Colorado thieves steal expensive catalytic converters. Here’s why.

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As Colorado Police Departments report an increase in catalytic converter thefts, Front Range vehicle experts warn the cost of new pollution control devices has skyrocketed, as have new national air quality regulations prohibit the installation of cheaper second-hand devices.

The converter, which looks like a small muffler, is designed to transform the environmentally hazardous carbon monoxide emitted by an engine into less harmful gases. By state law that came into effect Jan. 1, all Colorado cars and trucks must be equipped with a manufacturer’s catalytic converter or a new aftermarket device that meets emissions standards. of the California Air Resource Board.

Before the new law, mechanics could install used converters if they had been approved for resale by a company licensed by the EPA, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

“That’s what drives up the cost a bit more,” said Justin Edmisson, who works at Front Range Muffler in Colorado Springs.

A universal catalytic converter, which passed federal regulations, cost around $ 350, he said. Now, a single converter ranges from $ 1,000 to $ 2,000, although the overall replacement cost will depend on the vehicle and how many converters the car needs. While some cars have one converter, others can have up to six.

In less than a minute, thieves crawl under cars and trucks and brazenly saw converters before selling them to recycling companies or scrap yards for a quick profit, according to Lafayette’s deputy police chief, Brian Rosipajla.

Catalytic converters are easy to steal and demand for the precious metals used to make them is high, Rosipajla said.

“We’ve had around 30 (stolen) since the start of the year… that’s an incredible increase from last year,” he said.

Thieves often target cars in parking lots, such as grocery stores and hospitals, the deputy chief said. The pattern appears to be precious metals inside the converter, such as rhodium, palladium and platinum, he added.

Denver Police reported 257 stolen catalytic converters across the city in 2020 – up from 15 in 2019, according to a post on the department’s Facebook page. In January, DPD reported 108 thefts of the device.

The trend of crime has also affected Colorado Springs. Officers arrested two men last week on suspicion of sawing off catalytic converters in the early hours of the morning, police reported. During a traffic stop, officers found a prominent converter lying in the back seat of the suspect’s car.

A catalytic converter is seen on a Subaru Forester at Urban Autocare in Denver on June 16, 2021. Emission-reducing converters are made of rhodium, palladium and platinum, making them a valuable stolen property worth hundreds of dollars per room. Toyota Priuses and Honda Elements may be particularly targeted because of their ease of access. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, a nonprofit that tracks the surge in catalytic converter theft across the country, thefts have almost increased tenfold since 2018. In 2020, more than 14,400 converters were reported stolen, reported the NICB.

The organization attributes the rise to higher prices for the precious metals used to make a catalytic converter. One metal, rhodium, has skyrocketed to $ 14,500 an ounce, although typically only a fraction of an ounce goes into the converter, the organization reported.

If stolen parts are recovered, Edmisson said, his store is prohibited by law from reinstalling used converters. Instead, he has to install a brand new converter, whether it is in the aftermarket or at a dealer.

Often times, insurance can help cover the costs of converter theft, he noted.

Edmisson said this year he has seen more customers needing to replace their catalytic converters after being stolen than at any time since the store opened 21 years ago.

How to prevent catalytic converter theft

An increase in stolen catalytic converters has led police in Lafayette and other departments to urge residents to take anti-theft measures, including:

  • Park in a garage or secure area when possible.
  • Engrave the car’s VIN or license plate number on the converter to help law enforcement identify a stolen converter.
  • Paint the converter in bright colors to help officers identify a stolen device. Some agencies recommend “High Temperature Automotive Exhaust Spray Paint”.
  • Upgrade your car alarm to activate when your car is lifted to one side.
  • Install a skid plate or cover on the bottom of your car.
  • Consider installing a protective screen or cage over the catalytic converter to make theft difficult. Companies like California-based Millercat design and sell protective shields specifically for Priuses, ranging from $ 140 to $ 270, according to its website.

Drivers will notice that their catalytic converter has been stolen because their car will be noisier when starting or accelerating, Rosapajla said.

Some cars have become targets for thieves because their catalytic converters are more easily accessible, like taller trucks and SUVs.

Honda components have become an attractive target for catalytic converter theft, possibly due to the relatively high amount of precious metals inside its converters, according to Rosapajla.

Edmisson said he had also seen many Toyota Prius owners need to replace stolen converters.

“If you are in a public place or even in your neighborhood and you see someone crawling under someone’s vehicle, call law enforcement and we will check the situation,” Rosapajla said, “because obviously this will look abnormal in the middle of a hospital or grocery store (parking lot).


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