Open your favorite news app or read the local newspaper and you’ll see plenty of news about catalytic converter thefts. An off-duty Harris County Sheriff’s deputy was killed recently as he attempted to intercede when he discovered thieves removing the catalytic converter on his personal vehicle while he and his wife were grocery shopping.
Many of these thieves are targeting vehicle fleets and cars parked in office building parking garages or overnight at area hotels. Westchase District has not been immune to this crime. Recently, the District hosted a meeting of the Public Safety Alliance to discuss catalytic converter thefts and to hear from HPD Sgt. Tracy Hicks, who leads the auto theft division. Here are some takeaways from that presentation:
What is a catalytic converter?
The catalytic converter converts carbon monoxide in vehicles to carbon dioxide. Every car built since the mid-70s has one (or more). It looks similar to a muffler. In some cases, they’re located in the engine compartment, but in most vehicles, they’re located underneath the vehicle, making it easy for a thief to slide under the vehicle and steal them.
Why do people steal catalytic converters?
Catalytic converters contain precious metals, specifically platinum, rhodium and palladium, that can be sold on the black market. Some catalytic converters may resell for as little as $10. Others are worth $2,000. The price fluctuates daily. Crooks don’t always know which ones are valuable, so they’re not particular about which ones they steal.
Mid-sized and large SUVs and trucks are high value targets, especially Ford F-series pickup trucks and Toyota Tundras. The Tundra has four catalytic converters, which could net up to $8,000 for the thief. Other target vehicles include the Toyota Tacoma, Sequoia and 4Runner, Honda CRV and Element, and older model Toyota Prius vehicles.
We’re hearing about catalytic converter thefts on the news so much these days. Are the crimes really increasing?
Yes. There were 1700 catalytic converters stolen in 2020. More than 8,000 were stolen in 2021 across the City of Houston. As of the end of April, almost 3,200 had been stolen. HPD says the city is on track to have a record number of 12,000 – 14,000 stolen catalytic converters in 2022.
How can I limit my risk?
Police recommend etching the last eight digits of your VIN number or your license plate number on your catalytic converter so that it can be identified and traced back to your vehicle if it is found after being stolen. A vehicle owner can do this themselves by purchasing a small engraving tool. That also makes it possible for police to bring a case against the thief for being in possession of stolen property.
After engraving the VIN, law enforcement also recommends spray painting the entire catalytic converter with a bright color of high temperature paint. That alerts investigators that the catalytic converter is likely stolen if they find it at a scrap yard. Vehicle owners can also purchase commercially available “cages” which can be installed to completely cover the catalytic converter and make it more difficult to steal.
Why aren’t more thieves arrested?
The catalytic converter is a car part. It’s not illegal to be in possession of a trunk full of catalytic converters, just like it’s not illegal to be in possession of a trunk full of vehicle door handles. It’s very difficult to trace stolen catalytic converters unless they’ve been etched with a VIN number or license plate number.