Many drivers may not even know their car has a catalytic converter. Thieves know, and they are stealing them in greater numbers.
Local police departments from California to Connecticut have reported a flood of thefts over the summer. Police in Washington, Mo., say four cars at an auto dealership were stripped of the equipment in one night.
“It could’ve been a group of people. It could’ve been one person,” Detective Lt. Steve Sitzes, public information officer for the Washington Police Department, told eMissourian.com. “It doesn’t take many people to chop one of those off.”
New York City police report the calls from angry motorists have surged in recent weeks. Police say there were 362 reported catalytic converter thefts on Staten Island alone from January to mid-August, a 670% increase over the same period in 2021.
However, that pales in comparison to Phoenix. Police there say case numbers have risen from 67 in 2019 to 4,718 in 2021. Because of a shortage of police officers on the force, there is a backlog of complaints that have yet to be investigated.
An expensive repair
The cost to replace a stolen catalytic converter isn’t cheap. According to CarBrain.com, replacement costs can range from just under $1,000 to nearly $2,500.
All cars produced since 1975 come equipped with a catalytic converter on the vehicle’s underside. Its job is to capture the toxic fumes coming from the car’s engine before they can escape into the atmosphere.
So what’s so valuable about that, you might ask? Thieves are not stealing the devices for what they do, but for what’s inside them.
The devices contain several rare earth metals, such as platinum and palladium, where there are just two main sources – South Africa and Russia. While thefts have been steadily climbing they escalated early this year when Russia invaded Ukraine, limiting some of the supply. Existing rare earth metals now carry a premium on the black market.
Any vehicle is a potential victim but hybrids are special targets. That’s because each vehicle has two catalytic converters, one for the gasoline-powered engine and one for the electric motor.
Among hybrids, a Toyota Prius is a special target because its catalytic converter contains larger concentrations of the prized metals. Thieves also seem to prefer vans because they sit higher off the ground, making it easy to slip under and remove the device.
To protect your vehicle, it’s wise to park your vehicle in a locked garage, if possible. Otherwise, leave it overnight in a well-lit location.
Since thieves have brazenly stolen catalytic converters while the vehicle was parked in a department store parking lot, it's best to park near the business’s entrance where the car can be seen by other shoppers and the store’s surveillance cameras.