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How to prevent catalytic converter theft: safety precautions for your car

How to prevent catalytic converter theft: safety precautions for your car

Whatever make or model your car is, it will have a converter that reduces the harmful emissions coming out of the exhaust. This means your car is also at risk of catalytic converter theft, which is when criminals steal this part of your car to resell the precious metals that it's made out of.

In this guide, we'll cover what a catalytic converter is and how it works, why it's a target for theft, and how you can take security measures to lower the risk of yours being stolen.

What is a catalytic converter?

What is a catalytic converter?

Before we talk about catalytic converter theft, it's important to understand exactly what a catalytic converter is, and what it does for your car.

Catalytic converters take the harmful gases that your engine emits as exhaust fumes, and change them to less harmful gases as they exit the exhaust pipe. This means that they take substances like nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, and hydrocarbons, and turn them into water vapour and carbon dioxide. This improves air quality, and reduces the impact of car emissions on the environment and our health.

To do this, the catalytic converter uses chemical reactions. Normally, the converter consists of a honeycomb structure, covered with a substance that acts as the catalyst. The catalyst initiates the chemical reaction, changing the exhaust gases into less damaging fumes as they emit from the exhaust pipe.

There are different types of catalytic converter, and it's useful to know which type your car is fitted with. The date that your car was manufactured should tell you what kind you have, as the technology has changed over the years.

Two-way catalytic converters

Two-way catalytic converters, or 'oxidation' converters, are designed to eliminate hydrocarbons and carbon dioxide. If your car was manufactured in 1980 or before, your converter should be this model.

Three-way catalytic converters

If your catalytic converter is a three-way model, this means that in addition to eliminating hydrocarbons, it also gets rid of nitrogen oxides. This is thought to be the most efficient converter type, and it's been in common use since 1981. So, if your car is modern, it most likely has a three-way catalytic converter.

Three-way plus converters

Also known as a 'dual-bed' converter, a three-way plus model uses injected air to complete some of its chemical reactions, and precious metals to complete the others. This system was phased out of car manufacture in the early 1980s as three-way catalytic converters are more efficient.

Why do catalytic converters get stolen?

Catalytic converters are a target for theft because they contain precious metals that the thieves can sell for high prices. These metals are usually rhodium, palladium, and platinum, but other metals are also attractive to thieves. This type of crime has increased exponentially in recent years: iNews reported data from 45 police forces that shows there were at least 21,000 cases of catalytic converter theft in 2020 — a 64% increase in the last 12 months.

As well as containing desirable metals, converters are popular amongst thieves because they are quite easy to steal. Criminals simply cut the converter off the exhaust pipe, so it is a relatively easy, opportunistic crime. Hybrid cars are at particular risk for theft because their catalysts typically contain a higher concentration of precious metals, making them a great target for the resale market.

How to prevent catalytic converter theft

How to prevent catalytic converter theft

There are lots of things you can do to prevent catalytic converter theft, and choosing a combination of them can make your car much safer. Here are some pointers on how to make your vehicle less attractive to thieves, and avoid the hassle and expense of your converter being stolen.

Park your car so the catalytic converter is hard to access

Parking your car with the exhaust close to a wall, fence, or kerb makes it more difficult for criminals to reach under the car for the catalytic converter, and so is an obstacle to theft. The best bet is parking inside a locked garage, but when that isn’t possible, choose well-lit and highly populated areas.

If you park your vehicle in public, try to parallel park your car with other vehicles, or with the bonnet facing a wall. The catalytic converter is located at the front of the vehicle with the exhaust pipe, so blocking the bonnet off can be an effective measure. You should also avoid parking your car half on the pavement and half on the road: this is because the angle of the car will make it easier to get underneath it.

Lastly, if you are in a fleet of vehicles, park the high clearance cars in the middle of the fleet, and the low clearance vehicles at the edges. Higher clearance vehicles are those further from the ground (such as SUVs) and it is easier for thieves to get underneath these, so lower clearance cars can provide a barrier.

Install a security system on your driveway

If you are unable to park your car in a garage, you might consider using a security system for your drive. A driveway alarm and sensor will detect movement on your drive and alert you to any imminent theft.

When looking for a security system, you should always look for the Secured by Design (SBD) accreditation. This is a sign that the product is secure enough to be recommended by UK police forces, and you are getting a more effective product.

Have your catalytic converter marked with a serial number

Some garages will be able to etch a unique serial number on to your catalytic converter. This allows it to be easily identifiable if it's stolen. The serial number will come with a matching sticker that you can place in your car window stating that the catalytic converter is marked, deterring thieves.

Modify your catalytic converter to be more secure

If you live in an area where catalytic converter theft is particularly common, or you regularly travel and park in unfamiliar places, you might consider additional security measures that can be added to your car.

You can purchase devices that you can fix to your catalytic converter to make it harder to steal. These are usually clamps or cages, and are quite simple to fit onto your converter. Better still, you can ask a mechanic to weld your catalytic converter to your exhaust, making it much more time consuming for someone to remove.

Do you need to replace your catalytic converter?

Do you need to replace your catalytic converter?

Catalytic converters are built to last, and often don't need replacing for 10 years or more. However, despite having a long lifespan, they still need to be checked regularly by a mechanic to ensure they are working at the optimum level.

Check your catalytic converter regularly

Problems that can occur in your converter are carbon build-ups leading to it being clogged up, and the overheating and damage that comes with wear and tear. You should regularly check that your converter is working by getting an annual MOT and service. Most modern cars also have a monitor that will show you a red light if the emissions from the car are above a certain level, making this easier. 

If you only use your car for short journeys, consider cleaning your converter, as short drives mean the converter won't reach its optimum working temperature before being switched off.

Repairing your catalytic converter

Sometimes, you might find that the pipe adjoining your catalytic converter has become damaged, but the catalytic converter itself is working. In this case, you can use a catalytic converter repair pipe to replace this specific part, without having to replace the entire system.

If you are having problems with your exhaust but your catalytic converter isn't to blame, try checking our guide to troubleshooting white, black, and blue smoke from your car exhaust for some direction on what might be going wrong.

How to choose the right catalytic converter for your car

You should choose your catalytic converter based on the model of your car, including the date that it was manufactured. It's important to get the right one so that it fits your vehicle, and performs to the highest standard while you are driving.

At GSF Car Parts, we've developed a product searching tool to find you the right parts based on your make and model of car. Simply go to our catalytic converter page, and enter your registration number to see the best converter choices for you.

When you have chosen your new converter, make sure to have it installed by a garage if you are not confident about carrying out the procedure yourself. Your catalytic converter needs to meet government emissions regulations in order for your car to be roadworthy, so it's very important to install it correctly.

Catalytic converter theft can seem difficult to prevent, but by taking some simple measures when parking, and by planning your vehicle's security, you can make your car much safer. For more tips, tricks and repair advice, head over to the GFS Car Parts auto knowledge hub.

The information in this article is intended only as a guide, and GSF Car Parts would always recommend that if you are unsure about your catalytic converters upkeep or safety, you should consult a qualified mechanic.