- Since 2018, there has been a steep uptick in catalytic converter thefts.
- Almost every state in the US has seen an increase in thefts, and most states are trying to crack down.
- Here’s why there has been an uptick, and how people can protect themselves.
Over the past five years, a sharp rise in catalytic converter thefts has left many wondering where their precious car parts are going.
Since 2018, there has been a steady rise in the thefts, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, and replacing the part — which helps filter toxic fumes from car engines — can cost upwards of a thousand dollars.
That year, there were close to 1,300 thefts for which an insurance claim was filed, a figure that increased by 325% the following year. By 2020, there were just under 14,500 thefts. The data does not account for thefts where an insurance claim was not filed.
As the thefts have increased across the US, a black market for the parts is exploding, according to the US Department of Justice.
Catalytic converter thefts soar to source precious metals
Between 2018 and 2022, there has been a 1,215% rise in the thefts, according to the NCIB. The part helps cars reduce the amount of toxic and polluting gases emitted from each vehicle’s engine. The thefts have largely risen during times of financial hardship and economic uncertainty, per the NCIB.
A black market has also burgeoned where platinum, palladium, and rhodium, the precious metals used in the part, are being harvested. Rhodium’s price per troy ounce has reached up to eight times the price of gold since 2019, according to CalMatters.
Governments are beginning to crack down on the crime. In November 2022, the US Department of Justice charged 21 people across the US with running a catalytic converter ring, alleging that they stole the parts across nine states, and resold the metals sourced from the converters for upwards of $545 million during a multi-year operation.
The stolen parts have ended up in scrapyards and auto shops operating illicit businesses, according to the DOJ.
States are trying to stem the thefts with new laws
Over the last few years, states have acted to pass new laws to quell the uptick in thefts, in attempts to cut out middlemen like unauthorized scrap yards where catalytic converters can be pawned off without a trace, typically for $50 to $250, according to NICB.
At least 35 states have passed laws or introduced legislation aiming to stop the rise in thefts, with California accounting for at least 37% of the thefts, according to the DOJ.
There are at least three new laws on the books in the Golden State, including one which tightens the circles of sellers and resellers of the parts to the owners, licensed auto dismantlers, and repair shops.
Another measure requires purchasers to register extra layers of documentation such as the VIN number of the converter’s original car, as well as information about the car’s make, year, and model, according to CalMatters.
Replacing the part can be frustrating and pricey
Having the part stolen can set drivers back between $1,000 to $3,000 dollars without help from insurance, per the NICB.
Preventing the theft is also a costly measure, with Cat Shields — a mechanism that blocks access to the converter — costing between $200 and $500 on average.
To steal the parts, thieves have to place themselves underneath vehicles, often propping the cars up with a jack —leaving them in harm’s way as more people are being crushed to death in the act.