Where do stolen catalytic converters go?

  • Since 2018 there has been a steep increase in catalytic converter thefts.
  • Almost every state in the US has seen a spike in thefts, and most states are trying to crack down.
  • Here’s why there’s been an uptick and how people can protect themselves.

Over the past five years, a sharp rise in catalytic converter thefts has left many wondering where their valuable car parts are going.

Thefts have been on the rise since 2018, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, and the part — which helps filter toxic fumes from car engines — can cost more than a thousand dollars to replace.

That year there were nearly 1,300 thefts for which insurance claims were made, a number that rose 325% the following year. By 2020 there were almost 14,500 thefts. The data excludes thefts where no insurance claim was made.

As thefts have increased in the US, a black market for the parts has exploded, according to the US Department of Justice.

Catalyst thefts to procure precious metals are increasing

Between 2018 and 2022, there was a 1,215% increase in thefts, according to the NCIB. The part helps cars reduce the amount of toxic and polluting gases emitted by each vehicle’s engine. Thefts have risen sharply during times of financial hardship and economic uncertainty, according to the NCIB.

A black market has also sprung up to harvest platinum, palladium and rhodium, the precious metals used in the part. The price of rhodium per troy ounce has reached eight times the price of gold since 2019, according to CalMatters.

Governments begin to crack down on crime. In November 2022, the US Department of Justice accused 21 people in the US of operating a catalytic converter ring, claiming they stole the parts in nine states and the metals sourced from the catalytic converters over a period of several years for more than US$545 million – Dollar resells operation.

The stolen parts ended up in junkyards and auto repair shops conducting illegal businesses, according to the DOJ.

States are trying to curb thefts with new laws

In recent years, states have passed new laws to stem the rise in thefts to cut out middlemen like unauthorized scrapyards, where catalytic converters can be pawned without a trace, usually for $50 to $250, according to the NICB.

At least 35 states have passed legislation or introduced legislation aimed at halting the rise in theft, with California accounting for at least 37% of theft, according to the DOJ.

There are at least three new laws on the books of the Golden State, including one that narrows the circles of sellers and resellers of parts to owners, licensed auto breakers and repair shops.

Another measure, according to CalMatters, requires buyers to register additional layers of documentation such as the VIN number of the converter’s original car, as well as information about the make, year and model of the car.

Replacing the part can be frustrating and expensive

If the part is stolen, drivers can pay back between $1,000 and $3,000 without insurance help, according to the NICB.

Preventing theft is also a costly measure, as cat shields – a mechanism that blocks access to the converter – average between $200 and $500.

To steal the parts, thieves have to get under vehicles, often supporting the cars with a jack – putting them in danger as more and more people are crushed to death in the act.

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