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Catalytic Converter Thefts Are on the Rise: Here’s Why
According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, catalytic converter thefts began to skyrocket during the second half of 2020, and local reports indicate that the trend continued in 2021.1–2
Catalytic converters, the small muffler-like devices that help control pollution from auto emissions, have always been a target for thieves because they contain precious metals more valuable than gold and are easily accessible under the car, between the engine and the muffler. (If your car sounds like a jackhammer, your converter may be gone.)
Converters have been required on most U.S. cars since 1975, but recent strict emissions regulations in China and other countries have sent the value of the precious metals — palladium, rhodium, and platinum — soaring to record levels. Thieves typically sell the part to a junkyard or recycler for $50 to $250, and some models might fetch as much as $500.3–4
Some car owners have taken additional steps to secure their catalytic converters, such as installing a heavy metal cage around the converter (which can be pricey) or having it etched with the vehicle identification number or license plate number, which some police departments will do for free.
Replacing a stolen converter could cost $1,000 to $3,000 — one good reason to have comprehensive insurance, which covers theft of the car, its parts, or its contents, as well as damage resulting from vandalism, falling or flying objects, animal collisions, fire, explosions, earthquakes, and weather-related risks such as wind and flood. All coverage is only up to policy limits.5
Along with catalytic converters, thieves who can’t drive away the whole car often steal airbags, car tires, rims, xenon headlights, and global positioning systems (GPS), which are targeted because of their high street values. Keep in mind that comprehensive coverage typically applies only to GPS devices and other components that are permanently attached; unattached units would be considered personal property.
In general, comprehensive coverage costs significantly less than liability or collision coverage. Premiums depend on both the current value of the automobile and the level of risk to which it may be exposed, which means you will pay more if you live in an area where claims are prevalent. Insurers will look closely at the perceived level of risk in your specific ZIP code.
Comprehensive coverage is optional, but lenders typically require it. Some people who own older vehicles free and clear may sacrifice the extra coverage for the sake of lower insurance costs, but you might find that it offers a sense of security that may be worth the extra cost.