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Catalytic Converter Thefts Are on the Rise

Something doesn't sound right!

You start your vehicle, and you hear a roaring sound that gets louder as the engine accelerates. Your vehicle is sputtering and running roughly. You look under the vehicle and notice that a section of the exhaust pipe appears to be missing. You are most likely the victim of a catalytic converter theft.

You are not alone. The National Insurance Crime Bureau reports steady increases in catalytic converter thefts across the nation since 2008, with the majority of those thefts occurring in California and the Western US.

What's driving this trend?

Petroleum-powered vehicles manufactured after 1975 are required to have a catalytic converter to reduce harmful exhaust emissions. Catalytic converters contain small amounts of precious metals, including platinum, palladium, rhodium, and gold. This presents a money-making opportunity for would-be thieves who can steal up to 15 catalytic converters in a single day, then sell them to metal recyclers for up to $100 each. Metal recycles, in turn, extract the precious metals, which can be worth up to $6,000 an ounce.

It's not hard to see why thieves are motivated to steal catalytic converters and why metal recyclers turn a blind eye to the fact that they are most likely obtained through nefarious activities. It's a profitable business for both involved parties.

Unfortunately, the victims of catalytic converter thefts are the losers in this equation. Replacing a stolen catalytic converter will cost a minimum of $1,000, but it can be significantly more than that if the thief causes damage to other surrounding components while removing the converter.

Who is at risk?

Trucks and full-size SUVs are targeted most frequently because they provide more ground clearance, allowing thieves to quickly access the catalytic converter without jacking up the vehicle. A catalytic converter can be stolen in less than 2 minutes by simply unbolting the securing clamps or by using a cordless saw to cut it loose from the exhaust system.

Thieves prey on parking lots, storage yards, and even home driveways where vehicles are typically left unattended.

Because they can remove a catalytic converter so quickly, places like malls and shopping centers, park and ride lots, and fleet or corporate yards are prime targets for this type of crime. Catalytic converter thefts often occur at night when thieves are less likely to be detected, but they also often occur in broad daylight.

How can I protect myself?

Several states are currently trying to impact catalytic converter thefts by instituting laws that regulate how metal recyclers can purchase scrap materials. This will no doubt help with the problem over time; however, there are things you can do to reduce the possibility of theft from occurring in the first place. Those measures include:

· Park vehicles inside of a locked garage or shop whenever possible

· Provide adequate continuous perimeter fencing for outdoor parking areas where vehicles are left unattended during off-hours

· Utilize mechanical surveillance and motion sensors to monitor parking areas during off-hours.

· Ensure that lighting and clear visibility are appropriate in outdoor parking areas.

  • Engrave your vehicle identification number (VIN) directly on the catalytic converter

  • If possible, calibrate your vehicle alarm to trigger when it detects vibration

  • Park near building entrances if you are parking in public parking lots

  • Install a commercially available catalytic converters theft prevention device such as a "CatClamp", "CatStrap", or other similar devices.

If your organization maintains a fleet of company vehicles, it is a good idea to conduct a threat and vulnerability assessment to identify and address existing shortfalls at vehicle storage areas.


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