The futuristic-sounding catalytic converter has actually been around since as far back as the ‘50s, and began to be regularly used in vehicles starting around 1975. They are now common in just about every car, and work to reduce the amount of emissions released into the atmosphere by engines, with carbon dioxide being the most harmful to the environment. Emissions also include nitrogen, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and nitrogen oxides. Modern car engines are very careful about how much fuel they consume, and therefore how much emissions they give off, and a lot of that has to do with the catalytic converter.
Catalytic converters are attached to exhaust systems and contain both a reduction catalyst and an oxidation catalyst. Exhaust is pushed through the catalytic converter to expose as much of the exhaust stream to the materials in the converter as possible, which include expensive metals such as platinum, rhodium and/or palladium. In the first stage, platinum and rhodium and/or palladium both work to reduce nitrogen emissions by encouraging nitrogen atoms to bond with them.
In another stage, catalytic converters reduce unburned hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide through a bonding reaction, which frees oxygen atoms to be released back into the atmosphere. That oxygen reacts with carbon monoxide to create carbon dioxide. Carbon monoxide is deadly to humans, whereas carbon dioxide (although bad for the environment), is not. Residual nitrogen is also turned into nitrogen dioxide.
Finally, catalytic converters inform your engine’s computer as to how much oxygen is in the exhaust. This is extremely useful for helping to improve fuel efficiency, as your car’s computer can then adjust its air-to-fuel ratio to reach the best combination for improving your car’s performance.
Why do thieves want catalytic converters?
According to a recent article by CBC.ca, catalytic converter thefts in Calgary rose from 300 reported incidents in 2020 to 1,014 in just the first eight months of 2021. In Edmonton, the problem is even worse, with 2,484 reported catalytic converter thefts between November 2020 and October 2021 — an increase from 1,697 over the same period the previous year.
The reason why thieves are targeting catalytic converters is simple. The metals involved — platinum and rhodium and/or palladium, with some even using gold — are very valuable and relatively easy to extract. An ounce of platinum can be sold for about $1,100 and an ounce of gold is worth about $2,000. Palladium by the ounce goes for about $3,100, and an ounce of rhodium is worth a whopping $21,000. Thieves usually sell the converters to a third party, who have contacts to have them recycled legally and receive cash.
Targets for catalytic converter theft include hybrid vehicles, as their converters are more complicated and contain higher amounts of palladium. Older vehicles are also at risk, as their converters do not work as well and have more precious metals in them. Because trucks and SUVs are larger, their catalytic converters are also larger, making them attractive on the black market, and because the vehicles are higher off the ground, the converters are easier to access.
Other cars with wanted catalytic converters include:
- Ford F-250
- Ford Mustang
- Honda Accord
- Honda CRV
- Honda Element
- Honda Jazz
- Lexus RX & all
- Lexus SUVs
- Toyota 4Runner
- Toyota Auris
- Toyota Tacoma
- Toyota Tundra
Park in a safe spot
Parking in a safe spot is a huge deterrent for thieves. In addition, if you have a secure place to put your vehicle, you may earn a discount on your car insurance.
- Park in well-lit areas. Avoid parking in remote places and unsupervised lots whenever possible.
- Always lock your vehicle after parking, even if you’re only going to be gone for a few minutes.
- Never leave valuables in sight when you park your car.
- Consider investing in an anti-theft device if your car doesn’t already have one.
- Close your windows all the way, and make sure your sunroof is fully sealed before you walk away.
- Keep your vehicle clean and well-maintained. Thieves are more likely to assume that a cared-for vehicle has some kind of anti-theft system in place.
What to do if your catalytic converter is stolen
If your catalytic converter is stolen, your car will make sure you know it. It will be much, much louder than usual. In most cases the “Check Engine” light will also come on. Do not drive your vehicle and exit it as soon as possible. Driving without a catalytic converter exposes you to up to 20 times more carbon monoxide from your exhaust and can make you very ill.
Have your vehicle towed to a reputable car repair shop to confirm the theft of your catalytic converter if you are unable to see the damage yourself. Report the theft to the authorities, which helps them truly understand the extent of the problem. Depending on the cost of repairs, you may wish to make a claim through your insurance company.
Lane’s Insurance is here for the car owners of Alberta
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