Ways to Protect Your Catalytic Converter from Theft

Stolen catalytic converterThe catalytic converter has been stolen from this SUV twice. Larger image
The theft of catalytic converters is on the rise, especially since 2021. People steal catalytic converters because they contain expensive metals such as Platinum (Pt), Rhodium (Rh), Palladium (Pd) and Ruthenium (Ru). Metal scrap dealers buy used catalytic converters to recycle them.

If your catalytic converter is stolen and your insurance doesn't cover it, replacing it is a considerable expense, in some cars it can cost up to several thousand dollars. Read more: Catalytic Converter: Problems and Replacement Options. Not only that, but due to high demand, catalytic converters for some vehicles are on back order.

What are the ways to protect the catalytic converter from theft?

If you watch surveillance videos where people are stealing catalytic converters, it happens fast. If it's a truck, they crawl under it and cut the catalytic converter within minutes. If it's a car with a low ground clearance, the thieves jack it up, crawl under and then cut the converter off.
Catalytic converter thefts happen more often to vehicles that are parked for long periods of time unattended (e.g., transit commuter lots, business/dealership parking, underground parking, RV lots).

Considering this, there are also a few preventive measures we can take to protect the catalytic converter:
One way is to show the would-be-thief that it will take too much trouble or time to snatch it from your car. Examples include:
- Marking the catalytic converter
- Installing an aftermarket alarm system
- Installing motion detector lights on your driveway
- Cover the catalytic converter with a protective undershield.
The next level of protection is to mechanically secure the catalytic converter making it removal much more difficult.
We also need to be more alert where to park.

Marking the catalytic converter

Catalytic converter markingCatalytic converter marking
As suggested by some police officers, you can mark the catalytic converter with a bright heat-resistant spray paint and engrave the last 8 digits of the VIN number or the full VIN or the license plate number on it. This may not stop the thieves from stealing the catalytic converter, but it will make them think and it will be easier for police to trace it. This is the least expensive solution. If you cannot access your car from underneath, one option is to get a spray paint and ask your mechanic to mark your cat during the oil change.

Installing an alarm system:

An alarm can not only safeguard your catalytic converter, but protect your car from break-ins. A good working alarm system may increase the value of your car if you decide to sell it. Some alarm systems come with motion, shock and proximity sensors and offer additional features such as Remote Engine Start and Anti-Carjacking.
On the downside, if the alarm's motion or shock sensitivity is set too high, it can be triggered by a passing loud car, strong wind or other things. If your alarm keeps going off often, in some jurisdictions it might even be illegal. Your neighbors will not be too happy about the noise either.
Also, whether the alarm will scare the would-be-thiefs off, is an open question, especially if the car is parked far from anyone to hear the alarm.

Adding a tilt sensor for the alarm: For lower cars that need to be jacked up to saw off the catalytic converter, there is a device called a tilt sensor. It is designed to trigger the alarm if the vehicle is jacked up or lifted by a tow truck.
If installed properly and adjusted to the right level, the alarm with the tilt sensor can be a sensible solution.
Call your local auto electronics installer, see what alarm systems they offer. When choosing an alarm, check the current it requires to operate when the car is off. Ideally it should be no more than 10-15 milliamps. If the current is too high, the car battery will drain faster.
Make sure to test if it works the way you want after the installation. Check prices online and if you want to install an alarm yourself, YouTube offers many videos on how to install an alarm.

Installing a catalytic converter protection device:

There are several ways to mechanically safeguard the catalytic converter. However, here are a couple of things to consider: From a technical standpoint, the exhaust in a vehicle is connected to the engine. The engine is held by flexible rubber mounts, allowing it to move and twist slightly relative to the vehicle's frame. The exhaust is held by flexible hangers that also allow some movement. If there is a metal-to-metal contact between the exhaust and the vehicle's frame or body, the engine vibration and noise will be transferred to the body or frame and into the cabin.

This means that rigidly welding or bolting an exhaust to the frame or body of the vehicle is not an option. The catalytic converter protection device must allow some movement of the exhaust relative to the frame. The catalytic converter also heats up when the engine is running, which means the air flow around the catalytic converter should not be blocked. If in doubt, ask your car dealer.

Catalytic converter shield

Catalytic converter aftermarket shieldCatalytic converter aftermarket shield
In our view, a metal undershield or a skid plate that is secured to the frame is a good option and is not very expensive. It will make it difficult to for theves to saw off the catalytic converter. The shield doesn't have to be super strong. Your mechanic should be able to remove it in case some repairs are needed in that area.

Cage or reinforcement

If an undershield cannot be installed or if the truck has to be parked in an unprotected area for extended periods, another option is to use a cage or reinforce the exhaust pipe so that it will be difficult to cut it. We know some muffler shops weld a metal bar/rod along the exhaust pipe and the catalytic converter. Some shops secure a steel cable along the length of the exhaust pipe. The cable is much harder to cat with a cordless reciprocating power saw. Check with your local muffler shop or ask your mechanic to see what they can offer.

Be alert about where to park:

Park your car in a well-lit area, closer to the entrance of the lot or the store, where there is more traffic. If it's a business, park your car in a fenced, well-lit area. Another option is to park vehicles inside the building overnight or for the weekends.

In some businesses, the theft of catalytic converters happens on a regular basis. We know of one local dealership where they remove catalytic converters from new cars when they are delivered from the factory and re-install them once cars are being sold.

More Resources:
NYPD: Protect Your Business from Catalytic Converter Thieves
Catalytic Converter Thieves - City of Sacramento
Preventing Catalytic Converter Thefts | Houston Police. Video