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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

Sue Pippenger and her husband learned the hard way how pricey replacing a stolen converter is. Or, in their case, two converters. First, her 2008 Honda Element, parked in front of their Denver home, was hit in late 2020, before the requirement that replacements be original manufacturer parts.

“We still shelled out north of $1,000 for parts and labor. Our deductible is too high for an insurance claim to be worth it,” Pippenger said in an email.

Pippenger also spent $500 to install a shield around the converter to make it harder to saw it off. Then, about a month ago, someone cut out one of the two catalytic converters on her husband’s 2008 Toyota 4Runner. They had etched an ID number on it.

The retired couple didn’t report the second theft. “Just too weary,” Pippenger said. “I wish the police would do a sting and catch the thieves and those who are buying from them.”

With a grant from the Colorado Auto Theft Prevention Authority, AAA Colorado has teamed up with auto shops it has approved to etch non-removable ID numbers on the converters, which don’t have serial numbers, and enter them in a database.

“Catalytic converter theft continues to be a problem and we need to talk about some structural reforms, like the legislature is doing,” McKinley said.

 

People can also get kits to apply ID numbers themselves by contacting the Colorado Auto Theft Prevention Authority by email, cdps_catpa@state.co.us, or phone, 303-239-4560. A chemical used to apply a sticker etches a vehicle identification number into the metal, said Colorado State Patrol spokesman Sgt. Troy Kessler.

Thieves can get $50 to $250 per catalytic converter, Kessler said. Ones from hybrid vehicles fetch about $700 on the black market because the converters experience less wear, better sustaining the precious metals.

Kessler said criminals typically take the parts to a metal or auto-parts recycler or advertise them on the internet for private sales. It’s hard to link the converter to the seller or even prove it was stolen, he added.

“We might have a really great idea it was, especially when someone walks in with multiple converters that they want to recycle. But it all comes down to the proof and linking that converter to a case where it was reported stolen,” Kessler said.

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