February 24

Protect Yourself from Catalytic Converter Theft

Car Safety, Car Costs, Podcast


Hi, it's Mark from Top Local, we're here with Bernie Pawlik, Pawlik Automotive in Vancouver. Vancouver's best auto service experience. 21 time winners of Best Auto Repair in Vancouver as voted by their customers. How are you doing this morning, Bernie? 

Bernie: Doing very well. 

Mark: So a bit of a controversial subject these days. Very frustrating for a lot of folks. How do we protect ourselves from catalytic converter theft? What's going on? 

Bernie: There's a lot in the news about catalytic converter theft these days, it seems to be on the rise. And it's been going on for a long, long time. And catalytic converters have always had some value as scrap metal. They're filled with precious metals. And so it's a good way for a thief to make a quick buck by removing a catalytic converter from a car. But the price fluctuates. And a catalytic converter generally have three precious metals, platinum, palladium, and rhodium. Rhodium is extremely valuable at the present time. So catalytic converters are worth a lot more money these days. 

Mark: So are there specific vehicles targeted? 

Bernie: There are. So the vehicles are targeted based on one, on ease of removal. And second, on the value of the catalytic converter. And Toyota Prius's, a lot in the news about Prius's. There's a lot of areas, not around Vancouver that I've heard, but certainly in California, Oregon, a lot in England where people have, this is what I hear in the news, and it's probably a lot of other places, but Prius's seem to be targeted very highly. 

Mark: And why? 

Bernie: The catalytic converter in a Toyota Prius, it’s valuable because it has a lot of precious metals in it. To achieve the low emissions that Toyota sets out to achieve, they pack the converter with a lot of precious metals. The more precious metal that you put in the converter, the better it actually works. You can buy a, you know, in the past you can go to an auto parts store and buy an  aftermarket replacement catalytic converter. I mean they used to have converter there. They still do, you know, it's $100 to buy a converter. Whereas the dealers, you know, a converter may be $1,200. Just giving, you know, round examples. And the Toyota Prius ones are substantially more money than that because of the precious metals. But the cheap hundred dollar converters, they barely have any precious metals in them. They didn't have to just have enough that you'll get you through an emission test. And fail within a year again. So they're not very good. Factory converters, they all have, you know, very high precious metal loading, but Prius's are exceptionally high. 

Mark: So catalytic converter, basically it's taking the pollutants, certain pollutants and those precious metals are actually bonding those pollutants and keeping them inside of the catalytic converter rather than shoving them out this tailpipe. Is that kind of a rough approximation was happening? 

Bernie: Actually, no, it doesn't work that way. And I'll be honest, I'm not, I can't tell you exactly, but what happens is as the exhaust flows past the hydrocarbon NOx and carbon monoxide, or actually converted to CO2 and water, and  that's basically how it works. As these gases pass the metals and the heat, there has to be heat and the reaction, it creates a chemical conversion. So that's basically what happens. So you know, as much as we hate CO2, coming out to the air, catalytic converter actually puts more CO2 out because it's actually taking those harmful pollutants, hydrocarbons, NOx, and carbon monoxide, and converting to the carbon dioxide and water. So, I mean, the water's good, but the CO2 is certainly is not, but you know, higher CO2, it's better combustion. But that's basically how it does it. So, catalytic converters they don't really wear out. I mean, they're supposedly last a lifetime of the vehicle, but they do fail eventually. And usually it's due to the, I mean, sometimes they can get overheated and damaged, but a lot of times the catalyst material just gets coated over by crap, you know, in the exhaust. And eventually it just isn't as efficient. But generally, even an old catalytic converter still has all that precious metal generally stays intact.

Mark: So isn't it difficult to get a catalytic converter out of a car? 

Bernie: Well it is, usually but there are some vehicles that are easier than others. Trucks, for instance, they sit higher, so someone can crawl underneath. Thieves cut these things out. It's easier nowadays because there's so many portable power tools, good battery powered tools. So with the reciprocating saw, you can just get underneath there with a metal blade in a matter of a minute or two, cut the catalytic converter out. So trucks are a good target because they sit high. Prius's of course, don't sit high, but they're highly valuable. So thieves that, there's a video you can watch on YouTube, couple of crafty guys in England pull up beside a Prius. They jack the vehicle up. One guy crawls underneath, I think it's like 90 seconds or something. They pop the vehicle down. They're gone with the catalytic converter probably, you know, make them three to 400 bucks in scrap metal, and that's a pretty good, a pretty good haul. I'm not giving anyone any ideas, you know, it's a pretty, you've got a couple of those a day. You could make a pretty good living till you get caught. 

Mark: Hopefully sooner than later. So how can I prevent my catalytic converter from being stolen? 

Bernie: Well, there's a few items, a few methods. I mean, first of all, if you have a locked, you know, a garage that you can park your car in, preferably in a private residence, that's probably the safest place. But I mean, second would be, you know, if you live in an apartment complex or something, that has shared parking, you know, an underground parking lot would be a good spot. However, people can get in. They do break into those kinds of places. So, you know, it's not a hundred percent safe, but it's better than the alternative.

