Susan Frissell, Editor, Publisher

It appears stealing catalytic converters is back in fashion. Not only in the U.S. but big time in the U.K. And certain vehicles are targeted. If you get into your car one day and it sounds like a lawnmower, you’ve been hit! The sad part is it only takes a thief something like less than 30 seconds to cob it. I was reminded recently that this particular automotive part is again, a coveted item. My neighbor shared with me that-during the middle of the night-right in her driveway, someone dismantled the catalytic converter from her Honda Element.

First introduced on a large scale during the 1970s in the U.S., the Catalytic Converter is said to be one of the smartest environmental inventions to help tackle the pollution emitted from vehicles. They are known to cut down on most toxic car emissions by 99 percent. When a car is driven the engine burns the gasoline to produce the energy that moves a car. The gas it burns is mostly different types of hydrocarbons. The hydrocarbons-in the real world-do not completely combust. Incomplete combustion can produce toxic gases like carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides that go into the environment.

To tackle this problem, the Clean Air Act was created in 1970 to allow the EPA to regulate air pollution. The catalytic converter was invented to sit between a car’s engine and the muffler. They have become very effective in cutting down on air pollution. The converter does this by using transition metals-a combination of platinum, palladium, and rhodium. As catalysts, they can speed up the reactions of other molecules. The platinum and rhodium are first to speed up a reduction reaction, a compound loses oxygen atoms and/or gains electrons. Through a scientific process-to make a long story short-the change goes from toxic nitrogen dioxide or nitric oxide to harmless nitrogen gas and oxygen gas. An oxidation process follows-and mostly carbon dioxide and water are produced.

During the last few decades there has been more of a demand for stricter emission standards, which leaves more demand for the metals used, therefore, increasing the prices for platinum, palladium and rhodium. These medals are also used in many electronics.

The average catalytic converter is sold for scrap and can sell for between $100 and $300; sometimes more.

Those stealing the catalytic converters from underneath cars are most often selling them for scrap. In an effort to decrease thefts, some states are trying to tightly regulate scrap metal sales. At the same time, researchers are studying less expensive metals to be used in catalytic converters. Unfortunately, there isn’t much one can do to completely prevent someone from stealing a catalytic converter. If it takes just 30-60 seconds to steel, there isn’t a lot of hope. It’s also hard-if not impossible-to trace the stolen parts. If you’re so motivated, you can have your VIN number engraved into the converter, or secure it so that it takes longer to disconnect.

Some of the more popular vehicles targeted for this theft include hybrids: Toyota Prius, for instance. Run on electric power, the hybrid vehicles run on electric poser and use the engines less often, which means the converters get less use, making them more valuable. Also popular targets include trucks. Given how they are built, a truck like the Ford F-250 is easier to crawl under. The converters tend to be larger on trucks and have a higher amount of rare metals. An OEM Ford F-250 catalytic converter can cost up to $2,500.

It’s been discovered there are other reasons for the theft of catalytic converters. In the state of Maine, there have been numerous cases of the recovery of converters and power tools believed to have been stolen. Ten defendents were arrested and charged, selling over 1,000 catalytic converters, receiving over $190,000, dating back to 2019. The estimated cost of these 1,000 converters was over 2 million dollars!

The replacement cost to car owners is said to be in the range of $2000 at a dealer. The vehicle, in the meantime, of course, can’t be driven until it’s repaired.

*The author does not profess to understand all the science behind this important auto part!