Catalytic Converter Theft

NSVRP Catalytic NSVRP Converter White Paper Published 5-11-2022 for general distribution

 

Catalytic Converter Theft: Working Towards Effective Solutions

Over the last few years, catalytic converter theft has been on the rise. According to State Farm’s auto claims data, catalytic converter theft has increased 293 percent nationwide over the past year.[1] Similarly, over the past year, the New York Police Department (NYPD) and New York State Department of Motor Vehicles has found that there has been a 572 percent increase in catalytic converter thefts.[2] State Farm’s data also shows that catalytic converter theft is not a victimless crime and has paid out more than $33.7 million in claims associated with catalytic converter theft over the past year alone.[3],[4]

Catalytic converter theft has become a major problem and a major source of property loss due to several general issues, that when taken together, cause catalytic converters to become a prime target for thefts. First, catalytic converter theft has become popular amongst criminals due to the fact that there is an active scrap metal market for detached catalytic converters. Second, criminals can quickly and easily remove catalytic converters from vehicles.[5] Third, unlike major component parts required by federal law to be marked with a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) or VIN derivative, catalytic converters are not readily traceable back to the vehicle they were removed from.[6] Fourth, the sales transactions in the scrap metal market are poorly regulated and poorly tracked. Finally, catalytic converters contain the precious metals of rhodium, platinum, and palladium. All three of these metals, which are referred to as Platinum Group Metals (PGM) have hit record highs in terms of their price with rhodium selling at $29,800.00 per ounce in March 2021.[7] These factors make catalytic converters an enticing target for criminals.

Once a criminal has stolen a catalytic converter off of a vehicle, the criminal can quickly sell the stolen property on a secondary market either as an individual piece or in bulk (after having accumulated multiple catalytic converters) with little in the way of transparency. At this point, the stolen catalytic converter or converters are untraceable and can be immediately absorbed back into the supply chain.

Given the current epidemic of catalytic converter theft and the fact that they are being stolen off of standing vehicles and causing millions of dollars in losses to vehicle owners, insurance companies, and automotive dealers, this guide is meant to provide assistance to law enforcement and policymakers. This guide will provide an overview of the normal catalytic converter life cycle and the relevant component entities involved in the industry. Law enforcement agencies and officers can benefit from understanding the basics of legitimate catalytic converter product flow, which will help investigators recognize unreasonable activity and unjustified volumes of product that may be coming from illegitimate sources.


[1] State Farm, State Farm Auto Claims Data Reveals Explosion in Catalytic Converter Theft, (July 20, 2021), https://newsroom.statefarm.com/auto-claims-analysis-reveals-explosion-in-catalytic-converter-theft/.

[2] NBC New York, DMV Issues Warning as NYC Vehicle Thefts Surge in 2021, (July 13, 2021), https://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/dmv-issues-warning-as-nyc-vehicle-thefts-surge-in-2021/3151954/.

[3] State Farm, State Farm Auto Claims Data Reveals Explosion in Catalytic Converter Theft, (July 20, 2021), https://newsroom.statefarm.com/auto-claims-analysis-reveals-explosion-in-catalytic-converter-theft/.

[4] It is important to note that State Farm’s data only relates to State Farm’s insured and does not encompass the uninsured or those covered by other insurance providers. Therefore, the real scope of the problems associated with catalytic converter theft are in fact many magnitudes larger.

[5] Erin Marquis, Watch Thieves Steal a Catalytic Converter in Less than 30 Seconds, Jalopnik, (June 11, 2021), https://jalopnik.com/watch-thieves-steal-a-catalytic-converter-in-less-than-1847079696.

[6] Federal Parts Marking Requirements can be found in both 49 U.S.C. § 33101 and 49 C.F.R. § 541.5.

[7] Myra Saefong, Low-Profile Rhodium is on an historic Run. That’s Impressive Since it Doesn’t Trade on Exchanges, Barron’s, (April 1, 2021), https://www.barrons.com/articles/rare-low-profile-rhodium-goes-on-an-historic-run-51617309670.