5 Ways to Tell Your Catalytic Converter Has Been Stolen

Having your catalytic converter stolen is no fun. They’re expensive to replace and can cause you to fail a smog test.

Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to tell if your catalytic converter has been stolen in case you’ve been wondering.

How to Tell Your Catalytic Converter is Missing

Thought catalytic converter theft claims are dropping, it’s still a major nationwide problem that simply won’t go away, especially in certain areas. And you probably know if you’re in one of those areas.

Whether you’re driving or simply walk out to your vehicle and something doesn’t seem right, here are some telltale signs you may be a victim.

1) Loud Exhaust

strange noise

The catalytic converter is part of the exhaust system and sits before the muffler. If a thief were to steal your catalytic converter, your car would suddenly be much, much louder. The difference is certainly noticeable, unless your car was already missing its muffler.

2) Smelly Exhaust

Catalytic converters clean your exhaust, converting toxic gases into less harmful ones. These toxic gases have a bad smell, a bit like sulfur or rotten eggs.

If you notice an unusual smell coming from your car, it wouldn’t hurt to check on your catalytic converter. Even if your catalytic converter is still present, it may just be old and due for a replacement.

3) Failed Emissions Test

emissions testing

If you live in an area that requires a smog check, you will fail the test if you don’t have a catalytic converter. Although it’s not fun to find out you’ve been victimized while you’re trying to register your vehicle, it will be pretty easy for the mechanic at the shop to tell you what’s wrong just by a visual inspection.

4) Bolts on the Ground

If you notice bolts on the ground next to your vehicle, it is possible your catalytic converter was just stolen. Note that not all thieves to go the trouble of unbolting the catalytic converter. Much of the time they just saw through the exhaust.

5) Missing Part of Your Exhaust

catalytic converter theft

If your car is not too low, you can often take a peek underneath to see most of the exhaust. If you’re missing your catalytic converter, your exhaust won’t route completely to the rear of the vehicle. There will be a gap between the pipes.

Can You Drive Without a Catalytic Converter?

While you can technically drive without a catalytic converter, it’s not a great idea to do so. In addition to the smell and the noise, your car will suffer from performance issues and a check engine light.

What to Do If Your Catalytic Converter is Stolen

Liam Neeson on phone
What to do if you’re NOT Liam Neeson

Check With Your Insurance Company

If you have comprehensive coverage on your vehicle, the theft of your catalytic converter should be covered under your insurance policy. Call your insurance company to start a claim. You’ll probably want to file a police report as well.

Shop for a Replacement

OEM catalytic converters are extremely expensive and typically go for several thousand dollars. In some cases, you may be able to find an aftermarket equivalent that meets your local regulations at a fraction of the price.

But either way, a replacement catalytic converter isn’t going to be cheap simply because of what’s inside of them.

A dealership will want to replace the catalytic converter with an OEM unit. Many independent shops deal with this issue regularly and may have a lead on where you can find a good replacement catalytic converter for your vehicle.

Assess Your Parking Situation

After you’ve replaced your catalytic converter, you’ll want to think about ways you can prevent a future theft. Try to park in a locked garage if possible. Parking in a well-lit or busy area may help.

There are some areas of a parking lot or parking garage that may be more prone to theft than others. A thief will want a quick getaway, so park somewhere that would be inconvenient for them or slow them down in some way.

If your car is low, that helps; if the thief can’t lift your car and crawl underneath, they can’t steal your cat. Everyone’s situation is different. Sometimes the best you can do is mitigate risk and hope for the best.

It is very hard to steal a catalytic converter from certain vehicles simply due to the layout of the engine. Here is a list of cars that are least likely to have a catalytic converter stolen.


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