Many Texas drivers are learning they are part of an increasing kind of auto crime as they start their vehicle and hear a loud rumbling noise. These vehicle owners soon learn their automobile was the target of a catalytic converter thief. New auto claims data from AAA Texas reveals that claims for stolen catalytic converters have jumped 5,300% since 2019. July is one of the leading months for vehicle thefts and is also National Vehicle Theft Prevention Month. AAA Texas is reminding automobile owners to take steps to protect their vehicles and costly auto parts, such as catalytic converters.
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Catalytic converters change harmful substances in a car's exhaust gasses (carbon monoxide, nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide and hydrocarbons) into less harmful substances like carbon dioxide and water vapor by means of chemical reactions. The earning potential for catalytic converters is high when they are sold to metal scrappers. The sales may not always be tracked by law enforcement. Two of the three rare earth metals used in catalytic converters, rhodium and palladium, are worth more per ounce than gold.
While almost any car could be a target for catalytic converter thieves, SUVs and fleet vehicles, including school buses, have been the prime targets. Additionally, Toyota Priuses have been targeted because they have two catalytic converters and have more of the precious metals.
Once stolen, thieves may be able to sell detached catalytic converters for hundreds of dollars to scrapyards or internet buyers. Once sold, catalytic converters can be resold to recyclers interested in the expensive metals inside them. Typically, recyclers will pay $50 to $250 per catalytic converter. Unfortunately for the victims of catalytic converter theft, the cost to replace the part could cost between $1,000 to $3,000, depending on the car or truck, and the vehicle may not be legal to drive until the part is replaced.
Catalytic converter thefts started increasing in 2020 as the pandemic led to higher unemployment, more people working from home and lots of high riding vehicles such as trucks and SUVs left idle or being driven less.
“For many people, our vehicles are some of the most expensive purchases we make during our lifetimes, so protecting them should be a priority,” said AAA Texas spokesperson Daniel Armbruster. “With the cost of many goods and services on the rise, the last thing vehicle owners need is a costly car repair.”
According to AAA Texas, Harris County leads the state with the highest number of catalytic converter thefts this year. In fact, Harris County has already surpassed 2021’s total catalytic converter theft volume with 115 recorded year-to-date versus 114 for all of last year. AAA data shows Fort Bend, Dallas, Bexar and Tarrant Counties round out the top five Texas counties with catalytic converter theft claims processed so far this year.
AAA Texas offers the following tips to prevent catalytic converter theft:
- When possible, park in well-lit areas and close to building entrances.
- If you have a garage at your house, park your car inside and keep the garage door shut.
- If you own a high clearance vehicle like a truck or SUV, store it in a secure location.
- Have the catalytic converter welded to your car’s frame, which may make it harder to steal.
- Look into buying a converter-protection device that has been developed for the Prius and other vehicles targeted by thieves.
- Consider engraving your vehicle identification number (VIN) on the catalytic converter – this may help alert a scrap dealer that it was stolen and make it easier to find the owner.
- Security devices, such as locks, are available that attach to the converter, making it harder to steal.
- Calibrate your car’s alarm to go off when it detects vibration.
- Carry a good insurance policy. Most insurance companies cover replacement costs if the vehicle owner has the optional comprehensive coverage, which covers damage to a vehicle not caused by a crash.
About AAA: AAA provides more than 62 million members with automotive, travel, insurance and financial services through its federation of independently owned motor clubs and nearly 1,000 branch offices across North America. Since 1902, AAA has been a leader and advocate for the motorist and safe mobility. Drivers can request roadside assistance, identify nearby gas prices, locate discounts, book a hotel or map a route via the AAA Mobile app. AAA Texas branch offices throughout the state can be found by visiting www.AAA.com. Follow AAA Texas on Twitter: @AAATexas and Facebook: www.facebook.com/AAATexas.