Customers are waiting longer and paying more for replacement parts.
Catalytic converter thefts are becoming so common that shops and dealer service departments struggle to keep up with repairs and replacements. Automotive News reports that customers can pay as much as $11,000 for the repairs, and thieves are making more money than ever on their hauls.
Thefts increased by more than 400 percent between 2019 and 2020, and officials expect 2021 to show another jump. Thieves go to great lengths to cut the cats because of what's inside them. Catalytic converters are a part of a car's exhaust system that contains palladium, platinum, and rhodium to help remove pollutants from a car's exhaust. You've probably heard of platinum and know it's an expensive precious metal, but palladium and rhodium also command hefty prices. Scrapyards are happy to pay up for the parts, so there's a quick financial turnaround for thieves willing to climb around under a few cars with a Sawzall.
Thanks to the pandemic and supply chain problems, auto parts and electronics of all kinds take longer to source, but the complexity of catalytic converters makes them particularly elusive for dealer parts managers. Dealers told Automotive News that parts had taken as long as six months to arrive, which is bad enough on its own, but some dealers have seen the same customers return more than once for a new cat.
How big is the payoff for a cat thief? The exact amount depends, but some catalytic converters can pull $1,000 or more. Toyota trucks are especially popular because they have multiple converters and are easy to access underneath. As Automotive News points out, the Toyota Tundra can have as many as four cats that return $500 to $1,000 at a junkyard.
Though the problem continues to escalate across the country, a few solutions are in the works. There are devices, such as shields, that help prevent thefts, but they aren't cheap. Toyota offers a shield for several models that can cost almost $600 for just the part, and installation costs extra. Lawmakers hope to tackle the issue with legislation that requires the car's VIN to be stamped on catalytic converters and that catalytic converter buyers keep more detailed records.
If you've fallen victim to catalytic converter theft, it's best not to ignore the problem. Driving without a cat is illegal and it also lets your car spew more nasty stuff into the air. You'll also see a drop in fuel economy, and your vehicle may sound obnoxious in the process. Cats are a vital part of your car's exhaust system, so don't cheap out. It can be an expensive fix, but bite the bullet and get your converter replaced if it's stolen.