Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón is apparently fed up with the rise in cataly-tic converter thefts. He has good reason: He’s among the estimated 30,000 people in Los Angeles County this year who have been victims of this crime.
Gascon has a plan to work with several auto manufacturers in hopes of crafting solutions such as installing anti-theft devices and marking the converters, like other major car parts, so they can be tracked when resold – making it both easier for law enforcement to investigate and, potentially, cutting off the incentive if buyers are able to distinguish whether a part is stolen before purchasing.
Many converters are resold to scrap yards and recycling plants for several hundred dollars each. It’s a largely untraceable crime with a high financial reward that takes only a sharp saw and, in some cases, less than one minute to complete.
Gascon is threatening a fight to force first-in-the-nation changes in a state that often sets policies that ripple across the country. Leading the largest prosecutorial office in the United States. Gascón said he has a successful playbook at the ready that forced major companies to institute changes in curbing cellphone thefts that he says might have to be used again.
“It doesn’t really matter what part of the country you’re living in. You will probably, if you haven’t yet, you will know someone – if not you personally – who had their catalytic converter stolen. And I think it requires national solutions,” Gascón said.
“A cornerstone of good capitalism is to have good corporate citizens,” he said. “I’m hoping that our car manufacturers, especially the larger ones, don’t have to be dragged into this. I’m hoping that they stop for a moment and say, ‘You know, it makes sense. Let’s look for a solution that works.’”
The thefts leave victims with extremely loud vehicles and repairs that can cost up to about $3,000 to fix, something often not covered by insurance. Experts say shortages of the part have also lengthened the time it takes to replace one in some areas. It’s also illegal to drive a car without a catalytic converter in certain parts of the country.
Over the summer, Gascón’s office reached out to Honda, Toyota, General Motors and Ford—four of the largest auto manufacturers—about the rise in thefts and possible tactics they could collaborate on to stop them. Three of them have signaled resistance to Gascon’s idea. Honda, though, has been open to discussing tactics and has been in discussions with their engineers, Gascón said. The company said it’s open to working with all stakeholders and examining a host of solutions to solve the issue.
Gascon said his office isn’t looking to dictate the specifics in how companies solve this problem. He wants everyone to come up with individual solutions “with some urgency” in conceding that the car manufacturers will likely have the best ideas.
Catalytic converter theft is an age-old crime. But the pandemic’s widespread impacts across the world slowed the production of the devices and led to some shortages of the precious metals inside them, including platinum, palladium or rhodium.
Rhodium, a chemical element that helps remove pollutants from a vehicle’s exhaust, skyrocketed in price because of slowed mining in South Africa. In 2018, a troy ounce of the substance was $1,715. In February 2021, the price soared to $27,400 per troy ounce.
The soaring prices also converged with a heightened focus for automakers and countries around the world in cutting emissions and pollutants, making the substance that much more valuable.
In turn, thefts across the country startled unknowing vehicle owners. Law enforcement across the country wrestled with the surge in crimes, which oftentimes are hard to solve because of a lack of identification on many of the devices. Thieves use a reciprocating saw or diamond-blade cutter to quickly make off with the part in less than five minutes, particularly if it’s a high-profile vehicle such as an SUV.
Many states have new laws that target the sale of stolen catalytic converters and aim to make them easier to track back to thieves and the vehicles they were stolen from.
Catalytic converter theft can happen most anywhere, but thieves tend to target vehicles parked at night in driveways, on the street, or in poorly lit parking lots.
Experts say the best way to protect yourself is to park your vehicle in a secure garage, behind a locked gate, or park in a well-lit and populated area. If you have or have not been a victim, it’s a good idea to purchase and install an after-market device like a cage or steel mesh that can cover the catalytic converter to make it more difficult to steal.