What's behind the surge in catalytic converter thefts
Catalytic converters are a hot commodity.
Why it matters: The anti-pollution device located underneath cars — packed with rare precious metals — has been stolen in record numbers over the past few years.
- While thefts are down so far in 2023 after a nationwide surge last year, they're still almost 21 times higher than in 2019, per an August report from BeenVerified.
- Lawmakers across many states are aiming to combat the phenomenon with legislation and enforcement.
- The National Insurance Crime Bureau recorded 64,701 insurance claims for converter thefts last year, up significantly from 16,660 claims in 2o20.
- That's probably an undercount. The bureau's reports leave out other thefts reported to law enforcement or thefts from uninsured vehicles.
- In 2022, the Justice Department said they had taken down a $545 million catalytic converter theft ring and made searches, arrests and seizures across at least nine states.
Here's a breakdown of some reasons behind catalytic converter thefts:
Why catalytic converters are stolen
- Catalytic converters are made up of precious metals such as rhodium, platinum and palladium, making them highly valuable.
- The metals from these converters can be recycled and resold.
- With only tiny portions of these metals inside each converter, there is more value in stealing dozens at once, per Vox.
- Despite the decreasing price of these precious metals in a post-pandemic world, the metals inside the converters remain among the most rare and valuable on Earth.
Thefts are hard to track
- Tracking stolen converters has proven difficult. A New York Times investigation found that stolen catalytic converters "pass through middlemen, smelters and refineries in the United States and overseas."
- The unknown origins of the stolen converters leaves the thefts' beneficiaries with "plausible deniability and little incentive to stop them," per the Times.
- Plus, the converter can be sawed off beneath a car in only minutes.
How to protect your catalytic converter
- If the catalytic converter on a car has been stolen, the vehicle will make a very loud noise once started.
- To better protect against these thefts, BeenVerified recommends installing a catalytic converter anti-theft device or motion alarm.
- Parking in a locked garage, well-lit area or any place with high pedestrian traffic can also help deter thefts, according to BeenVerified.