• Fri. Dec 1st, 2023

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Catalytic converter thefts are on the rise in the U.S. and Canada

Ford’s F-Series is tops for thieves in the U.S., but many Canadian cops are reporting Korean cars are the ticket

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Catalytic converter thefts are on the rise, and it turns out thieves may have gotten away with even more of them than have been reported. That’s according to a report from Carfax, which estimated that as many as 153,000 “cat-cons” were liberated in 2022.

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Those numbers are for the U.S., but it’s possible Canada may be in line with that on a per-capita basis, especially since many police divisions are reporting increased numbers of theft investigations.

Carfax said its higher number — up from media reports of 52,000 catalytic converters replaced under insurance claims in 2021 in the U.S. — also included converters that were replaced due to theft, but which weren’t paid out by an insurance company. Those are mostly because the owners either didn’t have any insurance, or they didn’t have comprehensive coverage that would pay for it.

There aren’t readily-available national numbers for Canada, but among major cities, Calgary police said that reported thefts rose from 300 in all of 2020, to 1,104 thefts in just the first eight months of 2021. In Surrey, B.C., police went from investigating 16 thefts per month in 2021 to 31 per month in 2022. In Niagara Falls, Ontario, police say they’ve received 21 reports of cat-con theft since February — less than a month and a half.

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Dealerships are reporting that thieves are taking the exhaust components off new cars in their parking lots. And for that matter, in February of 2023, someone even stole the catalytic converter off an Oscar Meyer Weinermobile when it was parked in Las Vegas during a tour. Obviously, nothing is sacred.

So why bother crawling under a car and sawing off the cat-con? It’s because these anti-pollution devices perform their catalytic magic using small amounts of platinum, palladium, and rhodium — precious metals that live up to that name in their value. All of them go for US$1,000 an ounce or more — and more than ten times that much for rhodium. Of course the thieves don’t get anywhere near that, but it’s estimated they can get between $25 to $300 apiece for a converter, and as much as $1,400 for one off a hybrid vehicle, because they contain even more of those pricey metals. But for an insurance company — or an owner out-of-pocket — putting a new one back on can be $2,000 or more.

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10 Most targeted vehicles

According to Carfax’s report, the top-10 most-targeted vehicles nationwide in the U.S., in order, are the Ford F-Series, Honda Accord, Toyota Prius, Honda CR-V, Ford Explorer, Ford Econoline, Chevrolet Equinox, Chevrolet Silverado, Toyota Tacoma, and Chevrolet Cruze.

In Canada, many police divisions and insurance companies are pointing to Korean cars as being the converter of choice. Manitoba Public Insurance reports that the Hyundai Tucson is high on the list, along with the Kia Sportage and Hyundai Santa Fe. J.D. Power reports that European cars are less likely to be targeted as their catalytic converters tend to be closer to the engine and harder to steal. Trucks and SUVs make it easier since they’re higher off the ground for easier access.

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Preventing catalytic converter theft

How do you avoid becoming a statistic? Experts suggest parking in your garage if possible; in public areas, park close to building entrances and well-lit areas; and set your vehicle’s alarm for motion detection if you can. The RCMP and other police divisions advise having your vehicle information number (VIN) engraved on the converter — a muffler shop should be able to do it, and some police services hold events where you can have it done. You can also buy “cages” to protect the component from thieves. And always be very cautious about where you leave your Weinermobile.

Jil McIntosh picture

Jil McIntosh

Jil McIntosh specializes in new-car reviews, auto technology and antique cars, including the two 1940s vehicles in her garage.


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