Curbing the Catalytic Converter Theft Epidemic

April 21, 2023

More thieves are targeting office building parking structures, retail store parking lots, and car dealerships for catalytic converters.  But what are they and how can you prevent it from happening to your employees, customers, and fleets?

What is a Catalytic Converter?

Catalytic converters first appeared in the mid-1970s and were quickly adopted by automakers universally. Put simply, it is a part of your car’s exhaust system that converts harmful engine-exhaust pollutants into something less harmful to the environment through chemical reactions.

Why are they stolen?

The reason they are targeted is because they possess value.  But just how much they are worth depends on the type of vehicle, how old it is and to an extent, current market value of certain precious metals.  The converters contain high value precious metals, specifically rhodium, palladium, and platinum, and the values of these metals have skyrocketed as of late.  According to at the time of this writing, market prices per troy ounce are approximately:
• Rhodium: $6,900 (as high as $17,250 in the last year)
• Palladium: $1,526 (as high as $2,293 in the last year)
• Platinum: $1,094 (one-year high)

Converter scraps, therefore, can be sold anywhere from relatively small sums of money around $100 to, in some cases, over $500.

Why is this a problem for me?

Catalytic converter theft is rising at an alarming rate, so much so that it is becoming one of America’s fastest-growing crimes.  According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), catalytic converter thefts increased 1,215% between 2019 and 2022, and although data from this year is not yet available, it will likely show converter thefts at record highs.

Not that thieves care, but it is illegal (and annoyingly loud) to drive a car without a catalytic converter.  Replacing a stolen one can take victims 4-6 weeks or more due to the incredible demand for the part, with replacement costs landing somewhere between $1,000 – $3,000.

Catalytic converter thieves are evasive and unpredictable.  They target cars parked in large lots because they can come and go easily and blend in with other foot traffic. Also parking lots aren’t exactly Fort Knox. They tend to have minimal security so there is little chance for thieves to be caught.  And once they find an easy target, they tend to return many times over for the “easy score.”  And nobody wants to park their car in an area known to be ripe for such unsavory activities, which wreaks havoc on the surrounding economy.

Business is hard enough without thieves driving away customers and employees and thanks to the low-life pilferers, you are losing both.  As a business owner, you have an obligation to keep people safe while they are on your property.  The safety of their vehicles will naturally take lower priority than their personal safety, but the frequency of thefts can and will drive customers and employees away from your location.

It can also hurt your business in more direct ways.  If you own a fleet, catalytic converter thefts hurt your profits because you have to spend some of your hard-earned cash to repair your vans and trucks.  It will also cause delays in service or deliveries for customers while you repair the damage.

Car dealerships are the hardest hit when thieves strike because it directly affects their inventory.  It not only costs time and money to replace stolen converters, but suddenly cars that were brand new cannot be sold as new.  And if thieves target used car lots, the dealers’ profits go from a few thousand per vehicle to close to nothing.

How does it happen?

Stealing a catalytic converter is surprisingly easy—a thief slides under a car and uses a battery powered saw to cut it loose.  On average, it takes about two minutes to steal a catalytic converter, but experienced criminals can be very efficient as this video showing thieves in action reflects.

Many of these thefts are at also somewhat organized.  In November 2022, the Department of Justice charged 21 people in five states as part of a catalytic converter theft ring.  People sold stolen converters to an auto shop in New Jersey, which in turn sold the extracted metal powders to a refinery for nearly $550 million(!).  Throughout 2022, at least 22 states have passed legislation, up from the dozen that did so in 2021 according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.  Their solutions run the gamut, from requiring new rules and documentation to sell catalytic converters to increasing the penalties associated with their theft.

What can I do?

Catalytic converter theft is a crime of opportunity and exists because it is so easy.  The key is to reduce opportunity.  If it is harder to steal catalytic converters from your property, thieves are less likely to attempt to steal from you, your customers, or your employees.  While it is nearly impossible to stop it entirely, there are a few actions you can recommend individuals take to reduce opportunity and protect their cars on your property:
• Etch the VIN or license plate number on the catalytic converter
• Park in a secure garage, near entrances or well-lit areas
• Try to park in a way that limits a thief’s access under the car (close to a wall or other cars)
• Purchase a converter lock and have it installed by a professional

The tactics listed above will ensure a certain degree of protection and peace of mind. However, it is not an end-all-be-all solution.  Businesses, property owners and property management companies should also take action.
• Install motion sensor lights
• Provide 24-hour visual physical security presence utilizing Knightscope’s K5 Autonomous Security Robots (ASRs) in all parking lots and parking structures
• Post proper signage throughout the parking areas conveying that the area is monitored 24/7
• Utilize the K5s strobe lights, patrol sounds and automatic broadcast messages to ward off thieves
• Install Knightscope’s K1 Blue Light Towers to add a highly visible point to access reliable communications to report suspicious activities

While nothing is 100% fool-proof, these strategies increase the difficulty for thieves and decrease the likelihood that your property will be targeted, thus improving the overall safety, convenience and enjoyment of your part of the community.

As Knightscope ASRs continue to rack up more crime fighting success stories across the country, you owe it to yourself to learn more about what we can do for you!  Discover more today by booking time with one of Knightscope’s experts here.

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