Make catalytic converters less of a ‘hot’ commodity by tackling thefts nationally

Used catalytic converter that was removed from cars at a salvage yard are piled up in a carton Friday Dec. 17, 2021, in Richmond, Virginia. Thefts of the emission control devices have jumped over the last two years as prices for the precious metals they contain have skyrocketed.

Illinois and others states have taken steps to stop thefts that are on the rise in Chicago and elsewhere. But without national action, theft crews won’t be deterred from selling their stolen goods across state lines without much scrutiny.

Catalytic converters are literally a hot commodity, snatched within minutes from the undercarriage of targeted cars and in many instances, right under the noses of the victims.

It doesn’t matter if the devices are painted pink, as some car owners have done as a would-be deterrent. Catalytic converter thefts are on the rise here in Chicago and elsewhere, and most of the culprits are getting away with it, a recent investigation by the Sun-Times’ Stephanie Zimmermann found.

Only 34 of the more than 17,000 incidents reported to Chicago police since 2019 resulted in an arrest. Some frustrated Chicagoans, including a retired police officer who spoke with Zimmermann, don’t even bother reporting the crime. Repairs can cost between $1,000 to $2,500 or more.

And as one Chicago police official told Zimmermann, these are not just property crimes. Some car owners have ended up being shot when they confronted catalytic converter thieves in the act.

What’s driving the crime: Thieves seeking to cash in on the lucrative trade in the precious metals inside the devices – platinum, palladium and rhodium. Illinois and some other states have taken steps to tackle the problem, but more needs to be done at the national level to stop thieves from selling the stolen goods across state lines without much scrutiny.

Illinois has a law that bans cash sales for catalytic converters over $99, and requires metal dealers to keep electronic records of transactions involving the car parts. But two months after the law went into effect last year, converter thefts mushroomed to their highest point, before dipping in the spring.

Illinois and other states similarly holding metal scrap dealers accountable is a start. Another smart step would be to make it compulsory for buyers and sellers to be licensed federally, as the International Precious Metals Institute is pushing

Congress has a pending bipartisan bill, the Preventing Auto Recycling Thefts Act, that includes a grant program to allow entities to stamp vehicle identification numbers onto the catalytic converters of older cars at no cost to vehicle owners.

Meanwhile, vehicle owners should take precautions when they can.

If you have a garage, park your car inside or invest roughly $100 in a metallic shield to cover the undercarriage area where the converters are found, which a mechanic can install for a few more dollars.

But don’t make the mistake of installing a clamp with metal cables on your catalytic converter. Thieves will just end up cutting out a much bigger section, damaging your car more than they would have otherwise.

Traffic accidents, carjacking and catalytic converter thefts all worsened with the pandemic.

Stalling discussions on any of these matters isn’t an option.

Chicago Sun-Times