Owners Tips

Lesson Learned: How to Protect Your Catalytic Converter from Theft

Mispronounced by some as the “Cadillac Converter,” a catalytic converter is a chamber built into your car’s exhaust plumbing within which a catalyst neutralizes harmful chemicals in your exhaust before it exits the tailpipe.

If you drive a modern car that has a gas-burning engine, then your car has a catalytic converter – that is, unless your catalytic converter has been stolen, which has become a huge problem. The catalytic converter on your car contains small amounts of expensive materials, making them an increasingly popular target for thieves who will sell them on the black market.

Your catalytic converter is welded to the exhaust of your car, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe. Catalytic converter theft is big business and experienced thieves can slip beneath vehicles with cutting tools and remove the catalytic converter in seconds.

Having your catalytic converter stolen is a huge headache. You’ll have to pay for a new one (you already know it will be expensive) and you’ll also have to pay to get it installed. In the meantime, your car or truck will be horrifically loud thanks to the hole in its exhaust where the catalytic converter once was.

People have been coming up with clever ways to protect their catalytic converters from being swiped, and automotive technicians of Reddit are helping the cause and documenting some interesting tactics they have seen come through their shops.

Many of these technicians frequent the subreddit r/JustRolledIntoTheShop, where stories and photos involving catalytic converter theft (and means of preventing it) are common topics of discussion.

For instance, one user shared an interesting post highlighting some creative welding skills. While welding a plate of steel in place to help protect a customer’s converter from theft, he added a smiley face to greet would-be thieves and encourage them to look elsewhere. One cheeky owner left a simple message for would-be catalytic converter thieves by spray simply painting “Get a job” on it.

In another case, one user had the converter stolen from their Toyota 4Runner, but decided not to replace it. For various reasons, we don’t recommend installing a straight pipe where a catalytic converter should be, though we admire the humour in the little “too late” message left behind for a future would-be thief.

One mechanic says he takes requests like these regularly, as he’s welding in more than 20 catalytic converters per week to protect from frequent reports of theft in his area. The welded plate is further security for the catalytic converter and a visual signal to thieves that this catalytic converter is not an easy target.

If you start your car one morning and the engine is extremely loud, you’re likely the victim of an overnight catalytic converter theft. Sometimes, thieves will mistake an exhaust resonator or Diesel Particulate Filter for a catalytic converter, and accidentally remove those parts instead, typically with similarly unfavourable results.

One used shared a complex-looking solution to keep your catalytic converter intact. Though a thief looking for a quick catalytic heist may see the so-called CatStrap barrier and consider moving to the next vehicle, Reddit users have confirmed that these cable-locking protectors can in fact be overcome by a determined thief with a torch.

Thieves may have an even easier time removing the valuable part from a vehicle if it has something like this catalytic converter cage that one user found underneath a U-Haul truck. Though the solid rebar looks thick and beefy, the openings were large enough for the converter to be cut off and slid out. It’s back to the drawing board for this design.

Hopefully you don’t need to bolt aircraft-grade cables or weld rebar to the underside of your car to prevent a catalytic converter theft, though solutions like these have their fans.

How Do I Protect My Car from Catalytic Converter Theft?

What’s the lesson learned? Remembering a few car security basics or thinking of some creative and modern solutions can help keep your car intact.

Protect your vehicle by parking it in a locked garage if available (instead of in your driveway), by parking in a well-lit area, or by parking tightly alongside curbs, walls, or other vehicles that can help impede access to the underside of your car.

If your vehicle has an air suspension that can be lifted and lowered, be sure to park in the lowest ride height setting to limit ground clearance beneath the vehicle. Remember that your crossover, SUV, or pickup truck may be a particularly enticing target, as catalytic converter removal requires lying on the ground beneath. This means that taller vehicles are easier to access.

Further, an aftermarket security alarm with a perimeter sensor can help fend off potential thieves by warning them away if they get too close.

If you’ve got an old discarded smartphone, consider popping in a SIM card and using an app like Haven to repurpose it as a tamper sensor. With a little fiddling, you can leave an old smartphone in your vehicle while the app uses the phone’s sensors to send alerts if certain limits of noise, pressure, or vibration are exceeded.

Properly configured, that old smartphone can send you an instant alert if it feels or hears anything unusual while you’re away – like a Sawzall going off beneath your car at 3 am.

It’s a modern solution to a modern problem.