Protect Yourself – Catalytic Converter Theft

Imagine this…

Your husband is on a trip. You are running low on milk and bread, so you wrestle your squealing toddler into his pants (no easy feat!), buckle the baby into the car seat, and head to the market for a quick shopping expedition. It’s been a week already, but you reeeeeeally need that carton of Oreo ice crea….errr, I mean gallon of milk! So you put on your Pilot Wife big girl panties and do it anyway. 

Surprisingly, the outing goes relatively well. The baby sleeps soundly the entire time and your toddler only has one minor meltdown over a bag of new Paw Patrol shaped marshmallow cereal. You check out without issue and even remembered your wallet (I know, I know. This is sounding like complete fiction…but wait for it!), load your bags into the car, buckle in the kids, slide into the driver’s seat, and turn the key. 

And your vehicle suddenly makes an abhorrent amount of noise while noxious fumes pour out from beneath it. 

This definitely wakes up the baby, who starts to cry. You have absolutely no idea what is going on…or what to do. You just moved here for his job and don’t really know anyone to call for help. You are stranded and he is (of course) a thousand miles up in the sky somewhere between here and anywhere oblivious to your situation and not even able to answer your texts of desperation.  

Afraid to drive anywhere, you quickly turn off the engine, dial AAA, and wait. And wait. And wait some more. It’s hot. You are frustrated. Both kids are wailing, the dog has probably pooped in the house by now, and the ice cream is melting (along with your sanity). A horrible ordeal and many hours later you finally make it home via the dealership shuttle service sans the milk, which spoiled during the wait and absolutely vehicle-less because…

According to the mechanic, someone stole your catalytic converter while you were shopping.

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Ladies, today I want to address this particular issue with you because this scenario is more than a possibility; it is happening with a frightening frequency. Some of us know about this trend, but many of us haven’t even heard the words ‘catalytic converter’ before today. However, this scenario poses a very real risk for us while our spouses are traveling, and we need to be well informed. 

Now you might be wondering… What is a cataclysmic covert anyway? Just kidding! It’s obviously a catatonic conversation. Errrr, no…a cataloguing convertible. Ummm…a flux capacitator? No…a CATALYTIC CONVERTER! Basically, it is a part located underneath your vehicle attached to your exhaust system that helps to clean the emissions. If your vehicle was built after 1974, you have one. It’s the law. But why are they being stolen? 

The catalytic converters contain three precious metals (palladium, rhodium, and platinum) which makes them worth big bucks on the black market. In fact, rhodium is valued at approximately $15,000 per ounce. That’s more than some of us seasoned (i.e. ooooooold) aviation families made during our first year as regional FO’s! Compare that to gold, which is hovering around $1,800 per ounce, and you can see why some unsavory folks are investing in thievery.

Most vehicles have one catalytic converter. We own a Toyota Tundra. Apparently, ours has two converters underneath making it an attractive goldmine, or I guess in this case Rhodium mine, for the thieves. Lucky us. Trucks and SUVs, which sit higher off of the ground than cars, also make it much easier to execute a quick slash and dash, making them a prime target (although be advised that any car can be hit). It’s a huge problem here in Texas, and it is quickly spreading around the country.

Here’s the scary part – it takes a thief between 20-30 seconds to steal the converter(s) and disappear. They have perfected the art. This means that they can pretty much do it in front of our eyes in a any lot without being caught. Therefore, they have no problem doing it in broad daylight either. Malls, churches, airports, hotels, hospitals, grocery stores, theaters, and even your driveway…there’s no limit.

The theft looks something like this: The thieves pull up near the targeted vehicle. Two of them jump out . One slides under the car or truck with a Sawzall and cuts through the exhaust pipe at both ends of the converter while another stands watch and waits for the handoff. The thieves jump in their car with your converter and… Boom. Thirty seconds later they are richer and you are much, much poorer. It’s almost an invisible crime!

