Sheriff's Corner: Tips for deterring catalytic convertor thieves

Understanding when your car might be a target for catalytic converter theft is the first key to preventing it. Following other protective measures may help deter thieves from targeting your car.

Cass County Sheriff Tom Burch

Throughout the year, and especially in the summer months, we take a number of theft reports on a wide range of items with a wide range of values associated with them. An item that we have taken a number of theft reports on recently is something that you may not have ever heard of — catalytic convertors. You might not even know what this is or means.

In the last year we have seen an increase in thefts of catalytic convertors. Catalytic converters are designed to act as a line of defense against harmful exhaust system emissions by turning pollutants into harmless gasses. Thieves target catalytic converters because they contain precious metals, like platinum, palladium or rhodium and others that could be valuable to metal dealers. At certain times they can sell them to scrap yards for up to $200. Thieves typically use a saw, a battery powered cutting device such as a reciprocating saw or wrench to remove it, depending on whether the catalytic converter is bolted or welded in, and removal can take as little as one minute.

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You may not be able to tell your catalytic converter was stolen by looking at your car, but you will know as soon as you start the engine. When the catalytic converter has been removed, your vehicle will make a loud roaring sound that will get louder as you push the gas pedal, making it sound like you have no muffler at all. Your car might also make a sputtering sound as you change speed, or you will notice it's not driving smoothly. These are good indications that your catalytic convertor has probably been removed.

There are several things that you can do to help prevent a theft like this from your vehicle. Understanding when your vehicle might be a target for catalytic converter theft is the first key to preventing it. By following these protective measures from from the International Association of Auto Theft Investigators, you may help deter thieves from targeting your car:

  • When possible, park in well-lit areas and close to building entrances or in a place that can easily be seen by you or others.

  • If you have a garage at your house, park your car inside and keep the garage door locked and shut.

  • Have the catalytic converter welded to your car's frame, which may make it harder to steal.

  • Consider engraving your vehicle identification number (VIN) on the catalytic converter — this may help alert a scrap dealer that it was stolen and make it easier to identify the owner. Engrave a number, such as the VIN or at least the last eight digits of the VIN or the vehicle’s license plate number with the state. Engravers can be purchased at most local hardware stores for around $20. Caution must be used to not damage the catalytic converter while etching.

  • Vehicle owners and fleets may benefit from purchasing commercially produced marker kits that provide an ultra-destruct label (that will break into pieces if an attempt is made to remove them). This provides an identification number onto each catalytic converter and Includes metal etching fluid that applies the same unique code into the metal. These kits also include a secure free registration database.

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Even if the label is removed, the etched number information will remain clearly readable for catalytic converter ownership to quickly be verified.


  • Purchase some high temperature (1300-2000 degrees), automotive exhaust spray paint in a bright color and spray a generous amount onto the converter. By adding bright paint, you can create a visible deterrent to alert thieves to move on. This paint also signals law enforcement and recyclers to look deeper for serial numbers or identification marks. By clearly marking your catalytic converter, you will be deterring the theft from happening in the first place.

  • Other ways to protect your car from this vehicle crime are as follows: Park in a garage or secured parking area; install a bright motion sensor light to discourage potential thieves; install an anti-theft device; always lock vehicle and set the alarm; and fleet vehicles and minimally used vehicles should be parked in a secured, alarmed, well-lit yard.

Understanding when your car might be a target for catalytic converter theft is the first key to preventing it. By following these protective measures, you may help deter thieves from targeting your car.
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If you have specific questions that you would like answered in this column or in person, please feel free to contact me anytime using one of the following methods: By email at ; by phone at 218-547-1424 or 800-450-2677; or by mail or in person at the Cass County Sheriff’s Office, 303 Minnesota Ave. W, P.O. Box 1119, Walker, MN, 56484.

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