Most people don’t buy a Prius to straight pipe it, but thieves will do it for free! Heck, they’ll straight pipe just about any car for free, because there’s a part of your car that’s literally worth more than gold!
Don’t believe me? Just look at how many are being stolen every single day! That’s right, in recent years, criminals have been stealing more and more catalytic converters off the bottoms of unsuspecting cars. And while your cat may be rusted over and covered in motor oil, as my mom says, “It’s what’s on the inside that counts”!
Your catalytic converter is hiding some pretty valuable stuff inside that jackers can’t wait to get their hands on. But I’m going to tell you how to foil their evil plans!
Now, it’s time to let the cat out of the bag about catalytic converters. Let’s go!
What Are Catalytic Converters?
First, let’s talk real quick about what a catalytic converter is and what it does. Catalytic converters are basically a part of your exhaust system that’s put in place to change harmful exhaust gasses into less harmful products.
They take all that carbon monoxide, nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide, and hydrocarbon produced by your engine, and force it to react with precious metals, converting it into less harmful products like carbon dioxide and water vapor.
Cats also have to be extremely hot to be functional, like 400 degrees Fahrenheit hot, so they were typically placed as close to the engine as possible at first. This ended up causing problems, however, and the cat has gradually made its way further and further down the exhaust system over the years, and today they usually sit right near your tailpipe.
This makes it increasingly easier for thieves to quickly slip under your car and pull your cat out in the blink of an eye.
How Do Catalytic Converters Work?
I’m not going to go too deep into how catalytic converters work, because this is some complicated machinery. The basic way that a catalytic converter works is by trapping these harmful gasses in a honeycomb structure. Think about what a beehive looks like. These harmful gasses are contained in there, and under the extreme heat, they react with the PGMs that line the inside of the honeycomb.
PGM stands for “platinum group metals”, a group of precious metals that have certain chemical properties that allow them to trade hydrogens or carbons or whatever with the dangerous gasses, and convert them into less harmful products. I’m not a chemist, all I know is that the PGMs do their job, and do it well.
Older gas-burning cars typically have a simple “two-way” oxidation cat, which essentially converts carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide, and converts hydrocarbons, which are basically particles of unburnt fuel, to water vapor.
More modern cars have “three-way” cats, which do everything that a “two-way” cat does, but also removes nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide, which are also harmful pollutants.
Diesel-burning cars also have their own kind of catalytic converter that’s specially equipped to deal with compression ignition diesel engines. EVs, on the other hand, don’t use catalytic converters whatsoever, since they don’t create any emissions. If you were already considering getting a Tesla, I just gave you one more reason.
So, while that may have been a boring explanation for those of you not very technologically inclined, it’s worth looking into why theft rates for catalytic converters are going sky high these days. And if your ears perked up when I said “precious metals”, you’re already one step ahead of me.
Why Are People Stealing Them?
First of all, people have been stealing catalytic converters since the technology was invented. This is not a new thing. And that’s because those PGM precious metals that make them work are super valuable.
The three main PGMs found in cats are platinum, rhodium, and palladium. Go get your periodic tables out and look them up, nerds! And while you’ve probably heard of platinum, and associate it with big money, it’s actually the least valuable of the three.
While these metals have always been used in catalytic converters, their values have absolutely skyrocketed in recent years, making it all the more lucrative for someone to pull that cat right out from under your car.
There’s been reports of people stealing cats from mechanics shops, from dealerships, and even off of schoolbuses. I guess there’s only one solution: straight pipe the schoolbuses! Kidding, kidding, but that would be kind of awesome!
Obviously, though, thieves are going to pretty extreme lengths to get their hands on these things. But the title of this article claims that your catalytic converter could actually be more valuable than gold! Could that possibly be true? Well, let’s take a look.
Are They Really More Valuable Than Gold?
According to a metal speculation group out of Montreal called Kitco Metals, by the end of the year 2021, the price of an ounce of palladium may be somewhere around $2,400 per ounce, the price of platinum has been around $1,200 so far this year, and the price of rhodium was around $23,700 in February of 2020. So, how much is gold worth? Well, gold has been right around $1,700 per ounce so far this year, which means that palladium and rhodium are both, in fact, more valuable than gold at this point in time.
But, as I said, it wasn’t always like that. The values of these PGMs have completely exploded in the last few years, and the reason why might surprise you.
Why Are PGMs So Valuable?
It seems pretty absurd that these metals that are used in pretty much every car on the road should be so valuable. So, why have the prices gone up so far? Well, in fact, the primary use for these metals is in catalytic converters, so much so that 90% of rhodium demand was for cats in 2019.
And, with emissions standards becoming more and more strict worldwide, and particularly in the massive economy of China, the demand for these PGMs has shot through the roof. Palladium and rhodium in particular have shot up in value, since they’re the most widely used in gas-burning cars. Platinum hasn’t blown up as much because it’s used more heavily in diesel cars, and people seem to be pretty skeptical about diesel cars after that whole VW Dieselgate situation.
The global supply of palladium and rhodium also remains low, because these metals are mostly mined in Russia and South Africa, and are mostly collected as a byproduct by mining operations who are looking primarily for other metals.
High demand and low supply, you know what that means: high prices. Alright, economics lesson over. Now that you know why every petty thief under the sun wants to steal your catalytic converter, let’s talk about what you can do to make sure they don’t get yours.
How Can I Protect My Catalytic Converter?
Unfortunately, it seems that removing a catalytic converter is a pretty quick and easy operation for anyone who knows how to work a SAWZALL, which begs the question: why would auto manufacturers make such a valuable component so easy to remove? Maybe it’s time for our favorite carmakers to go back to the drawing board on this one.
For now, the best ways to protect your catalytic converter from getting snatched up and sold is to park in a garage whenever you can, and if you can’t, make sure your car is parked in a well-lit area.
You can also calibrate the shock sensor on your car’s alarm to make it go off just from mild vibrations. This is usually a dial about three inches below the dashboard on the driver’s side, and turning the dial clockwise will turn up the sensitivity. While this may help to expose potential thieves, it’ll probably also have you running out of your office building to turn off your car alarm more than you might like.
Another option is to weld your catalytic converter to the frame of your car. I’ve seen some DIY guys out there making cages out of rebar that protect their converter unit, and there’s also premade cages that you can buy online for the same purpose. While a determined thief with a SAWZALL could still probably get through those, I’d bet that he’d rather just move on to another car than pull out a powersaw in the middle of the street.
And apparently it’s far easier for thieves to steal catalytic converters from vehicles with higher ground clearance, so you stance boys might be onto something. This might just be the only time in history when there’s a practical reason to get your car slammed! Never thought I’d say that…
If you want a chance of getting your catalytic converter back after it’s been stolen, there are third-party companies that will etch a VIN number into your converter so that salvage shops can identify it… if they’re upstanding, that is. However it’s questionable whether this VIN will really do anything anyway, since putting a used cat in your car is actually illegal, and the only salvage shops that’re going to buy them are the ones that don’t have any regard for the law. Either that or they’re just going to melt it down to get those precious PGMs inside, in which case that VIN is completely useless.
The other option is to install a dash cam, which could help the cops identify the suspect. I’d probably go with the dash cam, because they cost as little as $50, they can help with all types of theft and insurance claims, and can be used for getting badass footage of your weekend off-roading extravaganza!
The last and most expensive way to not get your cat stolen is to buy an electric vehicle! Can’t steal your cat if you don’t have one!