Cars making loud noises are never a good sign and are a particular problem when the source of the noise is the absence of a catalytic converter.
Catalysts are regularly targeted auto parts, sometimes stolen directly from driveways. The theft can cause car owners headaches and up to thousands of dollars.
In August 2022, detectives identified a man who led a $22 million catalytic converter trade based in Oregon and spanning six states. A jury has charged a dozen people with, among other things, extortion, theft with violence and money laundering.
What are catalytic converters and why are they stolen so often?
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What are Catalysts?
Catalysts are your car’s way of filtering harmful pollutants from its exhaust. This exhaust system converts pollutants (hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides) into compounds that are already part of our atmosphere (nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide and water).
Well-designed catalytic converters can reduce hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide emissions by about 90%, as well as diesel particulate emissions by 25-35%. These converters work by using metallic catalysts to drive reactions at lower temperatures than would normally be required.
According to guidelines from the Environmental Protection Agency, cars made in or after 1975 have catalytic converters to combat pollutants. According to the EPA, which began in 1988, anyone who installs or sells a catalytic converter that doesn’t meet federal guidelines could face fines 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 reducing 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 newer to use the converters, and Maine prescribes CARB-compliant catalytic converters for cars made in and after 2001.
Why are catalytic converters stolen?
The number of reported catalytic converter thefts increased by 325 percent between 2019 and 2020. The reason for stolen inverters is the explanation behind every theft: money. The rhodium, palladium and platinum used in these parts are valuable, and rhodium can cost $20,000 an ounce, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. Palladium costs almost $3,000 an ounce and platinum costs about $1,128 an ounce.
Twenty-six states have introduced bills in 2021 to prevent catalytic converter theft, and 10 states have passed legislation.
NICB recommends taking precautions to prevent your catalytic converter from being stolen:
- Install an anti-theft device.
- Park trucks in a well-secured locked area.
- Park personal vehicles in a garage or driveway with motion sensor security lights. Always lock your car.
- Have your vehicle identification number engraved on your car’s catalytic converter so that the police can track down and identify the stolen parts. This can be done at a muffler shop or at a local NICB catalytic converter event.
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Can you drive without a catalytic converter?
If your catalytic converter has been stolen, you may get an engine trouble code from your vehicle. Because the converter muffles the exhaust noise, you will also hear a louder, unusual sound from the exhaust, reports TheMotorGuy.com.
While driving without a catalytic converter is technically possible, you may run into legal issues if you live in a state where emissions testing is required to operate the vehicle. Federal law also prohibits the disposal of catalytic converters.
How much does it cost to replace a catalytic converter?
Prices vary when it comes to replacement inverters due to part fit. Universal replacements can cost about $200-$300, according to AutoZone, but newer vehicles may require direct converters because the original catalytic converters are incorporated into the exhaust manifold. These direct-fit converters can cost as much as $2,500.
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