I immediately knew it when I started the engine on my Honda Accord – it sounded like a Harley at red line. Coincidentally, my sister, who lives nearly 3,000 miles away, had her catalytic converter stolen from her Accord a few weeks later.
Thieves steal catalytic converters because they're easy targets under the chassis – there's no alarm or cage around them and they contain valuable precious medals like platinum, palladium, and rhodium. A replacement catalytic converter typically runs around $1,000. When you add in the labor, the price ends up over $1,500. My insurance company's bill came in over $2,000 out of their pocket when including the towing and car rental.
Replacing a catalytic converter isn't as simple as replacing other car parts, especially with California's anti-smog requirements. (If you've ever smelled the difference between the exhaust from a modern car and one made before 1975 then you've noticed the smog filtering effects of a catalytic converter.) New catalytic converters replacement parts are scarce because of the increase in thefts.
In California, catalytic converters have to be approved for different car models. Every two years, I have to pay about $60 to have my Accord smog checked. This was never a problem until today when the smog inspector told me that my catalytic converter was "illegal in the state of California." The new, aftermarket, catalytic converter installed on my car did not match the approved family of catalytic converters according to the "Vehicle Emission Control Information."
In order to rectify this discrepancy I had to "Ask the Referee" if my catalytic converter was a suitable substitute. This entails making an appointment, typically two weeks in the future, for a free inspection to see if my catalytic converter passes muster. While the appointment is free, the penalty for missing an appointment is a 60-day delay until I could reschedule my next appointment; a very unfavorable situation since my registration expires in 42 days, which requires passing a smog check.
Fortunately, I lucked out when I called the referee since I was able to get an appointment, due to a cancellation, 90 minutes later today, with the stringent warning to not be late and the understanding that same-day cancellations would cost me a 60-day delay in rescheduling.
Although the inspection site was difficult to find because it was on a college campus which, like a military base, doesn't have buildings with GPS'able street addresses. But, in the end, it all worked out for me. That wasn't the case for the car owner ahead of me whose catalytic converter wasn't a suitable substitute. As soon as I received the sticker on my car door approving my catalytic converter, I returned to the same smog inspection station from earlier in the afternoon and passed my inspection. Now, the last step is for the California DMV to send me my new vehicle registration.