Photo: Charli Bandit/iStock

Protect Yourself from Catalytic Converter Theft

By Jeff Cummings

When thieves see an opportunity, they strike. And now, they’re targeting large vehicles like RVs, motorhomes, older pickup trucks, and late-model vans for their catalytic converter.

Depending on how your vehicle is parked and its clearance from the ground, thieves have many opportunities to rip that critical component of your exhaust system and then sell it in the underground economy.

A GROWING CONCERN

“They target larger vehicles because they have bigger converters, and it takes as little as 30 seconds to remove them,” says Staff Sgt. Nick Wilsher with the Calgary Police Service’s Crime Prevention Team.

Catalytic converter theft is a growing problem across the province. In Calgary, for example, 1,014 incidents were reported in the first eight months of 2021—up from just 300 for the whole year in 2020. In Edmonton, police responded to 2,484 of these thefts between Nov. 2020 and Oct 2021, compared to 1,697 during the same period the previous year. With each theft, the victim could pay around $1,800 in parts and labour to get a new converter. But, depending on the size and the valuable metals inside each converter, a thief will only get around $200 in return, says Wilsher.

Older vehicles are prime targets as their converters contain valuable metals like platinum and palladium. Newer models are more fuel efficient and less likely to contain these valuable metals. Converters in those newer machines are also more challenging to steal.

The problem has brought in changes by governments regarding how scrap metal dealers and recyclers can accept catalytic converters. For example, shops that knowingly take in stolen catalytic converters in Edmonton can have their business licences removed.

But thieves are finding new ways to make money with stolen converters. They’ll register as an auto parts shop and then mix those stolen converters with legally obtained ones. After that, they’ll dupe scrap metal dealers by selling them the mixture of converters in bulk, along with other vehicle parts, says Wilsher.

“All the recyclers are counting how many converters are coming in—they’re not actually inspecting each unit,” he says.

If you have an older vehicle with a fair amount of clearance from the ground, Wilsher has a few suggestions.

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PARK STRATEGICALLY

When you know where your converter is located on the vehicle, you can park strategically to reduce your risk. For example, if your converter is closer to the back passenger side wheel, you can park close to a wall or a structure on that side to make it more challenging to access.

Wilsher also suggests parking in a high-traffic area, like a busy residential street, or in a secure garage whenever possible.

BUY PROTECTIVE CLAMPS OR A PLATE

Talk to your Approved Auto Repair Service mechanic about installing clamps that attach around the converter. The clamps, and the strong metal rods that come with them, will make things challenging for thieves. Other companies also offer plates that you can have welded at the bottom of your vehicle, completely covering the converter. Think of it like armour that keeps thieves away.

PUT YOUR VIN ON YOUR CONVERTER

Getting your mechanic to engrave your vehicle identification number on the converter is a great idea, especially if the police recover your unit. But Wilsher cautions that thieves may grind the numbers off the converters to successfully dupe recyclers.

DON’T SUPPORT THIEVES

If you need to replace a catalytic converter, go to a trustworthy and ethical repair shop and dealer.

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