Toyota Prius Catalytic Converter Theft and Prevention

by | Dec 31, 2021

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If you’re a Toyota Prius owner and haven’t had your catalytic converter stolen, consider yourself lucky. With a huge increase in reported thefts in 2021, there’s no sign of catalytic converter theft slowing down in 2022.

If it hasn’t happened to you, be aware: it’s not just media hype. The Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) has recently published a report that indicates a 40x increase of insurance claims in a 4 year period for the 2004-2009 Toyota Prius. 40 times!

I’ve heard about it, but until my catalytic converter got stolen I never thought I’d worry about it. So whether you’ve had your catalytic converter stolen already, or drive a Prius and need some facts, here’s some straight forward answers about your Prius catalytic converter, replacement and theft protection.

What is a Prius Catalytic Converter?

A catalytic converter is part of your Prius exhaust system. It’s function is to convert raw exhaust from your engine into cleaner emissions coming out of your tailpipe and into the environment.

Your catalytic converter works by heating up metal catalysts to 500-1200 degrees Fahrenheit, causing a chemical reaction to convert that harmful engine exhaust to clean tailpipe emissions.

Where is the Catalytic Converter on my Prius?

Here’s a helpful summary of your exhaust system and the major components, starting at the front of the car and working towards the rear: Engine > Manifold > Catalytic Converter > Resonator > Muffler > Tailpipe. All these components are connected by series of pipes, usually about 2″ around.

The catalytic converter on your Prius is underneath your car and runs down the center of your car, starting around your front wheels and ending about midway through the length of the car.

Your Prius actually has two catalytic converters, joined by a small run of pipe. This whole unit is usually referred to as the catalytic converter on a Prius.

The first cat peeks out at an angle from the engine area, and the second is in plain view, right about where the back of your front seats are.

Why are Prius catalytic converters being stolen?

The metal catalysts in the converter are usually a combination of platinum, rhodium, palladium and other precious metals.

Thieves aren’t stealing catalytic converters to resell as car parts. They’re selling to scrapyards and metal processors to extract the trace amounts of precious metals.

Although a catalytic converter only contains a few grams of these metals, it can add up. At the time of this writing, Palladium is around $2000 per ounce and Rhodium is at almost $12,000 per ounce.

That $12k is not a typo!

There are theories out there about why the Prius is a big target for Catalytic converter theft.

One theory is that because the gas engine doesn’t work as much, the precious metals don’t wear out as much (I don’t buy this one).

The second, and most likely, is that because the Prius doesn’t rely on the gas engine full time, the catalytic converter may not get hot enough all the time to run efficiently. As a result, more of the precious metals are needed to make up for this.

For reference, a 2nd Gen Prius Catalytic converter is worth as much as $1,000 on the scrap market compared to $100-200 for some other vehicles

The bottom line: A Prius catalytic converter can be stolen in less than a minute and it’s more valuable than most other vehicles.

How can I tell if my catalytic converter has been stolen?

This is an easy one. You’ll know it as soon as you start your Prius. You’ll hear a loud grumbling noise from underneath your car. A very loud grumble. With your cat converter gone, the muffler doesn’t get to do it’s job of, well, muffling the engine sounds.

Along with the noise, the check engine light on your dash will light up as well.

If you look underneath your car where the catalytic converter should be, you’ll see big, empty space.

Can I drive my Prius without a catalytic converter?

Yes and No. The Prius comes in different “generations” depending on your model year.

  • 1st Gen are 2001-2003 Prius
  • 2nd Gen are 2004-2009 Prius
  • 3rd Gen are 2010-2015 Prius
  • 4th Gen are 2016-Current Prius.

If you have a 1st or 2nd Gen, you’ll be ok driving your Prius to the dealer or Mechanic to get this mess taken care of.

The noise may be embarassing, but as long as there’s nothing hanging down from the bottom of your car, you should be ok.

If you have a 3rd Gen or newer Prius, DO NOT DRIVE IT if your catalytic converter has been stolen!

The newer Toyota Prius models have engine coolant lines running to the catalytic converter. Most likely, when the thief stole your catalytic converter he cut those very important coolant lines.

Driving your 2010+ Prius with those lines cut may do serious damage to your engine.

Whichever generation of Prius you drive, call a tow truck if you can’t identify your model year or the amount of damage done.

Toyota Prius Catalytic Converter Anti Theft Protection

Preventing your catalytic converter from being stolen isn’t as simple as installing an alarm, a catalytic converter shield, lock or other device. It’s a combination of physical devices and strategy to protect your catalytic converter.

You can check out this earlier article that covers all the bases and the devices on the the market today.

If you’re looking for a quick recommendation for a Prius specific device, check out the CatShield from MillerCat.

It’s a “best in class” shield made specifically for your Prius. They’ve got competitive pricing on the low end, and additional options to insure that your Prius is as safe as it can be.

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