The U.S. Department of Justice announced today they took down a giant theft ring targeting catalytic converters. Reuters reports authorities executed 32 search warrants and charged 21 people in the ring, which saw thieves and intermediaries selling the expensive car parts to DG Auto Parts of Freehold, New Jersey, which in turn sold the precious metals extracted from the converters for over $545 million. Here are five things you need to know to protect your car from catalytic converter theft:

What is a catalytic converter?

A catalytic converter is essentially a pollution control device. The metals inside the converters convert harmful emissions from car exhaust into less toxic gases before they’re released into the atmosphere.

Why do thieves steal it?

Catalytic converters make use of valuable precious metals such as platinum, palladium, and rhodium which is what makes them so valuable.

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, recyclers can pay between $50 – $250 for one converter. The market cost for rhodium can be upwards of $20,000, while platinum and palladium can fetch well north of $1,000 an ounce. It’s no wonder that USA Today reports that between 2019 and 2020, converter thefts increased 325%.

How do they steal it?

In many cases, thieves will target vehicles that are parked in secluded or poorly lit areas. They’ll use power tools to remove the converter from the vehicle’s exhaust system, and then quickly sell it to a scrapyard for cash.

According to Farmers Insurance, “Thefts are fast and simple. The thief slides under the car and removes two or three bolts, or cuts out the catalytic converter with a reciprocating saw.” It’s a loud process, but only takes a few minutes.

Replacing a catalytic converter is quite pricey, ranging from $2,000 to $3,000 depending on where you live.

These are the cars thieves target the most

Not ever vehicle is equally targeted. According to Carfax, these are the vehicles most targeted for catalytic converter theft:

  • 1985-2021 Ford F-Series
  • 1989-2020 Honda Accord
  • 2007-2017 Jeep Patriot
  • 1990-2022 Ford Econoline
  • 1999-2021 Chevrolet Silverado
  • 2005-2021 Chevrolet Equinox
  • 1997-2020 Honda CR-V
  • 1987-2019 Toyota Camry
  • 2011-2017 Chrysler 200
  • 2001-2021 Toyota Prius

Forbes notes that thieves may also be particularly keen on older model Prius vehicles, noting the converters in those models, “need more of these metals for their catalytic converters to function properly, as they don’t get as hot as those in conventional vehicles, since the combustion engines of hybrids do not run all of the time.”

How to protect your car from catalytic converter theft

Here are some tips on deterring your car from being a target, courtesy the California Bureau of Automotive Repair:

  1.  Be smart about where your park: Park in a locked garage if you have access to one. If you park on the street or your driveway, install motion-detecting lights. If you park in a lot, try parking in the best lit location, or the place with the most foot traffic.
  2. Equip your car’s catalytic converter with anti-theft device: “A licensed auto shop can install a protective plate, shield, clamp, cage, strap, or other device to secure your catalytic converter.” Make sure a professional installs the device and doesn’t damage the converter or cover any identifying marks.
  3. Engrave your catalytic converter with your car’s license plate or VIN number: This could make thieves second guess stealing your converter as it will be harder to flip at a legitimate scrap yard.
  4. Have an alarm: since the stealing process is pretty hands-on, make sure you have a well-functioning alarm that is triggered when thieves near or touch your car.

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