Catalytic converter thefts are on the rise across SoCal; average of 40-50 stolen each week

Rob McMillan Image
Friday, July 15, 2022
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Catalytic converter theft is on the rise, in large part because of how valuable the precious metals are that can be sold as scrap and how quickly they can be stolen.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Catalytic converter theft is on the rise, mostly because of how valuable the precious metals are that can be sold as scrap and how quickly they can be stolen.

Surveillance video from the front yard of a home in Perris taken on the morning of July 1 shows three thieves get out of a white vehicle and approach the victim's car parked on the driveway. While one of them keeps watch, the others quickly jack the car off the ground and then use a battery-powered saw to cut the catalytic converter from below the engine.

The entire process took less than 30 seconds.

"Right now, I would say we're averaging 40 to 50 catalytic converter thefts per week," said Riverside police Detective Senon Saldana. "They used to say crime doesn't pay. Well, crime pays right now."

According to estimates by BeenVerified using National Insurance Crime Bureau and Google search data, the number of monthly catalytic converter thefts in California were 14 times that of 2019.

Police say depending on the load of precious metals in each catalytic converter, thieves can make hundreds of dollars selling them at recycling facilities.

Law enforcement cracks down on catalytic converter thefts

Law enforcement agencies across the country are taking action after seeing a rise in thefts of catalytic converters since the beginning of the pandemic.

"Specifically with these catalytic converters, we're getting some guys who are known car thieves who are now going to catalytic converter thefts because they're making a lot more money on those," Saldana said.

Auto mechanics are also seeing more and more customers coming in to get repairs after their catalytic converters were stolen.

"I've had days where I'll come in on Monday morning, and I'll have 10 calls immediately from people with stolen converters," said mechanic Kirk Haslam, who's worked at Advance Muffler in Pasadena since 1979.

In previous years, these kinds of thefts would usually take place in the middle of the night, that's not the case anymore.

"I've seen it in shopping centers where people come out from shopping, (and their) converter is gone," Haslam said. "I had one taken on Lake Avenue and Mountain at 12 noon."

Perhaps worse, because of supply chain problems Haslam said in some instances, repairs can take months to complete.

"For the Nissan NV200, the front converter is back ordered from Nissan for nine months," Haslam said.

Haslam added that even if parts are available, it can get quite pricey to complete repairs.

"Some cars you can get done for as little as $400-$500. But some of them, even with aftermarket, by the time all is said and done you're talking $3,000 to $4,000," Haslam said.

Detective Saldana also said because penalties in California for certain property crimes are so weak, there's no deterrent for thieves.

"If we arrest somebody, it's a property crime. And because it's a property crime these guys are getting released in 24 to 48 hours and they're back out on the street," Saldana said. "If there's nothing that's going to stop these guys, like going to prison or jail, our hands are tied as law enforcement."