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Thefts of catalytic converters are skyrocketing. Why? And what are lawmakers and law enforcement doing about it?

Judith Kohler, The Denver Post on

Published in Automotive News

When Alan Bucknam’s daughter started the Toyota 4Runner to drive to school, it sounded like a Harley Davidson revving up.

“I figured either the muffler fell off or the catalytic converter was taken out,” Bucknam said.

He looked underneath the vehicle and saw two clean diagonal cuts on each end of where the catalytic converter should have been.

“They certainly knew what they were doing,” Bucknam said. “They took just what they needed.”

The theft that took place a couple of months ago on a cul de sac in Wheat Ridge, Colorado is similar to those happening in neighborhoods across the Denver area, in parking lots of charitable organizations and apartments and even auto-body shops. Thieves are after the precious metals in the device that converts toxic emissions — hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides — into less harmful byproducts.

As the value of the metals has soared, so have the crimes in Colorado and nationwide. Thefts of catalytic converters in Colorado skyrocketed 5,091% from 2019 to 2021, according to the Colorado Auto Theft Prevention Authority in the state Department of Public Safety. In 2019, there were 189 reports of converter thefts; 1,153 in 2020; and 9,811 in 2021.

 

The National Insurance Crime Bureau said claims filed for stolen catalytic converters shot up 325% from 2019 to 2020.

The sought-after metals in catalytic converters, which look like small mufflers and are about the size of a toaster, are rhodium, palladium, and platinum. According to Kitco Metals, the current prices per ounce for the metals are: $980, platinum; $2,114, palladium; and $15,400, rhodium.

In May 2021, rhodium was going for more than $25,000 an ounce.

Law enforcement, auto shops, AAA Colorado and other organizations are getting the word out and offering ways to deter thefts, such as etching identification numbers on the converter. Metal recycling businesses can sign up for alerts from law enforcement agencies about thefts.

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