Catalytic converter thefts are on the rise across the country and every dealership is at risk. Last year alone, the National Insurance Crime Bureau estimates that over 52,000 catalytic converters (CC) were stolen nationwide. For reference, in 2018 there were only 1,300 reported CC thefts.

Thieves are after precious metals that are housed in the catalytic converters, which help reduce harmful toxic emissions from internal combustion engines. The increased value of precious metals such as palladium, rhodium and platinum, has led to an exponential increase in CC thefts over the last few years, with no signs of slowing down.

Dealerships are Prime Targets

Cars sitting on the lot are prime targets for thieves and NADA has been hearing from a multitude of dealers who have experienced CC theft in their own stores.

Richard Stephens, vice president and general manager of Stephens Auto Center in Danville, W.Va. had more than 26 vehicles, damaged over a two-day period by CC thieves. “Two of the vehicles impacted were my customers’ cars, waiting for service,” Stephens said. “It’s a bigger issue than folks realize because if you’re the victim of the theft, the repair cost might just be your deductible, so you might not report it to the insurance company or police.”

Catalytic converters are relatively easy to steal but difficult to trace to a specific vehicle, which makes them easily sold on the black market. Stolen catalytic converters can be sold on the black market anywhere from $20 to $350, with the replacement cost to vehicle owners as high as $2,500.

“Repairs are not just the cost of replacing the catalytic converter itself. When [thieves] cut it out, they don’t care what they get along with it, they often damage the oxygen sensor,” Stephens said, noting that those sensors cost $200 to $300 each. “They might take the muffler or other components of the exhaust system – all of which have to be replaced to get the vehicle back to conformity.”

CC thieves have not been successful breaking into Isuzu truck dealer Keith Rutherford’s dealership in Shreveport, La. The 7,000-volt security system encircling his Eagle Truck Center has so far been an effective deterrent.

But Rutherford’s customers have been repeatedly hit by criminals. For example, one customer had all the CCs stolen off his seven trucks. It took eight weeks to get the replacement parts and one month later they were all stolen again. Each CC that is stolen can net a criminal $500 to $600 each and costs the owner approximately $3,500 to replace.

NADA-Backed Legislation Would Increase Protections

NADA strongly supports legislation introduced by Rep. Jim Baird of Indiana, H.R. 6394, the Preventing Auto Recycling Theft (PART) Act, which would help thwart catalytic converter theft by increasing traceability and enforcement.

The PART Act includes a $7 million grant program through which certain entities can voluntarily stamp VINs, or other identifiers, onto the catalytic converters of vehicles already on the road at no cost to vehicle owners. Dealers are specifically eligible to utilize this grant program.

The bill also requires new vehicles to have unique, traceable identifying numbers stamped on catalytic converters at the time of assembly. Additionally, the bill increases record keeping requirements for purchasers and establishes a federal criminal penalty for the theft, sale, trafficking or known purchase of stolen catalytic converters of up to five years in jail.

This week, NADA and 12 industry partners urged Congress to take up the PART Act to help fight catalytic converter theft, and specifically asked for the House Energy and Commerce Committee to hold a hearing on this important issue.

If you have experienced catalytic converter theft at your dealership, please let us know. Also reach out to your local Congressman to urge him to support H.R. 6394.