Was my catalytic converter stolen?
June 15, 2016 10:43 AM   Subscribe

Subtitled: Why is my car running so loud? Details below.

Okay, clearly I am not a car person. There have been a rash of catalytic converter thefts in my neighborhood recently. I have a 2004 Toyota Camry that has been parked for the last month or so. I started the car last night to move it and it was LOUD, but otherwise seems to run fine (I drove it around the block. That's the most it's been driven over the last several weeks). Is the noise level a symptom of the CC being removed? I'd like to know what I'm facing before I consider taking it to the mechanic.
posted by vignettist to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's easy enough to check for yourself if you look under the car. The exhaust plumbing should be continuous from the engine back towards the catalytic converter and then the muffler. You'll see if it's missing.
posted by exogenous at 10:47 AM on June 15, 2016 [6 favorites]

If you're not comfortable looking under your car to see whether the exhaust plumbing has any gaps in it, ask a friend. If you don't have a friend you can ask, ask a mechanic. There's no way we can tell why your car is so loud from here. A missing catalytic converter would do it, but so would lots of other things.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 11:07 AM on June 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

A catalytic converter is not a tiny, inconspicuous thing. If it was stolen, there will be be a gap in your exhaust system at least 18" long.
posted by jon1270 at 11:18 AM on June 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

For a 2004 vehicle, removing the catalytic converter should significantly reduce the exhaust backpressure, which will change the exhaust oxygen (O2) reading, and which should show up as an error code/check engine light (CEL). There may be a delay to give the car time to warm up and idle, so the CEL for an altered O2 reading may not appear immediately, but trust me, if the cat is missing, your car's computer will throw a CEL.
posted by mosk at 11:20 AM on June 15, 2016

Look under the car. Follow the tailpipe forward to the engine. If you see rust and a hole in the pipe (other than the tailpipe), that's the source of the noise.

If you see a sorta ovalish footlong object on the tailpipe, that is likely your catalytic converter. If you see a footlong gap in your exhaust with bright shiny metal where it's recently been cut, that's where a newly stolen catalytic converter used to be.

But it's just as likely rust leading to a hole, or a hanger that holds the pipe in place breaking and causing a disconnection. Especially if you're in an area that salts its roads.
posted by zippy at 11:21 AM on June 15, 2016 [7 favorites]

footlong object forward of the muffler, that is.
posted by zippy at 11:38 AM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't know anything about cars, but I hear about this a lot, so I looked up a diagram, in case you weren't sure where to look under your car.

Here is a link to where the Catalytic Converter is in your exhaust system.

Please let us know if this is the problem.
posted by China Grover at 11:41 AM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

It sounds like it may have been stolen (no pun intended).

I know nothing about cars but here's my experience. My catalytic converter was stolen off of my previous car back in late 2014. I started the car in the commuter parking lot and I sounded like a dinosaur or a Harley. It was loud. The guy next to me shot me a WTF look when I started it and I was wondering why he needed a souped-up car to commute to the train station. Then I realized "shit, that's me" and turned off my car. I restarted it, hoping the loudness had been a fluke. It wasn't and I had no idea why it was so loud.

I put the car in drive, praying that I wasn't making this problem worse. I needed to pick up my kid and husband was unreachable so that car needed to get me where I needed to go. The car drove fine but was so loud. I was embarrassed and was terrified I was breaking something Important. I drove home in stop-and-go traffic and finally made it home. Aforementioned husband had fortunately taken the train himself and left his car at home. I swapped cars and got my kid.

We drove the car to the mechanic the next morning. The catalytic converter was cut off of my car. Apparently thieves want the platinum out of them - the metal is worth about $100 or so. I'm told it's a quick job to steal with the right tools. I joked that the thieves went through the lot and cut off enough to pay for their Christmas shopping. I was told the replacement part doesn't have the high resale value so it's unlikely to get stolen again. I continued to drive that car into that commuter lot for another year and never had another problem. Not an experience I want to go through again. The fix was expensive.
posted by melissa at 12:48 PM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

One way to check for exhaust issues without climbing under the car is to block the exhaust with a rag or a potato while the car is running. It should stall out. Might not work with hybrids.
posted by mattamatic at 1:07 PM on June 15, 2016

Don't catalytic converters contain a teensy amount of platinum in them? Maybe an enterprising theif has a platinum reclamation project going on?
posted by museum of fire ants at 3:26 PM on June 15, 2016

Yes, they're generally stolen for the metals they contain.
posted by jeffamaphone at 5:10 PM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks all. So we got under the car last night and yep, the CC is gone. Called to have a police report taken, officer agreed it's for the platinum. What a shame that this is what they stole given it's such a small amount to the thieves while it's such an expensive fix for us. I mean if they were going to get two grand off of it I could kind of understand. Or maybe it's an enterprising car mechanic in the neighborhood trying to drum up extra business (I keed). We were just getting ready to sell that car too and the fix is about half what the car is worth.

Thanks for all of the input, I appreciate it.
posted by vignettist at 7:36 AM on June 16, 2016

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