Catalytic converter thefts are on the rise

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Used catalytic converter

Used catalytic converters like this one can fetch $100 to $200 from scrap yards. Image: VirtualErn/Flickr/CC BY-ND

The latest hot item targeted by thieves of car parts might surprise some. It’s a part that most of us never see and rarely think about, even though it has been a standard in U.S. vehicles for more than 35 years. The catalytic converter, which converts harmful pollutants into less harmful emissions, can fetch as much as $200 from auto scrap yards. And their theft is becoming epidemic.

Increasingly common problem

In recent months, there have been more than 100 catalytic converter theft reports in the greater Detroit area, according to the Detroit News. The problem has become so common in California that Senator Ron Calderon sponsored a bill that became a law last year requiring all used catalytic convertor purchases be documented with a paper trail and a photographic record of the seller.

Calderon said of the issue:

“It has gotten to the point where everyone knows someone who has had their catalytic converter removed illegally from their vehicle.”

Contains precious metals

Catalytic convertors contain precious metals such as palladium, rhodium and platinum. The price of those metals is going up.  For that reason, catalytic converters can sell for anywhere from $100 to $200 used. However, to replace one removed by thieves can cost anywhere from $300 to $2,000. If the thieves are sloppy and cut fuel lines or other vital parts in their haste, it could run even higher.

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Three minutes to steal

According to Jeff Prior, a Michigan transmission store owner, it only takes three minutes for a thief to crawl under your car and make off with your converter.

Prior told the Detroit News:

“You get under there, zip-zip, and take it off.”

Vehicles that sit high off the ground, such as pickups and some SUVs, are more frequent targets of the thieves because they are easier to slide under and out from under quickly.

Not just in the U.S.

And the problem is not just relegated to the U.S. Blue Fin Insurance says the problem is on the rise in the United Kingdom, where the number of thefts have more than doubled in the last five months from 1,100 to 2,300. The problem is especially pervasive with small businesses that have fleets of vehicles, giving thieves a chance at multiple hits in a single location.

Protecting your vehicle

Nationwide Insurance offered some tips on minimizing your chances of being targeted by catalytic converter thieves. It suggests etching the vehicle identification number on the converter itself, which can deter thieves or help law enforcement to track them down later. Or, you can have the converter welded to the body of your car by an auto mechanic, making it very difficult for thieves to remove.

For less drastic measures, always park in a well-lit public area or a locked garage, if possible.


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