Catalytic converters: what they do and why thieves love them

Since last year, there has been spate of catalytic converter thefts. In 2020, the City of Montreal Police Service received 2,219 reports of stolen catalytic converters, as opposed to only 679 in 2019.

The explanation for this phenomenon that shows no signs of slowing down? The precious metals a catalytic converter contains: namely palladium, rhodium and platinum. Why are thieves so interested in these metals? Because they have quadrupled in price.

What are the underlying causes of what some are already calling an epidemic? And most importantly, what can you do to protect your vehicle?

Why the sudden interest in catalytic converters?

A catalytic converter is a device that controls the exhaust emissions of an internal combustion engine in order to decrease pollution. Mandatory for all vehicles in Canada since the nineties, catalytic converters are found primarily in gasoline-powered and hybrid automobiles.

Catalytic converters contain several rare, precious metals, particularly palladium, rhodium and platinum. The price of palladium, alone, has now exceeded that of gold: CAD $3,602 per ounce, as compared with CAD $2,172 per ounce (figures as of February 2020). As a result, the resale of catalytic converters on the black market couldn’t be more lucrative. While the asking price will vary, it’s generally between $100 and $500 for a car and between $500 and $1,500 for a van or pickup.

This keen interest is the result of stricter regulations governing air pollution in a number of countries, forcing automakers to increase the amount of precious metals used in new catalytic converters. Emerging economies that suffer severe episodes of smog are looking to supply themselves with a significant quantity of catalytic converters. Among the principal culprits, China stands out, as the country produces a lot of vehicles but little rhodium. The crux of the problem is, therefore, a simple matter of supply and demand.

How to protect yourself from theft and what to do if you’re a victim

The Urban Agglomeration of Longueuil Police Service (SPAL) and the City of Montreal Police Service (SPVM) have established a comprehensive portrait of the vehicles that are most at risk. In particular, hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius are targets. Because of the lesser demands placed on these vehicles’ gasoline engines, their catalytic converters suffer less wear and tear, thus increasing their value to prospective buyers. Pickups and SUVs are also models of choice for thieves. Their increased ground clearance facilitates theft. And since the catalytic converter is proportionate to the size of the vehicle, it contains a higher quantity of precious metals. If you own a Hyundai Tucson, Hyundai Santa Fe, Honda Element, Honda CR-V or Kia Sportage, you should be particularly vigilant.

Not only the resale price but also the replacement cost of a catalytic converter is high; in fact, you’ll have to shell out between $1,000 and $4,500 to get another one. Most insurance policies cover this type of theft, but the large number of claims inevitably leads to higher premiums.

To prevent theft, the SPVM and CAA Quebec offer the following guidelines:

  • Park in an indoor parking structure or in a well-lit parking space in a busy location, ideally close to a sidewalk, in order to make it less appealing to thieves
  • Install security cameras
  • Engrave the vehicle identification number (VIN) or the registration number on the catalytic converter to make it traceable
  • Weld the catalytic converter to the frame of the vehicle
  • Install a sensitive alarm on the vehicle

If you’re the unfortunate victim of this type of theft, first contact the police, then your insurance company and finally your mechanic in order to replace your catalytic converter as soon as possible.

Would you like to learn how to protect yourself better? Talk to the professionals at Trans-Mico Automotive. They’ll be happy to give you sound advice and reassurance regarding the current situation, which has inspired dread in many a client.

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