In Lawrenceville, Virginia, a van owned by Poplar Mount Baptist Church was knocked out of commission for weeks after thieves cut the catalytic converter out of its exhaust system. Several months later, across town, a catalytic converter was ripped from a van owned by First Baptist Church. Similar crimes followed, targeting a total of 15 church vans and 13 other vehicles in town, part of a nationwide surge in thefts of catalytic converters. Thefts of the exhaust emission control devices have jumped over the past two years as prices for the precious metals they contain have skyrocketed, the AP reports. Thieves can get $50 to $300 if they sell the converters to scrap yards.
The yards then sell them to recycling facilities to reclaim the precious metals inside, including platinum, palladium, and rhodium. For victims, the costs of replacing a stolen catalytic converter can easily top $1,000 and make their vehicle undrivable for days or weeks as the part is ordered and installed. The National Insurance Crime Bureau said the number of catalytic converter thefts reported in claims jumped from 3,389 in 2019 to 14,433 in 2020. President David Glawe said there has been a significant increase in thefts since the COVID-19 pandemic began. "There is a clear connection between times of crisis, limited resources, and disruption of the supply chain that drives investors towards these precious metals," he said.
The part has been cut from cars parked in the owners' driveways. An auto parts business owner said, "People cut through our fence constantly to try to steal the catalytic converters." States are toughening penalties and imposing new requirements for scrap metal dealers who buy the converters. Ten states enacted legislation in 2021. New laws in Arkansas, South Carolina, and Texas require scrap metal buyers of used converters to keep records of purchases, including proof of ownership, vehicle identification numbers, and the seller's home address and driver's license numbers. North Carolina has made the thefts a Class I felony and requires businesses that buy used catalytic converters to get documentation and maintain detailed records on people who sell the devices to them. (One catalytic converter theft turned fatal.)