Consumer advisory: Catalytic converter thefts on the rise

Comprehensive auto insurance should cover the repair cost — here’s what to watch for if you file a claim

Thefts of catalytic converters from cars are on the rise everywhere. In Seattle and King County, reported thefts increased 3,800% in the past year. In January 2021 alone, Seattle police reported 123 thefts. Thieves sell them and it’s reported that Toyota Prius vehicles are frequent targets.

KIRO recently reported on the phenomenon, including what is driving these thefts

A catalytic converter is part of a gas-powered vehicle’s exhaust system and the EPA requires them on all cars. They are mounted underneath the car.

Here’s a graphic that was distributed by the San Bruno, Calif. Police Department:

Courtesy of the San Bruno, Calif., Police Department

Anyone who has a comprehensive auto policy is covered for the theft.

However, consumers should beware that some insurers have tried to deny paying for the service repair, citing “mechanical failure,” which is not covered.

Here’s why: the absence of a catalytic converter can trick the car’s computer into thinking that there are mechanical or electrical issues, which can prevent the motor from accelerating to normal speeds. An insurer denied a consumer’s claim based on that issue, which was really a side effect of the theft of the catalytic converter. The consumer filed a complaint with our consumer advocacy team and they held the insurer accountable for replacing the catalytic converter, which resolved the acceleration problem.

If your car suddenly behaves differently when you start it, you should check to see if your catalytic converter is missing.

  • Symptoms: Your car will make a loud rumbling/roaring sound that it didn’t make before and it will get louder as you press the gas. The car will drive roughly and sputter when you accelerate.
  • What to do: Check the underside of your car from the back bumper: You will notice open ends of exhaust pipe that aren’t connected to anything.

If you are the victim of this type of theft:

  • Report it to your local police department.
  • Document it with photos.
  • File a claim with your insurance company.
  • If your insurer denies the claim or tells you they won’t fix it, file a complaint with us at www.insurance.wa.gov

Washington state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler regulates the insurance industry and protects insurance consumers.