Catalytic Converter Theft: Everything You Need to Know

August 15, 2023

Team ACV




Catalytic Converter Theft: Everything You Need to Know

ACV facts & figures

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A mechanic looking underneath a used car.

Catalytic converters are essential to modern automobiles due to the growing need to reduce emissions. They are part of the vehicle's exhaust system and convert harmful pollutants into less toxic elements before releasing them into the environment.

Sadly, catalytic converters contain some valuable elements, making them a target for thieves.1 According to Carfax as many as 153,000 Catalytic Converters were stolen in the U.S. in 2022.2  Thieves can make a tidy profit from stolen catalytic converters, with standard converters fetching anywhere from $25 to $300 and those from hybrid vehicles selling for up to $1,400.2 In addition, removing a catalytic converter is easy, hence the rise in theft. 

As a car dealer you might have some questions about whether you can sell a car without a catalytic converter or how to prevent theft on your lot. We cover some of those questions below. 

What Is a Catalytic Converter?

A catalytic converter is an emissions control device in the exhaust systems of most gasoline-powered cars. It converts harmful exhaust fumes—such as carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and nitrogen oxides—into less toxic carbon dioxide, water vapor, and nitrogen.

These devices have been used since the 1970s and are now a prominent vehicle feature. Essentially, a catalytic converter is a chamber with chemicals and metals inside (catalysts). Such metals include platinum, rhodium, and palladium. 

Can You Sell a Car Without a Catalytic Converter?

Under the Clean Air Act, selling a used car without a catalytic converter is illegal in the US. The law prohibits the sale of vehicles without a fully equipped emissions control system, including the catalytic converter. 

The laws and fines for selling a car without a catalytic converter can be quite steep from state to state. For example in Texas, violators could get up to a fine of $25,000 per violation.”3

However, some exemptions to the regulations allow you to sell a vehicle without a catalytic converter For example classic cars that were built before 1975 will typically not have a catalytic converter. 

4 Ways to Tell a Car Is Missing a Catalytic Converter

Let’s say a client has come to your dealership with a used car to trade in. Not having a catalytic converter will definitely impact the vehicle’s trade-in value. Here are four ways to know whether the vehicle has a catalytic converter1.

  • Loud vehicle noises: A car that is missing a catalytic converter will often make a loud, raspy noise because the exhaust gas is not being properly filtered.
    Physical examination: The catalytic converter is located on the exhaust pipe, generally close to where it meets the engine. It is often in a large, box-shaped component with small holes or openings on the sides. If you do not see this component during a physical examination of the car's exhaust system, it may be missing or have been tampered with.
  • Black smoke: Without a functioning catalytic converter, the car will release abnormally black smoke from the exhaust. This is because the exhaust gasses are not being properly converted and are instead being released into the atmosphere.
  • Missing or Outdated Inspection Stickers/Tags:  If the trade-in doesn't have current tags, it’s possible it has failed emission tests or inspection. If your dealership can perform an emissions test that a really easy way to confirm whether it has a functioning catalytic converter

How to Prevent Catalytic Converter Theft on Your Lot

As a dealer, you likely have quite a few security measures in place to ensure your inventory is secure at all hours, such as gates, security systems, and bright lighting. A couple of additional measures that might be helpful include the following: 

  • Install a catalytic converter anti-theft device: The most common types of devices tend to be either a steel bracket or metal plates that either cover the converter or secure more closely to the car frame. There are other devices like electronic immobilizers that can prevent the car from starting if the converter is tampered with. 
  • Have the VIN etched on the catalytic converter: Having the VIN etched on the catalytic converter will make it more difficult for thieves to sell it. You can also have the catalytic converter sprayed with a high-heat paint that is visible to law enforcement. This will make it easier for police to track down the thieves if your catalytic converter is stolen.

Use Virtual Lift from ACV to check for Catalytic Converters

If you want to source used car inventory with confidence, check out ACV Auctions. ACV has leading condition reports, with images of the vehicle's undercarriage, ensuring an unobscured view of the exhaust system. Our Virtual Lift Technology takes pictures of the entire undercarriage, so you know what you are getting before you bid.  Sign up today with ACV. All you need is your dealer's license.  


1. Onyango, B. Vehicle Freak. “Can You Sell a Car Without a Catalytic Converter? Is It Legal?”,

2. "Catalytic Converter Theft: 10 Most Targeted Vehicles." Car Fax, 14 Mar. 2023, Accessed 7 Aug. 2023.

3.  "No Catalytic Converter. No Sale." TXIADA, 6 May 2022, Accessed 9 Aug. 2023.