RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Catalytic converters are often an overlooked car part, but one that’s a crucial part of the exhaust system. They’re also highly sought after by thieves.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau said North Carolina is one of the top the top-five states for catalytic converter thefts

The catalytic converter underneath your car is like a mini bank vault containing expensive precious metals that are worth a lot of money to thieves.

They are one of the hottest items among car thieves. Mechanics said replacing them is becoming more frequent.

“We’ve seen an uptick in that since last June,” said Seth McKinney of North Hills Exxon in Raleigh.

He said thefts are especially prevalent “in cars that have sat for a while, be it in a parking lot or at home.”

Home surveillance videos show how thieves can steal converters in under 5 minutes, even from cars parked in driveways.

Inside of a converter is a honeycomb-type filter which contains platinum, palladium, and rhodium. Those are expensive precious metals that react with exhaust gasses to convert them into less harmful emissions.

Consumer Reports said the current price for an ounce of platinum is $1,000. Palladium is worth more than $2,300 and ounce and rhodium costs more than $20,000 an ounce. 

According to Waste Advantage Magazine, the typical catalytic converter contains 3 to 7 grams of platinum, 2 to 7 grams of palladium, and 1 to 2 grams of rhodium.

“It’s an easy target,” McKinney said. “It’s something they can make a substantial amount of money off of.”

A hybrid like the Prius is especially targeted by thieves because it has two converters.

There are a couple of different anti-theft devices people are buying to keep their converters safe. Some use cables, others use metal plates.

McKinney said installing them under a car usually takes about an hour’s worth of labor once the vehicle is up on the lift.

In an effort to deter the thefts, North Carolina requires scrap dealers to ask for vehicle titles or documentation before buying a converter, so the crooks go elsewhere to sell them.

Your auto insurance policy will play for a replacement, minus the deductible, but only if you have comprehensive coverage as part of your policy.