Thieves are ripping catalytic converters from cars at an increasing rate. And as they do, theft victims are finding they need to fix an unexpected problem that costs upwards of several thousands of dollars.
According to a report by NICB, the increase in catalytic converter thefts has been dramatic. In 2018, there were 1,298 catalytic converter thefts for which a claim was filed. In 2019, it was 3,389 thefts with a claim. In 2020, catalytic converter theft claims jumped massively to 14,433, a 325% increase in a single year. Though not a reporting of all catalytic converter thefts, it did provide a look at the trends of catalytic converter thefts.
A catalytic converter is a device that looks like a small muffler along the exhaust system. It is designed to convert the environmentally hazardous exhaust emitted by the engine and convert them into less harmful gasses. To do this, they use platinum, palladium, or rhodium. In recent years, however, the values of these precious metals have skyrocketed. As of December 2020, rhodium was valued at $14,500 per ounce, palladium at $2,336 per ounce, and platinum going for $1,061 per ounce. Typically, recyclers will pay $50 to $250 per catalytic converter.
The values of the precious metals contained inside catalytic converters today is staggering. As of this writing (March 2022), rhodium sits at $20,000 per ounce; palladium at $2,938 per ounce; and platinum at $1,128 per ounce according to kitco.com.
As the value of the precious metals remains high, 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 these thefts.
Recently, Congressman Jim Baird (IN-04) introduced the “Preventing Auto Recycling Theft Act.” The Act is intended to reduce catalytic converter thefts by marking identifying information on catalytic converters, addressing how the parts are purchased, and strengthening enforceability of catalytic converter theft for local law enforcement. The National Insurance Crime Bureau worked closely with Congressman Baird in the development of this legislation and supports the Preventing Auto Recycling Theft Act.
Across the country, there were 26 states that proposed bills in 2021 to help curb the theft of these devices. These states include:
Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
Of these states, 10 either enacted new legislation or firmed up existing legislation. These states are Arkansas, Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia.
Of these 10 states with legislation passed, the following laws are in place.
- In Arkansas, South Carolina, and Texas, the law requires a scrap metal buyer of used catalytic converters to maintain records of purchases. This includes proof of ownership, documentation of potential identifying marks, VIN of the vehicle from which the part is removed, the sellers home address and driver license number, license plate of the vehicle which brought in the part, photo of the seller of the part.
- Indiana, Missouri, and Tennessee, added catalytic converters to the list of valuable metals or vehicle parts which subjects scrap metal dealers to the same restrictions as when purchasing other similar items.
- Minnesota established the Catalytic Converter Theft Prevention Program for investigation and prosecution of this crime.
- North Carolina, Oregon, and West Virginia presume a person in possession of a detached catalytic converter without proof of ownership is in possession of a stolen part. Further, the law prohibits scrap metal dealers from purchasing catalytic converters unless the seller is from select state licensed business such as a dealer or repair shop.
Ten states introduced legislation but have not moved further. These states are Alabama, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia.
Six states had legislation pass the house or Senate but not yet enacted. These include Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Wisconsin.
As of the end of March 15, 2022, 35 states were looking at newly introduced legislation or carryover legislation from the previous session to address these crimes. Thus far in 2022, Alabama, Indiana, and South Dakota have passed legislation and these bills have been signed by the respective governors. For more about legislation in 2022, please follow this link.
Removing a catalytic converter takes only minutes using some basic, readily available battery-operated tools from a local hardware store. For the vehicle owner, it’s costly due to the loss of work, finding and paying for alternate transportation and then paying anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 to get your car fixed.
To reduce the chance of having your catalytic converter stolen, The NICB recommends you:
- Install a catalytic converter anti-theft device. These are available from various manufacturers and can provide a level of security from theft.
- Park fleet trucks in an enclosed area that is secured, well lighted, locked and alarmed.
- Park personal vehicles, if possible, in a garage. If not possible and the vehicle must be parked in a driveway, consider installing motion sensor security lights. While lights may not provide complete security, it may make some thieves think twice, and they may opt to leave the area, and your car, untouched. Whether in the garage or outside in the driveway, set the alarm on your vehicle if equipped.
- Attend a local NICB catalytic converter etching event. If none are currently scheduled in your area, contact a muffler shop that can etch your vehicle’s VIN on the converter, and spray it with a highly visible high-heat paint. Doing so enables the NICB and law enforcement to track the converters which could lead to the arrest of catalytic converter thieves.
In some cases, this theft is covered by insurance. The optional comprehensive portion of your insurance policy, the portion that covers damage caused to your car not caused by an accident, covers this kind of loss. However, the owner will be responsible for paying the deductible. If your deductible is $1,000 and the cost to repair the damage costs $1,000 or maybe a few hundred dollars more, drivers may not opt to file a claim. The NICB advises drivers to contact their insurer to report the theft and determine the best course of action.