Cars that make loud noises are never a good sign and are a particular nuisance when the cause of the noise is the absence of a catalytic converter.
Catalytic converters are regularly targeted auto parts, sometimes stolen straight off the road. Theft can cause headaches for car owners and up to thousands of dollars.
Detectives identified a man in August 2022 who ran a $22 million catalytic converter trafficking operation based in Oregon and spanning six states. A jury indicted a dozen people on racketeering, aggravated robbery and money laundering charges, among other charges.
What are catalytic converters and why are they stolen so often?
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What are catalytic converters?
Catalytic converters are your car’s way of filtering harmful pollutants out of the engine’s exhaust. This exhaust system converts pollutants (hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides) into compounds that already make up our atmosphere (nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide and water).
Well-designed catalytic converters can reduce hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide emissions by 90%, as well as diesel particulate emissions by 25-35%. These converters work by using metal catalysts to drive reactions at lower temperatures than would normally be needed.
According to Environmental Protection Agency guidelines, cars made after 1975 have catalytic converters to slow down pollutants. According to the EPA, beginning in 1988, anyone who installs or sells a catalytic converter that does not meet federal guidelines can face penalties of up to $25,000 for each installation.
Some states have even adopted stricter environmental protections for catalytic converters. The California Air Resources Board requires CARB-compliant catalytic converters, which use an improved process to meet stricter standards for curbing harmful emissions. California and Colorado require all cars to use CARB-compliant catalytic converters. New York state requires cars made in 1993, 1994, 1996 and later to use the converters, and Maine requires CARB-compliant catalytic converters for cars made after 2001.
Why are catalytic converters stolen?
Reported catalytic converter thefts increased 325% between 2019 and 2020. The reason behind stolen converters is the explanation behind any theft: money. The rhodium, palladium and platinum used in these parts are valuable, and rhodium can fetch $20,000 per ounce, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. Palladium costs almost $3,000 per ounce and platinum costs about $1,128 per ounce.
Twenty-six states proposed bills in 2021 to prevent catalytic converter theft, with 10 states passing legislation.
NICB recommends taking precautions to prevent your catalytic converter from being stolen:
- Install an anti-theft device.
- Park the trucks in a well-secured gated area.
- Park personal vehicles in a garage or driveway with motion-sensing security lights. Always lock your car.
- Get your VIN engraved on your car’s catalytic converter, which will help law enforcement track and identify stolen parts. This can be done at a muffler shop or at a local NICB catalytic converter event.
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Can it be driven without a catalytic converter?
If your catalytic converter was stolen, you may get an engine trouble code for your vehicle. Because the converter muffles the exhaust sound, you’ll also notice a louder, more unusual sound coming from the exhaust, reports TheMotorGuy.com.
While driving without a catalytic converter is technically possible, you may be in legal trouble if you live in a state where emissions testing is required to operate the vehicle. Federal law also prohibits the removal of catalytic converters.
How much does it cost to replace a catalytic converter?
Prices vary when it comes to replacement converters due to the fit of the part. Universal replacements can cost between $200 and $300, according to AutoZone, but newer vehicles may require direct-fit converters because the original catalytic converters are built into the exhaust manifold. These direct-fit converters can cost up to $2,500.
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