Catalytic Converter Theft Prevention Made Simple
If you’re looking to make a case for risk management, math might be your best ally. Consider the creative budgeting forced on Mobile, Alabama schools.
A thief stole catalytic converters from 10 district school buses. The going rate to replace them is about $3,000 each. That’s an eye-popping $30,000 in bus parts. And then there’s the cost of towing the vehicle, which can run hundreds of dollars for school buses.
Your schools can avoid unplanned expenses and operational hiccups that come with catalytic converter theft—without investing in high-dollar security equipment.
Catalytic Converters in 32 Words
That muffler-looking part under a vehicle is the catalytic converter. It changes harmful carbon monoxide and other engine exhaust into safer gases. Federal law has required catalytic converters on vehicles since 1981.
What’s in it for Thieves?
Under Texas law, stealing catalytic converters is a felony when the property is valued below $30,000. The penalty increases with the value of stolen property. So, what’s in it for thieves?
Catalytic converters are made of precious metals called platinum, palladium, and rhodium. An ounce of rhodium, the most expensive of the three, costs about $6,000.
“Most likely, these people are selling them for $100 or $200 individually, but that’s a quick bit of money to get [sic] a couple minutes work,” Lufkin Police Detective J.B. Smith told KTRE News.
Diagnosing the Crime
Catalytic converter theft doesn’t take elaborate planning or precision timing. Criminals simply crawl under a vehicle, usually at night, and saw off the converter. The process takes minutes.
You don’t have to be a trained mechanic to know when a vehicle has been relieved of its catalytic converter. Just look and listen for the red flags:
- Roaring or rumbling that gets louder when you press the gas pedal
- Gap in the middle of the exhaust system
- Vehicle handles roughly or sputters
- Check engine light comes on
How to Prevent Catalytic Converter Theft
School fleets make attractive targets because criminals can make off with multiple catalytic converters from a single location. The ground clearance on large vehicles such as buses, passenger vans, trucks, and SUVs makes it easy for criminals to crawl underneath and do their work.
Use these tips to protect your organization from catalytic converter theft.
Guard Your Vehicles
- Park in secure, alarmed, well-lit yards that have video surveillance.
- Set vehicle alarms to be triggered by vibration.
- Consider overnight security for additional protection.
Secure Your Catalytic Converters
- Etch VINs into catalytic converters.
- Weld catalytic converters to vehicles.
- Spray-paint catalytic converters with bright, high-temperature automotive exhaust paint. Thieves have to scrape the paint off before they can sell it.
- Explore catalytic converter anti-theft devices. For example, your transportation department could install protective cages around converters.
What if Someone Steals Your Catalytic Converters?
Don’t let anyone drive the vehicle until your transportation department performs a complete safety check. You can’t be certain thieves didn’t damage other components.
Stolen catalytic converters compromise more than your budget. They sideline your vehicles and impact your ability to get staff and students from Point A to Point B safely.
The law is designed to make thefts less attractive. Your schools can help. Simple measures like etching VINs into catalytic converters and welding them onto vehicles deter crime.
As always, your TASB risk solutions consultant is here to support you. Reach out for guidance on protecting your fleet from theft, vandalism, traffic accidents, and other incidents.
Editor's note: This article was originally published in July 2022. It has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
David Wylie serves as content developer on the risk solutions team. He brings more than 20 years' experience writing educational content that helps employers protect against workplace accidents, property damage, cybercrime, and other losses.