Catalytic converter theft is on the rise locally and nationally due to its high resale value. This growing trend is affecting individuals, businesses and the precious metals recycling chain.
The Times News spent the past few weeks poring over data and talking to experts to find out how this trend is affecting the region.
What are catalytic converters?
A catalytic converter is part of a car’s exhaust system and helps regulate the car’s harmful emissions.
The Clean Air Act of 1970 required all cars manufactured after 1975 to be equipped with a catalytic converter. This requirement is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency.
A catalytic converter can regulate emissions because of three precious metals that are added during the manufacture of converters: platinum, palladium and rhodium.
The United States Geological Survey included all three of these metals on its 2022 list of critical minerals, which is defined by the Energy Act of 2020 as “a non-fuel mineral or mineral material essential to the economic or national security of the US- and that has a supply chain vulnerable to disruption.”
Why are converters stolen?
Catalytic converters are stolen for their high resale value due to the use of precious metals. The three metals used in catalytic converters are very valuable and sell for large sums of money.
According to Rxmechanic.com, the average scrap price for a catalytic converter is between $300 and $1,500.
How common is catalytic converter theft?
Catalytic converter theft is not uncommon, and national data confirms the growing trend.
Converter theft is not just a national issue. It is also a concern for some areas in this region.
For example, in the city of Kingsport, from January 1, 2021 to July 26, 2021, the Kingsport Police Department recorded eight convertible thefts. In the same time period for 2022, Kingsport police recorded 20 burglaries. This is a 150% increase in reports for the same duration.
Jeff Harr, who has owned Jeff’s Pipe and Muffler in Kingsport for 23 years, said three to four people a week, or 20 to 25 people a month, come into his shop because their catalytic converters were stolen.
According to Harr, replacing a catalytic converter can be a costly expense. While the cost of the car part has varied, it can range from $800 to $2,000, depending on the type of converter.
Harr said many people steal catalytic converters because it’s “quick money.”
“Catalytic converters are usually a part that doesn’t go bad,” Harr said. “It’s something you probably would never have to replace if someone hadn’t stolen it. So to have that happen and be out $1,000-$1,500 is sad.”
How do catalytic converter thefts affect victims?
Many people with stolen converters do not have the money to replace them.
Laura Bowling, 38, of Rogersville, said her catalytic converter was stolen earlier this year while her 2003 Dodge Caravan was parked at her sister’s house.
Bowling said she can’t drive without the converter because the car is too loud and would cost $200 to $300 to fix.
Since the converter was stolen, Bowling has only one usable car available for her family.
“If I had a converter in my van, I could drive it and give my current car to my teenager,” Bowling said.
Converter thefts don’t just affect individuals. Some people also steal from businesses, such as auto mechanics.
Sandy Eric Jackson, 41, manager of Jackson Automotive Sales, said her store has been burglarized twice. Thieves hit both personal employee vehicles and customers’ cars.
While customers have been quiet about the theft since the issues began, Jackson said some customers have been reluctant to leave their cars in the shop overnight.
Eric Moore, 29, former co-owner of Patriot Auto Repair in Bulls Gap, said his shop has been hit by thieves several times. The thieves stole from personal and customer cars, as well as the store’s U-Haul trucks.
“This type of theft can hurt a young business that doesn’t have great insurance,” Moore said. “If someone steals something, it can be detrimental to a new business.”
How do thieves sell stolen converters?
Moore said people with stolen converters sell to private dealers who don’t check for documentation. Harr said he has heard of people advertising on social media that they are buying catalytic converters.
Converters can also be sold at a scrap dealer, such as Davis Recycling Inc. in Johnson City.
Companies like Davis Recycling are required to follow strict state laws when it comes to selling to individuals. For example, the sale must be made in person and the seller must provide a receipt showing the converter replacement and vehicle registration.
They must also provide a signature and fingerprint, have a valid ID, and provide the year, make, model and license plate number of the car they drive. Also, state law does not allow payment to be made on the day of the sale. Instead, sellers can have a check mailed to their home or wait five days to receive their payment.
Ben Davis, who has owned Davis Recycling since 1998, said he mostly buys converters from licensed dealers. He said catalytic converter thieves target cars with easy access and valuable converters.
Are recyclers and scrap dealers part of the problem or the solution?
Davis Recycling also processes catalytic converters, meaning they deconstruct the converters to remove parts that contain precious metals. They then analyze each converter to determine how much of each metal it contains.
Then, they send it to a smelter, which helps recover the metals and send them to the factory to be used in another converter.
“Recycling is a greener way to get metals instead of mining,” Davis said. “Vehicles need converters because, without them, nobody can drive. Most of the stolen stuff is sold to people who don’t check licenses. We are an important part of the supply chain and some of the largest corporations depend on these metals.”
Aaron Kolb, chief operating officer for Davis Recycling and treasurer of the Tennessee Scrap Recyclers Association, said there is a misconception that recyclers and scrap dealers are part of the problem.
“As a processor, it’s our job to take action and be part of the solution by removing more bad players,” he said, “which helps limit access for people buying stolen converters.”
Are there laws to regulate the sale of catalytic converters?
As a member of TSRA, Kolb has worked with state legislators to pass laws to address the theft of catalytic converters.
Last year, Tennessee passed the Catalytic Converter Consumer Protection Act, which requires anyone who owns a catalytic converter to be a registered scrap dealer or show documentation to prove the converter was obtained from a replacement vehicle. in his name.
Anyone who violates this law will be charged with a Class A misdemeanor for each converter they possess. If charged with a Class A misdemeanor, an individual could face up to 11 months and 29 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.
“We’ve been successful in working with law enforcement to help apprehend some people and even provide training materials to the police,” Kolb said. “I have a good relationship with law enforcement; they know they can call when they need help.”
How does law enforcement handle catalytic converter theft?
Detective Cliff Evans of the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office said police take catalytic converter theft seriously.
“This is no small thing,” Evans said. “It is a serious crime.”
Evans added that sometimes thieves can cause $2,000 to $3,000 worth of damage to other parts of the car by removing the catalytic converter.
How can people protect themselves from catalytic converter theft?
Evans said people should park their vehicles in non-secluded, well-lit areas.
Kolb said he is involved in the national conversation about how individuals can protect themselves from converter theft.
Kolb said one idea is to implement an etching protocol that would allow mechanics to put the VIN number on the converter. Another option is to use a converter cage to restrict access.
“Engraving is an easy, cost-effective and quick option,” Kolb said. “Thieves prefer ease, so if you make it difficult by using a conversion cage, they can get into your vehicle.”