Catalytic converters: How mechanics, dealers, panel-beaters are ripping off car owners

Nigerian car owners and buyers of used cars have bemoaned the increasing rate of stealing and cannibalization of vehicle catalysts by mechanics, used car dealers and vehicle importers in recent times.

Most of the car owners who lamented their ordeals to Vanguard said that road side mechanics steal the catalytic converters when the vehicles are brought in for repairs without the car owners knowing that the catalyst had been removed.

The catalyst is located underneath the car, attached to the exhaust pipe. Essentially, catalytic converter filters out harmful byproducts in the exhaust gas and burn them up. It reduces emission and improves the vehicles’ efficiency.

Though it has been argued that it does not affect fuel consumption but the fact remains that it affects the overall performance of vehicles, hence mechanics and car dealers are cashing out on it.Vanguard investigations revealed that over 80 percent of imported used cars in the market presently do not have catalysts. 

The most affected are the small and mid-sized cars like Corolla, Civic, Accord and Camry which are in very high demand in the country.

The big cars are not left out either, as further investigations have shown that most of them don’t return to their owners with the catalyst intact if the vehicles stay overnight in mechanic workshops.

The removal is usually carried out by panelbeaters in connivance with the mechanics and sold at exorbitant prices ranging from N150,000 to N350,000 depending on the make of the car. It might surprise you that even the dealers remove the catalysts and sell them before taking the vehicles to the market for display since used car buyers may likely not find out that it had been removed.

The clearing agents too are not left out. While taking the cars to the owners (importers), they sometimes divert to some dubious workshops, where they  remove the catalyst and weld back the exhaust.

The trend has also gone international as some businessmen, having discovered how lucrative the business has become, travel aboard to bring catalysts in bags from cars that are billed to be brought into the country and other neighboring African countries.

The saving grace at the moment is that some traders having discovered that they could make much profit from it have resorted to bringing china-made catalysts which cost about N70,000, but the disadvantage however is that this Chinese made catalysts don’t last long before they burn out.

But most car dealers see it as a cheap way to replace the original one that comes with the cars which could cost as much as N350,000.

Speaking to Vanguard on the issue, a motor parts dealer at Trinity Spare parts market, Olodi, Lagos who wouldn’t like his name in print said that the business is booming presently as you could hardly find a corolla with its catalyst intact.

What most people do is to buy the catalyst for their car and get a mechanic to fix it.

He said “I can bet you if you go round the used car markets, eight out of every ten cars on display are without catalysts. They have been removed and sold to spare parts sellers who await the new buyers to cough out several thousands of naira to purchase them.”

Most car owners who have had their catalysts removed said that they are helpless especially if they have visited different mechanic workshops. In this case, they would not know who to hold responsible for the missing catalyst or if it had been removed from the source of purchase of the vehicle.

A car owner told Vanguard that he recently decided to check if any of his three cars still had catalysts as the cars fuel consumption was increasing but he was shocked to find out that there was none. 

According to him, it is a very difficult thing to checkmate the roadside mechanics from stealing catalysts as he queried: “Are you going to stay with them when your car is being repaired?”What if the car has to stay overnight in the mechanic workshop?”

Usually, when the catalyst is removed, the car displays “check engine” sign on the dashboard but this is not only the reason the check engine sign pops up. There are many other reasons  this sign could trigger up.

This makes it difficult to checkmate the problem. But the easiest way to know is to run a diagnosis on the engine concerning the check engine sign but who has the resources to do this continuously?

Mr Ikechukwu Obinna, owner of a vehicle workshop said that in his workshop, he had been approached severally by all kinds of people to join in the ‘ business’ but he had turned down the request knowing that it is ungodly to do so. Dealers, importers and even clearing agents have been involved in the racket.

According to him, this has been the practice for many years but people are beginning to discover it now because they are looking for how to save fuel due to the removal of fuel subsidy.