Someone Stole Your Skoolie’s Catalytic Converter? Join The Club.

As someone who is not particularly mechanically inclined, “catalytic converter” is one of those things like “carburetor” and “drive train” that I knew was a vehicle thing, but certainly couldn’t tell you what it did or pick one out of a lineup of miscellaneous car parts.

That all changed one fine autumn day when, after being parked in one spot for a week or so, we had to move the bus to go refill our water tanks and find a new spot to be in hopes of avoiding having the cops called on us (more on that in another post).

I turned the ignition, and The Runabout let out a roar like Hades, a jet engine, and the ghost of Harley Davidson had visited it the night before and convinced it to change its ways. I immediately turned the bus back off, sure that it was about to explode, hopped down from the driver’s seat, popped the hood (which was a more clumsy and complicated process than the word “popped” implies) and stared into the engine looking for… something. I had no idea what.

Why Are Catalytic Converters Being Stolen In The First Place?

Catalytic converters contain precious metals which, at the time of writing this during the worldwide Covid crisis and subsequent supply chain shortages, can be sold to scrappers for a premium.

When our catalytic converter was stolen and I filed the claim with our insurance company, one of the requirements was that I file a police report with the local police. During that process, I was told by the local detective that catalytic converter thefts were on the rise (both locally and nationwide) and that it was difficult to ever find who was responsible because scrappers are not willing to turn in the folks who bring them what are obviously stolen parts.

Now, kids, don’t take that as me saying you should go out and start stealing catalytic converters. I was hesitant to even include this section in this post because it is impossible to explain why and how these thefts are happening without also explaining why and how someone should do it.

All I am trying to say is, “here’s how it happens, and don’t depend on the cops for anything, but certainly not to get ‘justice’ for your catalytic converter.”

Has Your Catalytic Converter Been Stolen?

If you think someone has stolen your catalytic converter, but aren’t sure what that even means or how to know for sure, here are the things you should look for:

  1. A missing chunk of your exhaust pipe under the bus.
  2. Your engine roaring loudly. This one seems simple and vague, but is truly unmistakable.
  3. Your engine having no “oomph” when you accelerate.

Is It Safe To Drive Without A Catalytic Converter?

After your catalytic converter has been stolen, you’re probably going to need to move your skoolie somewhere where you can safely leave it for at least a few weeks while you deal with your insurance, get replacement parts, and find someone who can do the work of replacing it for you.

Can you drive without your catalytic converter, or do you need to call a tow truck?

If you don’t have to drive far, you can probably drive without your catalytic converter, but here are some things to consider:

  1. Your fuel economy will be absolute trash (even more so than usual). If you need to go more than a few miles, you may want to consider getting a tow.
  2. You will have very little acceleration power and will need to go very slowly. If you need to use a highway or other high-speed road to get where you’re going, it may be safer to call a tow truck.
  3. Your bus will be absolutely dumping toxic fumes. Your catalytic converter is responsible for “cleaning” your emissions on their way through your exhaust system. Without it, your bus will be dumping toxic fumes (likely right underneath your driver’s seat). The carbon monoxide will quickly fill the cabin of your bus, which isn’t safe, and you will be heavily polluting the environment as you drive. So, again, if you have far to go you should get a tow truck. In some states with stricter emissions regulations, you may even get a ticket for driving without catalytic converter.

But, technically, it can be done. Your bus won’t explode and you won’t do any irreparable damage to other systems if you do have to drive without your catalytic converter.

Getting Your Stolen Catalytic Converter Replaced

Here’s what you can expect when trying to get your stolen catalytic converter replaced:

  1. It will be expensive.
    Depending on the make and model of your bus and the availability of parts, plan on spending between $1,500 and $4,000 to have your catalytic converter replaced.
    We have good insurance on our bus which helped a lot, bringing our out-of-pocket total down to just our $500 deductible.
  2. It will take a long time.
    From the day we realized our catalytic converter was missing to the day it was finally replaced, about 2 months had passed.
    Part of that was due to delays in getting our estimate approved by our insurance around the Thanksgiving holiday, but that certainly wasn’t the only thing that held up the process.
  3. You may have trouble finding a shop that can do the work.
    The hardest part of this process may be finding a mechanic with a lift large enough to accommodate your bus. We spent weeks calling and emailing different truck and bus shops in the area without much luck. The shops that could fit us into their schedule couldn’t accommodate the size of the bus, and the shops with big enough lifts were too busy to help us (or to freaking respond to us at all… *sigh*).
    We ended up having the work done by our friend Nick at RVA RV Repair, a mobile RV repair service based here near Richmond, VA. Ironically, after all of the time we spent looking for a shop with a large lift, Nick did the work by just scooting under the bus and laying on his back on the street like an absolute champion, but you may not be so lucky.
Nick from RVA RV with The Runabout. Check out this post on Instagram.

Should You Invest In An Anti-Theft Device For Your Catalytic Converter?

YES. YES. YES.

An anti-theft device for your catalytic converter is an absolute necessity, especially if you are planning on doing any long-distance travel.

Catalytic converter thefts are on the rise, and the process of getting one replaced is long, complicated, and expensive. An anti-theft device plus professional installation will run you in the neighborhood of $400-$700 and is worth every penny in peace of mind alone.

Unlike getting a replacement catalytic converter, getting an anti-theft device installed should be pretty quick and painless. You can make an appointment at most local muffler shops and be in and out within an afternoon.

Even if you haven’t had your catalytic converter stolen (yet), you should consider having an anti-theft device installed before you hit the road.

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