Replacing stolen catalytic converters is not easy on the pocketbook. Replacement costs between $1000-$3000 per converter and (here’s the next big kick in the gut) can take up to six months because the parts are on backorder. That’s six months of your vehicle being out of commission. That’s six months of renting a car or driving him back and forth to the airport. That’s six months of being stuck home without transportation. Ugh. No matter how you look at it, it just plane SUCKS. When my husband spoke preemptively to our own dealership about the issue, they informed us that there are 50+ Tundras alone currently sitting on their lot waiting for catalytic converters to come in. This is the exact same story for dealerships and mechanics across the country.

Big. Fat. Ouch. 

This all sounds like a Pilot Wife nightmare. I mean, it is! Since the thieves are widespread and fearless and there doesn’t seem to be any chance of cessation of the thefts in the near future, are we all just doomed to be victimized? Yikes. 

So here is the good news. Information is your best friend!

How do you know if your catalytic converter has been stolen?

There are a few tell-tale signs that will quickly help you in determining if you have been a victim of this particular crime.

  • Your vehicle will make a loud roar when you start the engine.
  • Your vehicle will make an even louder roar when you accelerate.
  • There will be an increase in exhaust fumes coming from beneath the vehicle accompanied by a noxious odor.
  • The check engine light will likely come on.
  • There may be uneven sputtering during acceleration due to lack of exhaust regulation.
  • A quick look under the vehicle reveals cut exhaust pipes.
What should I do if my catalytic converter has been stolen?
  • Obviously, you will want to call the police and file a report. Law enforcement is attempting to catch and prosecute thieves. It will also help you with potential property recovery and insurance claims.
  • This is important for you to know, ladies! If your catalytic converter has been stolen, you can still drive the vehicle home or to the nearest dealership. Driving your vehicle without the catalytic converter, while not optimal, will not damage the vehicle’s engine. The vehicle will be very loud, perform poorly, and smell terrible, but at least you don’t have to be stranded in a dark parking lot after work or in a shopping center on a hot day with your kids.
  • File an insurance claim. Some insurance companies (not all) cover replacement costs.
  • Go home and drink a glass of wine or two. You deserve it.
How can I prevent my catalytic converter from being stolen?

There is some REALLY good news, friends. You don’t have to be a sitting duck. You can help prevent converter theft from happening to your family with the following measures.

  • Many people don’t realize that there are both locks (good) and metal plates (best) that be installed over the converter(s) to prevent theft. It takes a mechanic about 10 minutes to install a preventative device, and the peace of mind is well worth the price tag. Considering the cost in dollars, mental duress, and vehicle downtime that a theft will cause, this is definitely a no brainer. I know a ton of people who have been victimized by this trend and was terrified that we would end up in the club. Having the metal plates installed was a huge relief. This is currently the most full-proof preventative measure (besides never leaving the garage or strategically placing six trained guard dogs around your vehicle every time you park it somewhere ).
  • If you are purchasing a new vehicle, ask the dealership to place plates over the converter(s) before driving it off the lot.
  • Paint your catalytic converter(s) to deter buyers. Some police departments are actually offering free programs for painting. Contact your local PD for details.
  • Park in well-lit public areas with a lot of traffic. Move your vehicle into your garage where possible. Install motion sensor lights and cameras. While these are not complete guarantees, they can help deter thieves who are usually looking for the easiest targets with the least resistance.
Anti-theft plate over the catalytic converter

Ladies and gentlemen, this disturbing new trend is picking up speed like a jet cleared for takeoff and doesn’t show any signs of slowing
down or stopping. I heard about several more incidents just this past weekend while visiting my daughter at college. I wanted to share this info with you today because it is important that we are well informed on how to prevent being victimized (and what to if we are). This is a nightmare of epic proportions for anyone, but would be horrific for us to deal with while our spouses are traveling…which is exactly when it would happen to us! Pilot Wife law, after all. Ladies, I implore you to discuss this with your spouses, give your local dealerships a call today, ask them about the best preventative measures for your particular vehicle, and get your anti-theft device installed as soon as possible.

I love you guys, and I don’t want you to find yourself unexpectedly dealing with the fallout of a converter theft. This life is exhaust-ing enough without falling victim to this new dastardly trend.

I love you, Aviation Family. Be safe out there. 

Angelia (a fellow Pilot Wife)

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