Catalytic Converter Thefts Continue To Rise

By Cee Lippens March 26, 2022
Thefts of catalytic converter's more than quadrupled in 2021, driven by the rise in price of precious metals. Thefts of catalytic converter's more than quadrupled in 2021, driven by the rise in price of precious metals.

Catalytic converter thefts are at historic highs.

During the worldwide pandemic, auto parts thieves have been going wild and catalytic converters top the list of their targeted items. Once a crime mostly relegated to the deep of night on dimly lit streets with single-owner vehicles, thieves have gotten much more brazen over the past few years, targeting dealership and fleet lots more frequently. In late January, auto parts thieves in Detroit managed to nab more than 20 converters off the city's school bus fleet. 

Using a saw, thieves can steal in a matter of minutes, thousands of dollars’ worth of precious metals inside a catalytic converter. The pandemic exacerbated an already existing issue, the shortage of the precious metals rhodium, platinum and palladium, used in the converters.

The supply chain crisis has caused a roller coaster of spikes in prices for all 3 metals. Platinum, for example, can be worth up to nearly $1,000 an ounce. Palladium's value has increased from $1,536 in 2019 to $2,690 today. The value of rhodium rose from $14,500 an ounce in December 2019 to a scorching high of $27,000 in March 2021 to settle at around $19,000 today. Thieves can expect to get anywhere from $50 to $300 if they sell the converters to scrap yards, which then sell them to recycling facilities for much higher dollar amounts to reclaim the precious metals inside.

Auto parts thieves hit Detroit city school buses. 

"Thieves can easily remove these expensive parts from cars and then sell them to recyclers for hundreds of dollars depending on the car's make and model," said Department of Insurance and Financial Services (DIFS) Director Anita Fox in a release. "In addition to replacing the expensive converter itself, the damage caused by these thefts can be extensive."

Catalytic converter thefts more than quadrupled in 2021. A report by BeenVerified estimated there were 65,398 thefts nationwide—a 353% increase from all reported thefts of catalytic converters in 2020. And 2020 beat out 2019 for the previous most reported thefts in a year by a wide margin. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) there were 14,433 catalytic converters reported stolen in 2020 and only 3,389 thefts reported in 2019. From July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021, claims filed for catalytic converter theft grew close to 293% nationwide, reaching 18,000 instances as compared to the 12 months prior estimate of 4,500, according to new claims data from State Farm. 

“Vehicle thefts, car jackings, and break-ins are all crimes we’ve witnessed trending upward for several months, and now catalytic converter thefts are also on the rise,” said David Glawe, President and CEO of NICB. “We have seen a significant increase during the pandemic. It's an opportunistic crime. As the value of the precious metals contained within the catalytic converters continues to increase, so do the number of thefts of these devices. There is a clear connection between times of crisis, limited resources, and disruption of the supply chain that drives investors toward these precious metals.” For victims of the thefts, the costs of replacing a stolen catalytic converter can easily top $1,000, to even $3,000 and make their vehicle undrivable for days or weeks as they wait for parts and installation. “I am sick to my stomach,” a Chandler, Ariz. resident wrote on social media in early March. “Someone came between 8 p.m. last night and 5 p.m. today and cut out our catalytic converter of my Tundra. Toyota said there are so many thefts the last few months that they are on backorder, could take a couple weeks, or months.”

States are passing Bills with new penalties and requirements for scrap metal dealers who buy used converters.

 

California topped the states for highest number of thefts last year at 18,026, followed by Texas (7,895), Washington (4,252), Minnesota (2,363) and Colorado (2,171). The largest year-over-year increases were in Colorado (1,498%), Arizona (1,340%), Connecticut (1,329%), Texas (818%) and New Jersey (774%). 

The most popular cars by make and model targeted by thieves in 2020 and 2021 were the Toyota Prius, Honda Element, Toyota 4Runner, Toyota Tacoma and Honda Accord. 

Most vehicles with internal combustion engines have catalytic converters, to reduce 90% or more of the harmful greenhouse gases emitted from an exhaust system, but Toyota has the distinction of having some of the highest metal content in their converters than any other auto company. 

The 2004-2009 Prius is a model that has become very familiar to car part thieves. Those Priuses had a theft claim frequency 40 times higher in 2020 than in 2016, according to a recent analysis by the Highway Loss Data Institute.

The Priues tops the list for most popular among catalytic converter thieves.  

The HLDI reported that overall theft losses for those Prius vehicles in 2020 were nearly $137 per insured vehicle year — a more than 45-fold increase from $3 in 2016. By contrast, theft claim frequency for all other 2004-09 vehicles changed little from 2016 to 2020, overall losses remaining around $7 per insured vehicle year. AutoCatalystMarket.com reports the recent scrap price for the GD3+EA6 catalytic converter used in the 2004-09 second-generation Prius ran about $1,022 per unit, compared to the converter used in the 2010-15 third-generation Prius, which claims around $548 per unit.  

States across the country have taken notice and are toughening penalties and imposing new requirements for scrap metal dealers who buy the converters. Ten states enacted new legislation, including Arkansas, South Carolina, North Carolina and Texas to curb converter thefts in 2021. The new laws all follow along the lines of Oregon's law, which took effect on Jan 1st. Oregon Bill SB 803 prohibits scrap metal businesses from purchasing or receiving catalytic converters, except from commercial sellers or owners of vehicles from which the catalytic converter was removed. Scrap dealers buying used converters must get a copy of the seller's ID, a photo of the seller, the license plate number of the seller's car, and video of the transaction itself. Payment by check must be mailed, and only after a mandatory three-day waiting period.

District 19 Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview, Washington state.

A bill drafted by Washington state Sen. Jeff Wilson (R) is written to help deter thieves from coming north to circumvent Oregon's new law. Senate Bill 5495 also requires scrap-metal dealers to confirm ownership when catalytic converters are resold and maintain records of vehicle identification numbers. The bill would require that cash payments could not be made on the spot and would have to be delayed at least five days. The trend shows no signs of slowing down this year, so dealers may want to take extra precautions on their lots.

 

There are a number of ways to help prevent thefts on dealer and fleet lots:

  • Car VIN numbers engraved onto the vehicles catalytic converter.
  • Various anti-theft devices are available to install on individual vehicles. Like the cat-clamp and shield, ranging in price from $125 to $200 to purchase and around an hour of labor to install. Catalytic converter anti-theft devices could be a great selling perk to the car buying public as well.
  • Changing the settings on the car alarm to go off when vibrations are sensed.
  • Security cameras and security fencing.
  • Installing motion sensor lights.
  • Parking cars in a way that makes it difficult for thieves to get underneath, i.e, parking cars close together in a way that limits space between each car.

 

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Last modified on Saturday, 16 April 2022 15:29