum and palladium inside. If you want to know just how much money scrap catalytic converters are worth, do an online search. At the time this article was written, your typical small catalytic converter for domestic American car was worth $85. Steal 10 of those in a night and you’ve earned a good paycheck.
Stealing catalytic converters is lucrative because it represents easy money. All you need is a reciprocating saw and a willingness to take a risk. With a sharp blade and a fresh battery, you can detach a catalytic converter in under a minute. It’s fast, clean, and simple.
The combination of high street price and easy access makes catalytic converters attractive to thieves. If yours is ever stolen, rest assured you’re in good company. Also note that it’s not the end of the world. You will have to have a new converter installed to make your car legal. But if you have to drive a while without it, you’re no danger of harming your car.