February 6, 2023

Catalytic Converters: the Hidden Jewel in Your Vehicle’s Exhaust System

Version Francaise

Law enforcement agencies across Canada are sounding the alarm on the persistent problem of catalytic converter theft. A catalytic converter reduces the amount of toxicity, gases, and pollutants in your car’s exhaust emission. If your vehicle runs on gasoline, it most likely it has a catalytic converter.

While you may not be able to tell whether your catalytic converter has been stolen by looking at your vehicle, you will know as soon as you start the engine. Without the catalytic converter, a vehicle makes a loud roaring sound, which increases when the driver accelerates. You also may notice unusual sounds as you change speeds and an increase in the exhaust output. An increased exhaust smell is also a sign that this valuable part is missing. Owners of electric vehicles need not worry as they do not produce any emissions and therefore do not require a catalytic converter.

According to Bryan Gast, Vice President of Investigative Services at Équité Association, a significant surge in catalytic converter thefts in Canada and across borders is due to the precious metals contained in catalytic converters. “Thieves are more interested in the precious metals within the catalytic converter than they are in the part itself. The value of palladium, rhodium, and platinum, all contained in a catalytic converter, continues to surpass the value of gold,” says Gast.  

As the price of these metals increases, so do the number of catalytic converter thefts. In 2020, rhodium was valued at $14,500 per ounce, palladium at $2,336 per ounce, and platinum going for $1,061 per ounce. Typically, stolen catalytic converters are sold to recyclers who may pay anywhere from $50 to $250 a piece. However, precious metal dealers may pay up to thousands of dollars per ounce according to our partners at the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) in the United States (US).

An NICB report shows evidence that this crime is becoming more and more of a problemin the US. In 2018, 1,298 thefts were reported, then 3,389 in 2019. In 2020, investigators saw a staggering increase with 14,433 thefts, with 2,347 thefts in one month alone. And Canada is not spared from this trend either. In 2021, Équité member insurer, Aviva, reported an increase of 123% more catalytic converter theft incidents over the previous year.

Not only is the metal in a catalytic converter valuable and easy to sell, the part is often easier to steal than the whole vehicle. Taller vehicles, such as pick up trucks and SUVs, tend to be a favourite of thieves because the underside is much easier to access, allowing for easy removal of the part.

Hybrids are another common target because the engine does not get as hot and their catalytic converters tend to contain even more ounces ofvaluable metals. For most vehicles, it takes only minutes to remove the part with basic tools available at most hardware stores, yet the cost to repair the vehicle and replace the part can be as much as $3,000 to $14,000.

On October 1, 2021, Équité  partnered with the Service de Police de la Ville de Montreal (SPVM) and Vehicle Road Safety Solutions (VRSS) to pilot a program to tackle catalytic converter theft. Participants received a unique identification (ID) number to put on their catalytic converters free of charge.

This program engraved the unique identification number and QR code on the catalytic converter– making the part easily identifiable – even if its tag is removed. Additionally, the converter’s unique ID can be added to a secure and accredited database as part of this program. Thirty-two catalytic converters were marked and added to the database during this event, and more than 300 vehicles have been marked throughout this program.  

Équité’s member insurers are invested in protecting Canadians from insurance crime and auto theft. Other partners that supported this program include Équité member Industrielle Alliance, Info-Crime Montreal, and l’Arrondissement Rivière-des-Prairies-Point-aux-Trembles of Montreal.

In British Columbia, lawmakers have taken action to curb this common theft by requiring scrap metal dealers to report the sale of thedevice to police, including information on the seller.  The goal of this new regulation is to remove the ability for thieves to sell catalytic converters anonymously.

In an attempt to find a solution to the problem, the Edmonton Police Service (EPS), in collaboration with the Edmonton Police foundation, HeroX, and Millennium Insurance, issued a global catalytic converter theft prevention challenge. The challenge offered a reward of up to $50,000 for anyone or team who could produce a viable idea or technological innovation to thwart thefts. The goal of this challenge was to find solutions that will make catalytic converters harder or impossible to steal. EPS announced the winners of the challenge on January 30. First place was awarded to a mother-daughter team who created the “Foilem Fence” – a highly visible and physical deterrent to theft utilizing a simple portable barrier held in place when you park. 

While law enforcement and the insurance industry continue to look for a perfect solution to combat catalytic converter theft, following Équité’s layered anti-vehicle theft measures may be your best defense to protect your vehicle and all of its precious parts.