Catalytic converter thefts are on the rise. Here’s what you can do.

Lawmakers are starting to take aim at thieves with stiffer penalties, but owners can take other steps to protect their cars.

By Sean SaldanaApril 5, 2023 1:53 pm, ,

When you drive your personal vehicle, it creates emissions that are bad for the environment. The catalytic converter is the part of your car that makes those emissions less harmful. 

Every car has one, and all across the Lone Star State they’re being stolen. 

Jacob Beltran has been looking into this trend for the San Antonio Express-News and joined Texas Standard to talk about this problem Texans are increasingly facing. Listen to the story above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: A lot of folks know that catalytic converter theft is a growing issue. But let’s do a quick refresher. Why are people crawling under cars and stealing this seemingly random part? 

Jacob Beltran: Well, these parts actually contain a lot of valuable materials that are used to filter out some of the harmful emissions that are put out by all of our vehicles. And a lot of these thieves are able to turn around and they have a buyer who’s willing to pay top dollar for a lot of these materials that are worth a lot per ounce. 

Are we seeing more of this or what? What’s different about these thefts? Because they’ve been going on for a while, correct?

Correct. We have been seeing more thefts, but particularly lawmakers are starting to take aim at these thefts. We know that they’re organized and they’re attempting to pass legislation that would increase the penalties that are put on people who actually steal these converters or at least start trying to sell them to various buyers. 

And so you’ve been looking into this in San Antonio. Can you give us a sense of how widespread this problem is – where you are and how does it compare to other parts of Texas?

Sure, so it’s a pretty widespread problem here in San Antonio, as well. I mean, catalytic converter theft, it’s partly a planned crime and it’s also partly a crime of opportunity. Thieves will seek out places that are easy to reach. When we looked at the data that we acquired from San Antonio police over the last year, we noticed that a lot of these thefts were happening in parking lots that were just off the highway. If you look on the northwest side over off of Interstate 10, anywhere that thieves can hit an open parking lot and quickly jump on the highway for a quick getaway, it really started to add up very quickly. 

So some cars are more popular. Can you say which ones and maybe why? 

Absolutely. So we looked at the top ten most targeted and we actually found three of them that stood out from the rest. The one that stood out the most, however, is the Mitsubishi Outlander, followed by the Toyota Tacoma and then the Toyota Tundra. A lot of the Japanese vehicles tend to have parts that are a bit more efficient when it comes to filtering out these harmful emissions so that they tend to come in a little bit more value, I think, to thieves is what we found.

But the other interesting thing, when you look at these vehicles, is that they’re a little bit higher off the ground. You would think that the Toyota Prius, which is fourth on the list of catalytic converters that are taken from vehicles, you think that the Prius would be the car that’s targeted the most, but the Tacoma, Tundra and particularly the Mitsubishi Outlander seem to be targeted probably because of their height. It’s easier to get under those vehicles than it is a Prius, I would imagine.

Well, it’s my understanding that this is a very difficult problem to stop from a law enforcement standpoint. Can you take a little time to talk more about that?

Absolutely. So it’s difficult to stop. It just depends on the location. A lot of parking lots obviously have security cameras. But generally, these are unguarded places and these crimes happen very quickly. That’s one of the big problems. I know some insurance companies have given an estimate of 30 seconds. I mean, you can hear the sound of the Sawzall or hand-held saw working quickly, but it can happen even quicker than that. 13 seconds is the fastest I’ve heard that someone can get into your car, saw off the pipe that actually holds the materials under your vehicle, and they slide back out very quickly. And one of the bigger problems is that a lot of these will happen in quick succession. So they’ll hit three or four vehicles in the same parking lot. 

Well, let’s talk a little bit about prevention. Are there any ways to protect our vehicles from having the catalytic converter stolen? 

I would try to find a trusted mechanic who would be able to install a plating underneath a vehicle that can actually cover this section. There are some mechanics who do offer this service, but of course, I’d make sure you’d go with someone that you trust. Insurance companies have also told us that it’s wise to have the VIN number of your vehicle etched on the catalytic converter itself. That’s one of the ways that some people who purchase these parts can tell that they’ve been stolen or they can at least trace them back to your vehicle. 

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