For the past five years, a dramatic increase in the pilfering of catalytic converters has raised many questions as to where the vehicle components have gone.
According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, thefts have been on the rise since 2018, and replacement of the part that filters out the poisonous gases from car engines can be pricey, around a thousand dollars.
In that year, close to 1,300 cases of reported thefts were filed for insurance claims, escalating by 325% the following year. By 2020, nearly 14,500 thefts were logged, though this figure does not include thefts where insurance claims were not filed.
The US Department of Justice has stated that the number of thefts throughout the US has grown substantially, resulting in a thriving black market for the parts.
Per the NCIB, the amount of thefts has increased dramatically in the span of four years, with figures reaching 1,215%. It is believed that these components which reduce the emission of toxic and polluting gases from vehicles' engines have been the cause of this rise. Additionally, the financial hardship and economic insecurity have contributed to this surge, as the NCIB has determined.
An illegal market has grown where platinum, palladium, and rhodium, the valuable metals used in the part, are being extracted. As per CalMatters, since 2019, the cost per troy ounce of rhodium has risen to up to eight times the price of gold.
Governments have started to crack down on crime. In November 2022, the US Department of Justice brought charges against 21 people across the US for running a catalytic converter ring, asserting that these individuals had stolen the parts in nine states and resold the metals extracted from the converters for about $545 million during a long-term operation.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has reported that the purloined parts have ultimately landed in illegal auto shops and scrapyards.
In an effort to reduce the amount of theft, states have taken action in implementing new laws, cutting out middlemen like unapproved scrap yards that purchase catalytic converters without a trace, usually in the range of $50 to $250, as the NICB found.
According to the Department of Justice, California accounts for 37% of thefts, and no less than 35 states have initiated laws or proposed legislation to impede the surge in thefts.
In the Golden State, at least three new laws have been enacted, one of which stipulates that the sale of automobile parts should only be conducted between the owners, licensed auto dismantlers, and repair shops.
CalMatters reports that purchasers must register further paperwork such as the VIN of the converter's car, as well as the make, model, and year of the vehicle.
The NICB estimates that drivers may have to pay in the range of $1,000 to $3,000 out of pocket if their part is stolen, without the aid of insurance.
Deterring theft is an expensive task, with Cat Shields — a security measure that restricts access to the converter — typically costing between $200 and $500.
In order to pilfer the components, thieves must place themselves underneath the vehicles, often using jacks to prop them up—putting themselves in peril as more people are tragically dying in the process.