Why Was Catalytic Converter Theft Way Up in 2021?

It all comes down to the precious metals

A row of cars, trucks and SUVs parked on a street in California
No camera in your car? You might want to get one.
Derick McKinney/Unsplash

It doesn’t matter if you live in one of the country’s biggest cities or in a small rural town — in 2021, thousands of people across the nation experienced the unpleasant sensation of discovering that someone had made off with their vehicle’s catalytic converter.

For car and truck owners, this is is frustrating not only because the theft renders a car unusable until it’s repaired, but because with supply chain issues being what they are, that repair might take longer than normal. A recent Associated Press article cited a Virginia church whose van spent six weeks waiting for a replacement part to arrive, for instance.

At the heart of the thefts are the precious metals found inside catalytic converters, which can often be resold for a substantial amount as prices for them have skyrocketed. A CBS report on catalytic converter thefts in New York City noted that platinum, rhodium and palladium can sell for between $1,000 and $11,000 per ounce.

The AP noted that “the number of catalytic converter thefts reported in claims to insurance companies jumped from 3,389 in 2019 to 14,433 in 2020,” citing the National Insurance Crime Bureau. While numbers are still being crunched for 2021, it appears those numbers only increased; Det. Thomas Burke of the NYPD Auto Theft Division told CBS said thefts were up “around 300%” in the city last year.

CBS went on to point out that removing the part could be done relatively quickly, and that SUVs are especially vulnerable, since a jack isn’t required to get underneath them.

Law enforcement has looked into a number of ways to prevent this, from using serial numbers to trace parts to cracking down on scrap metal sellers who might be in the market for purloined parts. Will it be enough to stop the steady increase in these thefts year over year? We’ll know better in early 2023.

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