HOUSTON - It’s the last thing you want to deal with during your morning rush -- a stolen catalytic converter. However, it’s happening more often across the country, and like so many things gone wrong in recent times, the pandemic is partly to blame.
The National Insurance Crime Bureau says economic issues from the pandemic and the rising price of precious metals are creating the perfect storm for an increase in thefts of catalytic converters.
"Precious metals are investors’ ‘go-to’ in a time of crisis, and a pandemic is no different," says President & CEO David Glawe. "The price of rhodium and palladium which are in your catalytic converters- they’re what prevents corrosion- is right now at an all-time high."
The company reports that thefts of the part are also at an all-time high, up 300% since last year.
In 2018, NICB recorded an average of 108 catalytic converter thefts per month. In 2019, it more than doubled to 282 thefts on average per month; and in 2020, it rocketed to 1,203 thefts on average per month.
"You can be in and out in under a minute. Vehicles that are high off the ground are more susceptible [like] trucks and RV’s," says Glawe.
Texas is listed as one of the top five states where the rise in thefts is happening. The Harris County Sheriff’s Office also reported that catalytic converter thefts had tripled in 2020.
Richard Davison says he has witnessed it firsthand. He heads up security at A Rocket Moving and Storage on the south side of Houston.
"They’ll venture in here and make excuses to be in here -- 3:45, 4 o’clock in the morning you shouldn’t be here," he describes his late shift as a time when people try to take advantage of nightfall.
He says last August, two of their moving trucks were targeted by a team of catalytic converter thieves. They didn't find out about the theft until the next morning when trying to start the trucks. They later saw the culprits on surveillance footage.
"I think it was a group of professionals because when they were leaving, they had saws in their hands," says Davison.
Lately, he's been hearing similar stories from other businesses in the area.
"The people that are buying them, that they’re taking them to- if they question the legitimacy of the product that they’re bringing, this would stop that," he adds.
Thieves can get a couple of hundred bucks for the part, but a repair for the owner may cost a couple thousand.
Davison says in the fall of 2020 it cost $1,200 apiece to replace the parts on both trucks, and prices have risen since.
In response to the thefts, his team has added more security measures—upgraded cameras, and shifts around the clock to prevent someone else from making a quick buck where they could land an honest opportunity instead.
"You don’t have to come here through the back door and take something. You can come through the front door. [The owner] will give you a job where you can make something," he says.
Anti-theft devices for catalytic converters are available; they average $100 and $200.
The NICB also recommends checking with your insurance company to make sure you are covered in case of theft.