In the midst of the US’s economic woes, a growing number have stolen catalytic converters from cars. These precious metals can fetch thousands of dollars in the scrapyard but are difficult to get out.
A catalytic converter can fetch as much as $300 thanks to the precious metals inside – platinum, palladium, and rhodium – whose value has skyrocketed over the past two years. While the cost of replacing the $1,000 emissions-controlling devices is usually covered by insurance, it puts the car owner on the sidelines while they wait for the part to arrive. Due to supply chain problems, the wait can take up to six weeks.
These thefts have become extremely popular in recent years. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), the number reported thefts of catalytic converters to insurers more than quadrupled in the period 2019 to 2020. It increased from 3,389 down to 14,433. The organization’s president drew a direct link between the increase in thefts and the “times of crisis, limited resources, and disruption of the supply chain”The response of the government to the Covid-19 crisis is an illustration. The ease of theft – thieves just need to crawl under the vehicle with a battery-operated reciprocating saw and cut through the metal attaching the part to the undercarriage – also makes it a low-effort, high-reward affair.
10 states are tightening their rules regarding the theft of or purchase catalytic convertors due to a spike in thefts. South Carolina, Texas, and Arkansas now require scrap metal buyers to maintain records of used catalytic converter purchases, including vehicle identification numbers, driver’s license information, and home address, as well as proof of ownership.
North Carolina made theft of the devices a felony last month and requires businesses that buy them to maintain “Detailled records” on those who sell to them; Virginia plans to follow suit this month. In just a matter of months, 15 church vans were taken out of Lawrenceville in Virginia and thirteen other cars had their catalytic convertors removed. Police departments advise motorists to inscribe the parts with their VINs and license numbers to discourage theft. Other police departments offer reward for tipping off chronic converter thieves.
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Stealing catalytic converters is a crime that carries additional risk. Anaheim, California has seen stories about men being killed trying to extract prize parts from cars. Union County in North Carolina also reports on the deaths of these people. The death is usually caused by the vehicle’s jack giving out.
Due to supply chain problems in the US, both new and used cars have been difficult to find. This is due to everything from the rising steel price to inability to get the computers required to power the more complex engine. New and used parts are equally difficult to secure, adding to the allure of catalytic converters – stolen or otherwise.