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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

Iron and Metals Inc., an industrial scrap recycler in Denver, no longer buys from the general public, just regular customers, said Scott Dassler, a company vice president. The seller must supply a vehicle identification number to go along with the converter, which the company records, he added.

And Iron and Metals doesn’t accept catalytic converters with saw marks, Dassler said. The company participates in the Scrap Theft Alert system, which allows law enforcement to alert the recycling industry about stolen auto parts, metals and other items.

“We had an unfortunate lady call in and say, ‘Look, someone stole my catalytic converter. Have you seen it?'” Dassler said. “She was a single mother and it cost her $5,300 to do the repair on her car.

“That was a huge deciding factor back in the early part of this. We’re not going to contribute to that kind of nonsense,” Dassler said.

Gone in 30 seconds

Jeno’s Auto Service in Littleton, Colorado is one of the shops participating in AAA Colorado’s program to add ID numbers to catalytic converters. And it’s been one of the crime spree’s victims.

Shop owner Steve Horvath said about five converters have been stolen from cars on his lot in the past year. Most were customers’ cars. The thieves usually use battery-powered reciprocating saws.

“They’ve got pretty good blades that will cut right through that stuff, not like a knife through butter, but it goes pretty fast,” Horvath said.

A thief caught on a video camera at the shop was under the vehicle and gone in 30 seconds, he added.

Kessler with the State Patrol said it takes about 30 seconds to a minute to cut out a catalytic converter. While any vehicle is a potential target, it is easier for people to quickly maneuver under those that sit high from the ground: trucks, SUVs. Larger vehicles can have multiple converters.

“It’s an easy way for them to get money and further their other criminal activities, like drugs,” Kessler said.

 

The insurance industry is carefully tracking the rash of thefts.

“Converter thefts are hugely concerning to the insurance industry and the spikes we’re seeing across the country,” said Carole Walker, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Association.

Walker said it’s difficult to separate out the impact of the increase in converter thefts on the insurance premiums. She said hail damage is still a major driver in Colorado insurance higher costs.

However, car owners who don’t have comprehensive insurance coverage won’t be covered for the theft of their converter. Walker said if the car is older, the insurance company might decide it’s a total loss because of the high replacement expenses.

When someone stole his catalytic converter about a year ago, Travis Briles calculated it would cost about $2,500 to replace it. He figured the insurance company would total his 2004 Honda Accord. After getting just a $500 offer for the car, he donated it to a public radio station.

Then, Briles encountered another pandemic-era trend: a shortage of computer chips for new cars. The value of used cars had jumped and he found out his Honda was auctioned for $2,500.

“I was pretty lucky in that I had money to buy another car,” said Briles, who lives in Boulder.

But he had been putting aside money for a down payment for a home and his new car took about two-thirds of the savings.

“So, the car I got was a hybrid and apparently the hybrids with low mileage are targeted,” Briles said. “It’s been a year and it seems OK. It hasn’t been stolen yet, but I’m pretty sure it will happen.”

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