Wednesday, November 02, 2022

What I learned about managing catalytic converter theft: OEM vs aftermarket vs universal

The catalytic converter on my much loved 2010 Kia Sedona van was stolen. (I think there are two and the rear converter was removed. I'm not a car guy.) It's an every day thing around here.

This is what I learned about this problem.

  1. Manufacturers only stock OEM converters for 10y post model date. So there's no OEM solution.
  2. The normal option to an OEM converter is a "bolt-on" aftermarket product. This is typically installed by a service garage or muffler shop. In Nov 2022 there are none available for the Kia Sedona and many other vehicles. It's a national shortage.
There are three remaining options:
  1. A "straight pipe": This is illegal but in our fallen times nobody seems to care. (Mad Max didn't even have a muffler.) Done by some muffler shops and by guys working out of their home. Oxygen sensor is a common issue, there are probably others. Not so good for the environment, but neither is replacing the vehicle.
  2. A "universal catalytic converter". Insurance companies will send customers to a muffler shop that will install (weld I think) a "universal converter". These are not a perfect match to the vehicle so they may cause performance issues and trigger a check engine light. For this reason service shops avoid them in normal times. That "we don't go there" rule can cause some bad advice in post-apocalyptic times.
  3. Sell or junk the vehicle and pay $50,000 for a new van. If sell then the buyer does one of the above.
Our garage mechanic didn't mention the "universal catalytic converter" option because "they don't do that". Sadly he hadn't updated his algorithm to deal with the national shortage. Now we have a new mechanic (He did apologize for his error, but hd didn't think to offer a retention incentive. I think he'll give better advice in the future.)

If you do replace a catalytic converter it may, of course, be stolen again. Consider a weld-on cage so thieves choose a neighboring vehicle instead. Or a straight pipe so they don't bother. It's handy to have a junk car when parking in unsecured lots in metro Minneapolis St Paul.

[Political aside: property crime will elect the GOP in America. Don't get fooled into thinking that only violent crime rates matter.]