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State, Local Car Catalytic Converter Theft on the Rise


By Keren de Jesus

California is experiencing a dramatic increase in catalytic converter theft cases.

As reported by background checking service BeenVerified, catalytic converter theft in California during the first five months of 2021 has already surpassed the total number of reported cases in 2020 by more than 2,000 from January through May of this year.

There were 8031 reported cases of catalytic converters being removed through vehicular tampering in the first five months of the year compared to a total of 6021 reported theft cases in all of 2020. The cited rate for January-May 2021 is already 33% higher than the total number of 2020 reports.

San Diego County is not exempt from this trend.

According to San Diego County Sheriff’s Department Lieutenant and media relations director Amber Baggs, the number of reports the department has received has risen in 2021.

“Yes [this type of theft] definitely has been climbing,” Baggs said without citing specific numbers, but adding that reports of catalytic converter theft have continued steadily into this July.

Catalytic converters can be sawed off or removed with basic tools like wrenches, depending on how they are mounted under a vehicle.

Baggs pointed out these parts can be removed quite quickly.

“The catalytic converter can sometimes be removed within a minute or two,” she said.

Catalytic converters help in mitigating the effects of car engine emissions by reacting with these to alter the molecular structure of the fumes on contact. The reaction turns some compounds into water vapor and other molecules which are less harmful to the atmosphere.

These autoparts are sought after by thieves because they contain platinum, palladium, and rhodium, the metals which trigger the reaction with engine emissions, which can be sold for high sums at scrap yards.

Technology website The Verge reports the price of palladium has sharply increased in recent years. The metal was valued at around $1,000 an ounce in 2018. It is now fetching prices close to $3000.

Rhodium’s price is over six times higher, with an ounce selling as high as $18,600. These prices may vary from site to site.

A converter normally has only a few grams of each of these metals coating a ceramic component inside. The small amount of metals found can still be sold for hundreds of dollars at a scrap yard. Selling these parts is not so straightforward, however.

“The process in which a thief goes about selling the converter can vary,” Baggs explained. “A lot of (recycling) centers have restrictions against selling catalytic converters that are intact. This forces thieves to strip the materials inside.”

Despite the statewide and countywide increase, some San Diego jurisdictions have been unaffected by the higher numbers of thefts.

A spokesperson from the Chula Vista Police Department shared they are “not currently working any (catalytic converter) related thefts/do not have leads on any potential suspect(s) responsible for this type of crime”.

Baggs made some recommendations for county residents to keep their vehicles safe from theft.

“Residents should park their vehicles in well lit areas at night. If parked in a driveway, install motion lights. Consider installing a car alarm as well. Be vigilant and work with your community and report any suspicious activity. Any type of deterrent will go a long way. Avoid parking in dark areas that are secluded from homes, foot traffic or vehicle traffic,” she said.

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