That is how long it takes for an experienced crew of three to jack up your car and saw off a valuable part of your vehicle’s exhaust system, the catalytic converter.
These devices are used to catalyze, or chemically convert harmful exhaust gases such as hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and nitrous oxide from a vehicle’s gas engine. The process is activated by heat in the exhaust flow. Thieves target the emissions devices for the small amounts of precious metals inside, which typically include 3-7 grams of platinum, 2-7 grams of palladium, and 1-2 grams of rhodium. The thieves often take stolen converters and sell them to metal recyclers, sometimes netting over $500 per converter. The metal recycler can then break the devices down and harvest the rare materials and sell them for a profit. For reference, according to Trading Economics global macro models and analyst expectation, rhodium has increased 4.96% since the beginning of 2022, currently sits at approximately $15,000 per ounce, and is expected to trade at over $24,000 per ounce by the end of the quarter.
A video taken last month shows three thieves pull up to a Stockton, California, home and steal the catalytic converter from a white BMW while parked in the homeowner’s driveway. It is quite obvious that this crew was experienced. The thieves each had their own job: one acted as a lookout, one jacked up the vehicle, and the last sawed through the exhaust pipes on either side of the catalytic converter with a cordless saw.
You could be grocery shopping or having a nice dinner downtown, you could have your car parked at the airport while on vacation, or you could even be home with your car in the driveway overnight. Any time your vehicle is left in the open and unattended, you are susceptible to loss. Thieves are also targeting churches and nonprofits that operate buses, vans, and SUVs that are easier to crawl under.
Recently, between 3 p.m. on Thursday, July 14, and 9:20 a.m. on Saturday, July 16, the Daly City police department in California released information that at least 11 thefts were reported. The thieves in this string of thefts targeted Toyota Prius hybrids with model years ranging from 2010 to 2015. Some cars and trucks use several converters. Electric vehicles, as you might expect, don’t use them, while hybrids still do—and the converters on some Prius hybrids are highly sought after due to the larger amount of precious metals used, according to police statistics nationwide.
The National Insurance Crime Bureau, NICB, counted just 3,969 reports of stolen catalytic converters in 2019, more than 17,000 in 2020, and more than 52,000 last year. One could speculate that there is a connection with the pandemic and recent inflation. The NICB offers several prevention tips, including parking in a secure area, installing motion sensor lights in the front of your home, and installing an anti-theft device for the catalytic converter on the vehicle. According to the NICB, the replacement cost can range anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000, and there is a current shortage of replacement parts.
The Associated Press reported on May 27 that an Arizona man was facing multiple theft charges after detectives found more than 1,200 catalytic converters packed into a storage unit. The 48-year-old man who police say was buying and selling the convertors was charged with 40 counts of theft and may face additional charges.
The recent influx of thefts has also led to local and state government intervention; at the time of this post, 153 bills have been introduced this year in 37 states. A few examples follow:
Additionally, the National Automobile Dealers Association, NADA, and 12 other trade groups asked Congress to hold a hearing on bipartisan bill H.R. 6394, known as the Preventing Auto Recycling Theft (PART) Act that would combat this alarming rise in catalytic converter thefts in the United States. The PART Act would codify the federal penalties for anyone convicted of stealing a converter and set some federal rules on making catalytic converters trackable by stamping VINs onto them in new cars.
Legislation is not the only means to assist in lessening catalytic converter thefts. The Takoma Park police department in Maryland teams up with local auto repair shops to launch what they call the Etch and Catch program, which allows vehicle owners to get their license plate number etched onto the car’s catalytic converter free of charge. That number is then spray-painted with a bright paint, and the owner is given a bright yellow sticker for their car indicating that the catalytic converter has been etched, in hopes that it deters would-be thieves.