July 10, 2014 at 1:00 am

Curb catalytic converter thefts

Installing wire cage, etching ID numbers on frame are options

Every couple of months, Craig Heiser sees a car putter into his garage without a catalytic converter.

“We see that they’ve been cut out,” says Heiser, owner of University Automotive in Sacramento, California. “(After we install a new one), we’ll usually send them to an auto body shop to have steel plates put on them (for anti-theft purposes).”

Catalytic converters don’t just fall off cars and go missing. Thieves are swiping them and selling them at scrap metal yards for $100 to $200.

Scrap thefts have been gotten popular for several years because of soaring metal prices in the U.S.

Catalytic converters are located under the car and attached to the exhaust pipe, typically with bolts. Their job is converting toxic fuel emissions into less toxic pollutants before they exit the car through the muffler.

Catalytic converters are valuable to scrap metal dealers, in part, because they contain precious metals, including rhodium, platinum and palladium. It typically only takes a thief a couple of minutes to remove a converter with a saw or wrench.

All cars made after 1974 have catalytic converters, but some are more prone to theft. Thieves often pick pickups and SUVs because they’re easier to crawl under.

Heiser says catalytic converters on Toyota trucks and SUVs in the 1990s to late 2000s are especially vulnerable because of the metal from which they’re made.

Also, some newer vehicles that meet stricter emissions standards feature multiple catalytic converters and can be more at risk for theft.

Police recommend parking in your garage and in well-lit areas at night to avoid being an easy target for a criminal.

Another way to avoid a potential catalytic converter theft, experts say, is to have a mechanic weld it to the exhaust system, but that might not totally protect it from a saw. Drivers can also have a qualified service tech install a wire cage around the converter, and bolt and weld it to the frame for about $100.

Having the vehicle identification number or license plate number etched onto the catalytic converter may prevent thieves from stealing it and taking it to a scrap yard. Most catalytic converters do not come with identifying markers.

It won’t be difficult to tell if your catalytic converter is missing, Heiser says. When you start the car, you’ll hear a loud sound. Driving the vehicle without the converter could lead to engine damage.

The cost to replace a catalytic converter ranges on average from $1,000 to $2,000, experts say. Most insurance policies will cover the cost of a stolen catalytic converter, minus the deductible.