Catalytic converter theft: Everything you need to know

Last updated May 18, 2023

You might not be aware of it, but your catalytic converter is a crucial part of your car’s exhaust system. If it is missing, your car’s performance may suffer – and it may also produce emissions above the legal limits. A missing catalytic converter will also result in your car failing its MOT.

Catalytic converters are commonly stolen, as they contain valuable metals that can quickly be removed. Car parks are the most common location for catalytic converter thefts, but they can happen anywhere.

All vehicle types are at risk of catalytic converter theft, but hybrid vehicles are targeted more frequently, as the metals hybrid catalytic converters contain are often more valuable.

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What is a catalytic converter?

A catalytic converter is a device that controls the emissions of vehicles by converting the toxic gases and pollutants in exhaust gas into less toxic pollutants. This is achieved by catalysing a redox reaction. Catalytic converters are often used in internal combustion engines for petrol and diesel cars, including lean-burn engines.

Why are catalytic converters stolen?

Catalytic converters are commonly targeted by thieves because they contain precious metals, such as palladium and platinum, which are used in the parts. The parts are easily accessible too, so the crime itself is easy to commit.

What cars are at the highest risk of catalytic converter theft?

  • Hybrid cars, which have higher standards for cleaning emissions have more expensive converters and therefore are more frequently targeted by thieves.
  • Models such as the Honda Jazz and Toyota Prius are among the most targeted by catalytic converter thieves.
  • Older cars (produced after 1974) are also frequently targeted, as they usually have more metals inside their catalytic converters.
  • Luxury sports cars such as Ferraris and Lamborghinis.
  • Vehicles that sit higher from the ground, such as vans and SUVs.

Do all vehicles have catalytic converters?

Any vehicle that uses petrol or diesel will have a catalytic converter. The only vehicles that don’t are fully electric vehicles.

Why catalytic converter theft is an issue

The precious metals contained in catalytic converters have shot up in value in recent years. These metals now have a high scrap metal value, which has led to an increase in theft.

As catalytic converters are an accessible part on most vehicles, stealing them is relatively easy. Catalytic converter theft presents a significant problem, as any affected vehicles produce illegal emissions, which causes harm to the environment.

What happens when you drive a car without your catalytic converter?

Driving without a catalytic converter can lead to engine damage if you don’t promptly replace the missing converter.

Your car’s performance and fuel efficiency may also suffer - and your ‘check engine’ light may illuminate. Your exhaust might also sound different than before the theft.

How to prevent catalytic converter theft

  • Choose where to park your car carefully to protect yourself from theft. If you can, park in a locked garage - and if this isn’t an option, park with the side of the car closest to the catalytic converter near a fence, wall or high kerb. Also try to park in well-lit areas to prevent thieves from working under the cover of darkness.

  • Boost your home security by installing CCTV systems or alarms for your driveway.

  • Add a lock, alarm, or guard to your vehicle. If you choose to add any of these security features, make sure you declare this to your insurer to make sure any future claims are not affected.

  • Mark your catalytic converter by asking a garage to add a serial number to it. The Scrap Metal Dealers Act requires every dealer to check the identity of sellers against the unique code.

  • Report any suspicious activity to the police.

Which areas are most common for catalytic converter theft?

Car parks are the most common location for catalytic converter thefts, but this crime can occur anywhere.

How long does it take to steal a catalytic converter?

An experienced thief can steal a catalytic converter in just a few minutes. However, this process typically takes between 5 and 10 minutes.

Some catalytic converters can be removed in less than two minutes. When the catalytic converter is bolted on to the exhaust, thieves will only need to use a spanner to remove it.

Somebody has stolen my catalytic converter – what should I do?

You will be able to tell if your car’s catalytic converter has been stolen when you start it, as the exhaust will be very loud. Don’t drive your car; contact your local police station (and your insurance provider to arrange the necessary repairs).

Is catalytic converter theft covered by car insurance?

If you have comprehensive cover, you’re usually covered against catalytic converter theft. This coverage will typically pay to replace the stolen converter and repair any damage related to its removal.

How much does it cost to replace a catalytic converter?

The cost of a typical catalytic converter replacement ranges from £150 to £800.