Where Is the Catalytic Converter Located?

Marc Skirvin
Marc Skirvin

What's in this Article

Catalytic converters are essential components in vehicles. They convert gases that are harmful to the environment and individuals to more benign ones.

These devices have gotten a lot of attention in the last few decades, as incidents of theft continue to increase. For this reason, car owners have taken precautions to secure their car’s catalytic converters or other steps to discourage theft.

If you’ve suffered a theft, or need to make repairs or replace this part, you may be wondering “Where is the catalytic converter located?” The answer to this depends on the type of vehicle you have––specifically, the kind of exhaust system in it. The good news is that, once you understand the different configurations, you will be able to identify your car’s catalytic converter(s).

This article tells you how catalytic converters work, why they are targets for theft, and how you can locate yours. It also includes some tips on protecting your catalytic converters. Keep reading to find out how.

What Does the Catalytic Converter Do?

Vehicles that run on gasoline or diesel burn these petroleum-based fuels in their engines. Petroleum comprises various types of hydrocarbons, or molecules of both carbon and hydrogen.

Burning these in the presence of oxygen produces a lot of energy in the form of carbon dioxide and water. However, more than 150 additives in gasoline and diesel confound these processes.

They produce other, more harmful gases. These include carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and nitrogen oxides, which causes smog.

A catalytic converter is a component in a vehicle’s exhaust system. It converts the pollutants from the engine’s exhaust into less-toxic gases. It does so by “catalyzing” them at high temperatures, which produces a chemical reaction.

In general, hydrocarbons like carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides get converted to carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and water vapor. While some of these still act as greenhouse gases, they are much less harmful than the pollutants they convert from. This is better for the environment and public health.

There are usually two catalysts in every catalytic converter. One breaks up nitrogen oxides by removing the oxygen. The other one is the exact opposite: it oxidizes carbon monoxide, during it into carbon dioxide and water.

The French designed the first catalytic converter prototypes in the 19th century. They became widespread in U.S. vehicles (and subsequently across the globe) in the mid-1970s. This was in response to stricter emissions regulations implemented by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Why Do People Steal Catalytic Converters?

Catalytic converter theft started increasing about 20 or so years ago. The main cause was an increase in the value of some of the precious metals in them. These include platinum, palladium, and rhodium––the catalysts used to transform noxious gases.

Also, catalytic converters are easy to sell. This makes them an attractive target for someone looking to make a quick buck.

How much a catalytic converter is worth depends on the type of car and how old it is (which has to do with how much metal the component has). Some could only fetch about $100, while others could go for hundreds of dollars or more.

This disparity, along with other factors, makes some cars greater targets than others. For instance, ease of access is a major variable. This makes pickup trucks and other vehicles that sit higher off the ground more enticing targets than others.

Some local and state governments have passed laws to regulate the resale of these parts. For instance, in many locations, you need proof of original ownership when selling a catalytic converter by itself. Despite these efforts, the prevalence of theft has increased even more in the last few years and shows no signs of slowing.

The really bad news is that most new catalytic converters cost at least $1,000 to replace. Parts shortages also have driven the prices up even more.

As mentioned, a car lacking a catalytic converter produces dangerous gases and will not pass an emissions inspection. So, it is imperative that you get a replacement as quickly as possible, despite the cost and hassle.

How to Know if Your Catalytic Converter Has Been Removed?

There are a few indicators that your catalytic converter was recently stolen. The main one is a roaring noise.

Since removing the component servers the exhaust system before it gets the muffler, the vehicle will be very noisy at startup. This will only get louder when you push the gas. Apart from the sheer volume, you are likely to hear a sputtering noise when you accelerate.

Another sign that your catalytic converter is gone is a much rougher ride. Since the exhaust system is damaged, your car and engine will shake or vibrate violently.

You also may notice strong odors while driving. Since your vehicle is not converting any of the pollutants produced by the engine, these toxic fumes will be detectable.

The best way to confirm that the catalytic converter has been removed is through a visual inspection. If you look underneath your car, you might see a large, gaping space in the middle of the exhaust system. You also might notice signs of severed pipes where the converter was.

Where Is the Catalytic Converter Located?

The short answer to “Where is the catalytic converter located” is between your engine and the muffler. That does not really narrow it down, but it is a good place to start if you are having difficulty finding yours.

Some vehicles have more than one catalytic converter. This improves efficiency in general, but especially right when you start the engine.

Since catalytic converters rely on high temperatures to convert pollutants, having dual devices makes your car more efficient at capturing toxic gasers at startup. Note that if your vehicle has dual exhaust, it could have up to four catalytic converters––two on each side.

In cars with at least two converters, the first, or “pre-cat,” is almost always integrated into the exhaust manifold. This is the part of the system that attaches directly to the engine block. The second converter, or “main cat,” is usually located on the bottom of the vehicle, between the engine and tailpipe.

Catalytic converters are similar in dimensions to a loaf of bread. They are usually cylindrical in shape and can resemble your car’s muffler (so make sure to distinguish between the two). Others are flatter or have a honeycomb appearance, depending on your car’s make and model.

How to Protect Your Catalytic Converter?

Once you locate your catalytic converter, you can put protections in place to prevent or dissuade theft. One is to be informed. If you think your car is at risk, you might call local muffler shops to see if the same models have been targeted.

One easy prevention tactic is to limit access to your vehicle. Park your car close to a wall or other cars, which makes it difficult to get underneath it and remove the catalytic converter. Also, parking in well-lit areas is another simple way to protect against theft.

Another thing you can do is to etch your vehicle’s VIN or license plate number on the catalytic converter. This only requires a rotary tool and a tungsten engraving bit, both of which you can find at any home-improvement store. Another route is to paint your catalytic converter a bright orange or yellow color.

Remember that thieves are looking for “low-hanging fruit”––components that are easy to steal and resell. Etching or painting will not guarantee that your catalytic converter is not stolen. It will however make it harder to resell (and experienced thieves know this).

Going a step further, you can install an anti-theft device. These are usually steel shields that fit over the component or some kind of locking mechanism that secures it to your car’s frame. It needs to be installed by a professional but is the most certain way to make sure your catalytic converter stays where it is.

As an alternative, you can have an auto mechanic weld the converter to your vehicle’s frame. Locks and welding can be cut as well, but it makes it much more difficult to access the catalytic converter and remove it unscathed.

Learn More About Catalytic Converters and Other Car Parts

We hope you got an answer to “Where is the catalytic converter located?” and that it helps with your car maintenance. With a little time and patience, you can identify the location of all catalytic converters for repair or protection.

At Cash Auto Salvage, our mission is simple: to help get the most money for your car as quickly as possible. Our process for buying used and junk cars is simple and straightforward. Stop paying for ads and scheduling viewings and get an instant quote from us today.

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About the Author


Marc is the Co-Founder of Cash Auto Salvage and Director of daily operations. He retired from a leading Internet Marketing company in 2013 and has been involved in the automotive industry ever since.

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