LA Sheriff Finds $750K Worth of Catalytic Converters, Arrests 19

  • While no one is tracking exact figures, the number of catalytic converters stolen from vehicles across the U.S. has grown tremendously. In Los Angeles County, it was up 400 percent in a year.
  • The LA Sheriff raided four locations last week, arresting 19 people and recovering three-quarters of a million dollars’ worth of catalytic converters, plus $100,000 in cash and a “ghost” gun.
  • If you want to prevent your own cat from being stolen, parking in a secure location is one possible solution. The sheriff also suggests etching your serial number into the converter and welding its bolts together. As one does.

    Don’t say we didn’t warn you. Catalytic converter thefts keep on rising as the pandemic continues, in some cases to an eye-popping degree. The Los Angeles County Sheriff recently announced that there was a 400 percent increase in these kinds of thefts in LA County in 2020. In California as a whole, the number of catalytic converters replaced last year was more than 90 percent higher than the year before, a AAA spokesman told the Los Angeles Times. So it’s good news that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s office served search warrants in four locations last week, arresting 19 people and recovering 250 catalytic converters with an estimated total value of $750,000. The police also seized around $100,000 and a “ghost” handgun (i.e., one that was homemade or otherwise without a serial number).

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    Catalytic converters are an important part of a vehicle’s emissions reduction system, turning the carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons generated by burning fossil fuels into carbon dioxide and water. Almost every car sold since 1975 has one (electric vehicles excepted), which means almost every car is a potential target.

    As we reported in December, catalytic converter thefts rose all across the U.S., from Wichita, Kansas, to Lynchburg, Virginia, and from South Bend, Indiana, to Manchester, New Hampshire. One clever solution used by a repair shop Milwaukee was to deflate tires on vehicles waiting to be fixed so that it would be more difficult for a thief to crawl under the vehicles and saw off the converter. The National Insurance Crime Bureau stopped tracking catalytic converter thefts after 2015, but it seems like everyone agrees the numbers are on the rise.

    While the just-arrested 19 people might eventually pay the price for their thievery, there’s a logic to their illegal actions. First, it’s unfortunately simple to steal a catalytic converter if you’ve got a pipe cutter. Second, each one can be worth hundreds of dollars if you know an auto parts supplier or scrapyard that won’t ask too many questions about the converter’s provenance. The value comes from the valuable metals inside, including platinum, palladium, and rhodium. Ironically, the reason these metals are worth something is because automakers need more of them for the emission-control devices for new vehicles.

    apprentice holding catalytic converter in car service centre

    Monty RakusenGetty Images

    There are a few steps you can take to prevent someone from stealing your catalytic converter, including obvious security measures like parking in a well-lit area, preferably with surveillance cameras. The Los Angeles sheriff also recommends some more dramatic moves like welding the bolts on your catalytic converter together or somehow etching your license plate number onto the catalytic converter. In Los Angeles County, local law enforcement in Santa Clarita Valley is running a “Guard That Auto” campaign to prevent thefts of vehicles and catalytic converters.

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