DETROIT, Michigan - Thieves in America are turning to stealing catalytic converters from vehicle exhaust systems and selling the units to scrap-metal merchants for as little as one or two hundred dollars, the equivalent of R1050 to R2150.Easy cash for the outlay of a few spanners or a good hacksaw but peanuts when you consider the replacement is going to cost the car owner perhaps 10 times the scrap value.And it’s a no-brainer because, according to the Detroit News, a car engine designed to run with a catalytic converter will be damaged if a cheap standard exhaust is fitted.University Automotive owner Craig Heiser says in an article in the Detroit News that every couple of months he sees a car splutter into his garage in Sacramento, California, without a catalytic converter.CAT CUT OUTHeiser told the DetNews: “We see they’ve been cut out. After we install a new one, we’ll usually send them to an auto body shop to have steel plates put on them for anti-theft purposes.”According to the DetNews, scrap theft has become popular because of soaring metal prices in the US.Catalytic converters are located under the car and attached to the exhaust pipe, typically with bolts, to remove toxic pollutants before they exit into the atmosphere.Catalytic converters contain precious metals such as rhodium, platinum and palladium, hence its popularity with scrap-metal dealers. According to the DetNews it takes a thief only a couple of minutes to remove a converter with a saw or wrench – in the US.All cars sold in the US after 1974 have catalytic converters but some are more prone to theft. Thieves often pick bakkies and SUV's because they’re easier to crawl under.The report said Heiser believed converters on Toyota trucks and SUV's in the 1990's to late 2000's are especially vulnerable because of the metal from which they’re made. However, some newer vehicles have stricter emissions standards and feature multiple catalytic converters that can be more at risk of theft.'NOT THAT EASY IN SA'Pro-Fit Exhausts, Cape Town, owner Brandon Almazan says stealing a catalytic converter is not that easy in South Africa.Almazan said: “Cat converters were only seen coming into SA 2000 and they’re not that easy to steal here because usually the cat is welded to the exhaust system and not just bolted on.“I haven’t heard of any incidents of converters being stolen but it’s not unlikely since it’s always been sold for export purposes. They can sell for anything between R100 to R1500 for diesel cars such as Jeeps and Range Rovers.“If a catalytic converter had to be replaced on a customer’s car, they could pay anything from R1800 to R4000 for non-original equipment units. If you want OEM you’re looking at anything from R8000 to R25 000 from an agent.”How do you know if your cat is missing?Heiser said: “It won’t be difficult to tell if your catalytic converter is missing. When you start the car, you’ll hear a loud sound. Driving the vehicle without the converter could lead to engine damage.”US experts say a wire cage can be installed around the converter and welded to the chassis. Or the vehicle identification number or registration number could be etched onto the converter.Read the original report in the Detroit News.