You know, one, one thing to avoid is dark streets where there's no traffic at night. You know, I, my shop’s in an industrial area and down the road from me, I've had actually a couple of neighbours who've had a catalytic converter stolen off their vehicles because it gets dark down here. There's really no traffic, and it's a perfect place for a thief to do something. So if you're on a busy, busier road was more traffic, that's a good preventative. The other thing of course, is you can make things and there's a protective shields available. 

I'll just share a photo here or two. 

Protect Yourself from Catalytic Converter Theft
Protect Yourself from Catalytic Converter Theft

We had a customer come in awhile ago with an old, it was an older Toyota pickup truck, four wheel drive pickup truck had a bit of a lift on it, so this would be an a really easy vehicle to take a catalytic converter out of, but this person had a, I don't know, when had a customized catalytic converter, protective shield put into it. The red arrows kind of point to the shield, which is, I shouldn't say shield. I mean it's all a steel bars, but with a reciprocating saw, even if you did actually manage to reach it and cut the pipe, you'd never be able to sneak it out past this area. So really well thought out item. 

Now, here’s another view of it from the front. Again, with the protective pieces in the way. The one thing about this, it's of course it's a bit of a pain is if you ever have to do any repairs and remove this, you're going to have to cut this piece off and cut it apart to get it out, but it's not something in the course of normal automotive repair that you need to remove this, but there are times when you would, so that would cost you some extra money. But I mean, really a pretty cool creative solution. If you don't want to go this kind of route of customization, there are items available. If you look online there and we'll put some links, for a couple of products. We've never used them, so we can't personally endorse them, but some interesting ideas.

There's a company that makes shields, specifically for Toyota Prius's. I think they're stainless steel and they bolt in underneath the vehicle, which is good. I mean, it's not like a thief couldn't remove them, but any deterrent helps. If you have two Prius's one with the shield one without it, they're going to go with the one without it.

So that's one item. There are some wire cables that, basically clamp up to your exhaust pipe. These are like steel, hardened steel wires. Again, it makes it very difficult for a thief to cut the converter. Again, thieves want to do stuff fast. They want to do it quick, and if they can't do that, then they're going to move on to the next thing.

There's also one that's even more interesting. It's some steel cables attached to the exhaust pipe, they run down the length of the exhaust pipe from the front over the catalytic converter and it comes with an alarm. And you have a fob, you can set it. It's actually not very expensive, surprisingly, but there there's a fob and it has, I think 110 or 120 decibel siren that sounds and is supposed to set up underneath, and of course, blow the thief's ears out while we're in the middle of cutting the converter and scare them away. But it also has some, you know, if they happen to break the siren off or whatever they do, they, it has some protective wires again.

Steel wires that just slow the process down. So that's another one I thought was kind of an interesting idea. Although having the idea of having another fob to, you know, to arm your vehicle for a catalytic converter theft seem a little, it seems a little extreme to me. Like it seems like a lot of work, but I guess if you live in an area where that happens, it might be an option. So those are a few items. As I mentioned, we'll put some notes in in the end. 

Mark: So this is an item that you've had to replace far too many times already. 

Bernie: Yeah. We've done quite a few. It really varies what the price of precious metals. Sometimes when the price goes down, you know, then the level of theft goes down. But you know they talk about you know, it's often talking about the ethics of scrap dealers. I mean, you got a couple of guys walking in, Hey, I got this catalytic converter. I mean, why are they not calling the police or checking credentials? They're supposed to do that kind of thing. For some reason they don't, or people get away with it somehow. We've sold lots of catalytic converters to scrap metal dealers over the years because we don't do that many anymore. But, you know, and when we used to have Air Care, like emission testing in Vancouver, you know, catalytic converter replacement was a pretty common thing we do. You know, we do it occasionally. So we'd have scrap metal dealers coming by buying converters, and some of them, you know, go for a fair chunk of money, but not what they're going for today. Some of them are really high valued. 

Mark: So there you go. If you need to protect yourself, the guys to call in Vancouver, Pawlik Automotive, you can reach them at (604) 327-7112 to book your appointment. They can only help you in Vancouver. If you're somewhere else, cause we know this, a popular subject worldwide, you can check out the links that we have below in the show notes or on the blog post on the website. Of course, if you're looking for more information on repairing your make or model of car, or for a specific kind of issue that you're having, you can check out the blog posts over 640 on the website. Or on our YouTube channel Pawlik Auto Repair. Thank you so much for listening to the podcast. We really appreciate it. Give us a review on Apple iTunes or Spotify and thanks Bernie. 

Bernie: Thank you Mark. And just one other thing I want to add in the end. Your car insurance may pay for that, if your converter’s stolen. So just something else to look at. This is know little bonus tip for listening to all our credits at the end of the podcast.

Prevent Catalytic Converter Theft - check out these links for more ideas!

About the author 

Bernie Pawlik

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