Catalytic converters are located inside the car mufflerThe Department of Justice has arrested 21 people in five states for allegedly operating a nationwide catalytic converter heist that fetched hundreds of millions of dollars.

“Arrests, searches, and seizures occurred in California, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, North Carolina and Virginia,” the department says.

Only time will tell if the arrests slow the nationwide wave of catalytic converter theft.

Valuable rare metals on hand

The catalytic converter is an expensive and easily removable part from every gas-powered vehicle. The adapter is part of your vehicle’s exhaust system. It is a steel case filled with honeycombs of rare metals. Cars with 4-cylinder engines have inverters the size of a loaf of bread. Larger motors require larger adapters.

Hot exhaust gases pass through the honeycomb of platinum, rhodium, palladium and other elements. As it is filtered, chemical reactions pull out harmful pollutants.

The matrix of rare metals inside the catalytic converter

The price of these metals has skyrocketed in recent years, making the catalytic converter worth thousands of dollars.

Criminals can easily steal it by slipping under the car and spreading it.

A recent rise in thefts

American auto insurers submit claims reports to an organization called the National Insurance Crime Bureau. The bureau has reported a tenfold increase in catalytic converter thefts since 2018.

Related Topics: How to protect your car from catalytic converter thieves

The thefts included large-scale operations. Car dealerships across the country have invested in new security systems after multiple converters saw dozens of converters cut from new trucks overnight. Many school systems have seen their bus fleets stolen from catalytic converters.

But thieves have also targeted individual cars nationwide. Criminals have proven to be particularly fond of large trucks and SUVs, which are higher off the ground and therefore easy to slide quickly into. Some reports say hybrids are also being targeted, as their converters tend to stay in better shape for longer because their gasoline engines don’t start every time they drive.

Riddle – where do the stolen transformers go?

The Justice Department’s investigation helps answer a puzzle that law enforcement agencies nationwide have been working to solve: How do thieves turn stolen catalytic converters into cash?

Federal indictments filed in the Eastern District of California and the Northern District of Oklahoma allege that the theft rings “purchased stolen catalytic converters from local thieves and shipped them to DG Auto Parts LLC (DG Auto) in New Jersey for processing.”

DG Auto Parts allegedly “sold the precious metal powders it processed from California and elsewhere to a metal refinery for more than $545 million.”

How to protect your car

The Department of Justice may have dealt a major blow to the stolen catalytic converter trade. But it is not clear if other operations are paying for the stolen adapters. It still makes sense to be vigilant.

Law enforcement experts recommend the following:

  • Get your catalytic converter etched. Many police departments and some muffler stores will be happy to etch your license plate number onto your vehicle’s catalytic converter for free. Thieves have a much harder time selling a transformer if the police can link it to a particular theft, making it nearly worthless.
  • Park indoors if possible. What thief will break into the garage when there are easier targets outside?
  • Look for cameras. Choose parking garages and covered parking garages when you need to park the car.
  • Park in a well lit area. Thieves are less likely to steal as there is a greater chance of being watched.
  • Consider installing a dash cam. Some dash cams use motion sensors and can record anyone close enough to your vehicle to reach the catalytic converter. The presence of the camera may be enough to scare the thieves into finding their prey easier.
  • Install an anti-theft device. Some auto stores offer shields that make removal of the catalytic converter more difficult. We’re unaware of any studies on how well these devices work, but it does seem logical that thieves might get into cars without them.

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