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Police warn that thieves are targeting cars’ catalytic converters

Thefts of the device have surged all across the country

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Photo (c) jaap-willem - Getty Images
Thieves may be targeting your car, but it’s not the car they want -- or even the fancy infotainment system. Instead, police across America are reporting a rash of cases in which thieves have stolen catalytic converters.

A catalytic converter is an innocuous piece of hardware under the vehicle between the motor and the exhaust. It scrubs the fuel emissions before they are released into the atmosphere.

“Catalytic converter thefts are out of control,” Richland County, S.C., Sheriff Leon Lott told Columbia’s The State newspaper. “It’s not a sexy crime that gets a lot of attention, but it’s very damaging to those who get one stolen. It can cost thousands of dollars to get your car repaired.”

So what’s so appealing about a catalytic converter? The device uses a number of precious metals -- including gold, platinum, palladium, and rhodium -- to perform its task. The prices of those metals have surged in recent months, creating a black market for stolen catalytic converters.

Thefts surged in January

In Denver, KCNC-TV reports that the Denver Police Department received 108 reports of stolen catalytic converters in January alone. In all of 2020, it received 257. The thieves often get $100 or more for the small amount of metal inside the devices when they take them to scrap metal yards.

“Unfortunately, there are no regulations on scrap yards to report a load of metal coming in to police,” Denver Police Sergeant George Kenny told the station. “That’s the frustrating part about this whole thing. They don’t know they’re stolen because you can’t really track catalytic converter serial numbers. It’s just metal coming into the scrap yards and there’s no regulation to report that to authorities.”

Police across the country are reporting a rise in thefts and say a majority appear to be occurring at night when the vehicle is parked on the street or in a driveway. But it’s also been known to happen in broad daylight.

How to protect yourself

Police say there are steps vehicle owners can take to minimize their risks of becoming a victim. If you have a garage, put your vehicles inside at night and lock the doors. If a car is parked in a driveway at night, keep an outside light on and listen for unusual sounds coming from the areas during the night.

Because thieves are also targeting parking lots, consider taking a rideshare to the airport instead of leaving your car in long-term parking.

If your catalytic converter is stolen, you probably won’t know until you start your vehicle. Since the device is located under the vehicle, there are no outward signs that it’s missing. However, you’ll know as soon as you start the engine. It will make a loud rumbling noise that gets louder as you accelerate.

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