Catalytic converter theft plagues Chandler owners
Santan Sun News Staff
Chandler motor vehicle owners are feeling the sting of one of the fastest growing property crimes in the country.
Catalytic converter thefts in Chandler totaled 447 in 2021. Although Chandler police only started tracking last year converter theft reports he receives, it is likely that the city is no different from its neighbors or the nation.
The number of catalytic converter thefts in Gilbert, for example, has risen from a dozen in 2020 to 141 last year.
Of that total last year, 101 happened in parking lots – sometimes in broad daylight – while 18 happened in residential driveways, 10 in locked commercial yards and the rest in streets, alleys and even a auto parts yard, according to Gilbert Police.
Mesa police have also seen a skyrocketing increase in crime: they handled two cases of stolen catalytic converters in 2018 and one in 2019. In 2020, that number jumped to 69, and in the first 10 months of 2021, the police received 431 reports of theft of converters.
“The statistics are comparable to the upward trend in catalytic converter thefts across the country,” Gilbert police spokesman Paul Alaniz said.
State and national statistics confirm this.
According to an analysis by public data website BeenVerified, reported thefts in Arizona rose from 30 in 2019 to 142 in 2020 before soaring to 1,501 through the end of September, a 956.4% increase from compared to last year. That was second only to Colorado, which saw catalytic converter thefts jump 1,254% over the same period.
Nationwide, there were 49,611 converter thefts in the first nine months of the year, up 244% from the 14,433 stolen throughout 2020. BeenVerified estimates that number will reach 70,000 in 2021. In terms of overall flights, Arizona ranked sixth in the first nine months. this year, behind only California, Texas, Washington, Minnesota and Colorado.
A catalytic converter looks like a small muffler with the exhaust system. It is designed to convert the environmentally hazardous exhaust gases emitted by an engine into less harmful gases.
Brazen thieves literally crawl under a vehicle and saw off the devices, then find an unscrupulous junkyard that could pay big bucks because the converters contain highly sought-after precious metals rhodium, palladium and platinum.
Earlier this month, Phoenix police arrested a couple who allegedly sawed sawing off a converter from a car.
David Glawe, president and CEO of the National Insurance Crime Bureau, said the increase in thefts is due to the increased value of metals in converters.
Federal regulations have effectively required catalytic converters on all cars for decades. If one is stolen, Glawe said, installing a new one can cost several thousand dollars, while thieves can get $150 to $200 per converter.
The black market operators who buy from the thieves then collect the precious metals contained in the converters and reap thousands of them.
The converters contain platinum, palladium and rhodium. Glawe’s group said recently that rhodium is valued at $13,100 per ounce, palladium at $1,975 per ounce and platinum at $1,011 per ounce.
“We have seen a significant increase during the pandemic,” Glawe said. “It is an opportunistic crime. As the value of the precious metals contained in catalytic converters continues to rise, so does the number of thefts of these devices. There is a clear link between times of crisis, limited resources and supply chain disruption that drives investors towards these precious metals.
“Removing a catalytic converter only takes a few minutes using basic, readily available, battery-operated tools at a local hardware store,” he added. “And for the vehicle owner, it’s expensive because of losing work, finding and paying for alternate transportation, and then paying $1,000 to $3,000 to have their vehicle repaired. “
The value of catalytic converters varies by model, although Ford, Prius and other hybrid pickups and luxury vehicles are the most popular with thieves.
Surprisingly, they are rarely caught in the act even though they often do their dirty deeds in residential neighborhoods at night in the driveways of victims. Some reports indicate that an experienced thief can remove the converter in less than a minute.
Most of the time, the victims do not discover the thefts until the next day.
A Chandler victim complained that her vehicle had been left overnight at a repair shop and received a call the next day that converter thieves had struck.
“It’s pretty obvious on how I found out because it’s really loud when you start the engine,” one unlucky Honda owner told SanTan Sun News. “Half of the sensor was also stolen because it is easier for the thief to cut it rather than unscrew it. …Even with full insurance coverage, it’s still a big problem not having a car for several days. I strongly suggest others learn from my experience and take some precautions.
Travis Robertson has admitted he doesn’t know much about cars – but he knows a loud rumble isn’t supposed to come from underneath when they’re started.
“It freaked me out,” Robertson said. “To put it mildly, it was really scary, my car was dying.”
Robertson, an Arizona State University senior, was on his way to a football game in October when he realized he had been the victim of a catalytic converter theft.
Robertson, whose car was parked in the lower level parking lot of his apartment on the day of the robbery, admits it was “really not the safest place”. Since then he has heard from friends and others who have also been struck down by converter thieves.
He suggests that people need to be aware of where they park if they don’t want to be victims of theft.
“If you live in an apartment, keep in mind how secure it actually is,” Robertson said. “A lot of people think, ‘This will never happen to me’, but I think they should be aware because there’s always a chance of it happening.”
According to the NICB’s Operations, Intelligence and Analytics study of reported thefts, there were 108 average catalytic converter thefts per month in 2018, 282 average monthly thefts in 2019 and 1,203 average thefts per month in 2020.
Last year, the state attorney general’s office conducted an operation with Mesa police that resulted in the arrest of three suspects in a catalytic converter theft ring.
The suspect who purchased the catalytic converters from undercover agents has also been charged with commercial burglary at an auto recycler in Mesa.
In one case, 141 catalytic converters were stolen with a value of over $40,000.
So far, 18 states are evaluating potential legislative measures to address the problem of theft. Arizona was not among them.
To increase their protection against thieves, motor vehicle owners are encouraged to install a catalytic converter lock.
These are available from various manufacturers and can provide a level of security against theft, according to the NICB, but they can cost several hundred dollars online – and additional fees to have them installed.
Owners can also have their VIN engraved on the devices – although this is only useful if the police find the stolen converter in the possession of a thief.
The bureau also advises: “Park personal vehicles in a garage. If this is not possible and vehicles must be parked in a driveway, consider installing motion sensor security lights. While the lights don’t provide complete security, it can make some thieves think twice, causing them to leave the area and your vehicle intact.
The office also said victims should call the police and their insurer.
“In some cases, that theft is covered by insurance,” he said. “The optional comprehensive part of your insurance policy, the part that covers non-accidental damage to your vehicle, covers this kind of loss. However, the owner will be responsible for paying the deductible. If your deductible is $1,000 and the cost of repairing the damage is $1,000 or maybe a few hundred dollars more, drivers may not choose to file a claim.
The NICB advises drivers to contact their insurer to report the theft and determine the best course of action.
Cronkite News contributed to this report.