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Catalytic Converter Theft Rampant Across the Nation

The dramatic rise of catalytic converter thefts across the nation since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted Iowa and 34 other states to either consider or pass legislation to address the problem. According to National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), in 2018, there were 1,298 catalytic converter thefts reported. The number jumped to 14,433 in 2020. In December 2020 alone there were 2,347 thefts, roughly 16 percent of the yearly total.

A catalytic converter looks like a small muffler in a vehicle’s exhaust system designed to convert the engine's hazardous exhaust into less harmful gasses using platinum, palladium, or rhodium. In recent years, the values of these precious metals have skyrocketed, ranging from about $1,100 for platinum, nearly $3,000 for palladium, and $15,000 or more for rhodium. Recyclers typically pay $50 to $250 for a catalytic converter. 

According to NICB, there is a clear connection between times of crisis, limited resources, and disruption of the supply chain. As the value of the precious metals within catalytic converters continue to increase, so will the number of thefts of these devices.

“We have seen a significant increase during the pandemic. It's an opportunistic crime. As the value of the precious metals contained within the catalytic converters continues to increase, so do the number of thefts of these devices,” said NICB President and CEO David Glawe. “There is a clear connection between times of crisis, limited resources, and disruption of the supply chain that drives investors towards these precious metals.”

In March, the Iowa House passed Senate File 2287, which requires sellers to provide an original receipt for a replacement catalytic converter before selling it to a scrap dealer or a junking certificate for a vehicle issued fewer than 30 days before selling a catalytic converter. Recyclers and scrap metal dealers are to keep a confidential log of paperwork authenticating ownership. The bill passed the Senate with amendments in May.

Removing a catalytic converter takes only minutes using some basic, readily-available, battery-operated tools. To avoid being a victim of this theft, NCIB recommends vehicle owners:

  • Park in a garage or a secured parking area.
  • Install a bright motor sensor light to dissuade potential thieves
  • Park fleet vehicles in secured, alarmed, well-lit yards
  • Always lock vehicle and set alarm
  • Install an anti-theft device

To report the theft and determine the best course of action, NICB advises vehicle owners to contact their insurer.

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