Since the start of the pandemic in March of 2020, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), there has been an eleven-fold, nationwide increase in the number of catalytic converter thefts, and according to Reno Police, a similar increase has been seen in the Truckee Meadows.
In 2018, according to NICB’s Operations, Intelligence and Analytics study of reported nationwide thefts, there were 108 catalytic converter thefts per month on average. In 2020, that number was 1,203.
A catalytic converter is one of the greatest environmental inventions of all time. The effect on urban air quality in cities around the US and the world has been profound with obviously improved air quality since the mandated use of catalytic converters.
The device is a chamber in the exhaust system of gasoline-powered vehicles that essentially converts environmentally toxic gases like nitric oxide, carbon monoxide (the leading cause of acid rain), residual hydrocarbons, and nitrogen dioxide into less locally harmful carbon dioxide and water vapor, and though carbon dioxide is what’s known as a greenhouse gas that scientists have shown is causing the planet’s atmosphere to warm, the impact of catalytic converters on localized and global air quality is significant.
To make this happen, gasses pass over an elongated honeycomb coated with a catalyst made of platinum, palladium, or rhodium. As of this morning, platinum was trading around a thousand dollars an ounce. Palladium is trading near $2,800 an ounce, and the spot price for an ounce of rhodium was nearly $22,000.
According to several specialty metals recyclers, an automobile catalytic converter contains 2 to 6 grams of Platinum Group Metals. Trucks and large SUVs range from 6 to 30 grams. Roughly 28 grams make up an ounce. A recycler will typically pay between $100 and $400 for a used converter. New converters range widely in price but a new unit can cost as much as $1,000 or more.
“We have seen a significant increase during the pandemic. It’s an opportunistic crime. As the value of the precious metals contained within the catalytic converters continues to increase, so do the number of thefts of these devices,” said David Glawe, President and CEO of NICB. “There is a clear connection between times of crisis, limited resources, and disruption of the supply chain that drives investors towards these precious metals.”
The NICB does not list Nevada among the top five states for catalytic converter theft with California, Texas, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Illinois, but Reno Police Sergeant Justin Bradley said northern Nevada has seen an increase in catalytic converter thefts that reflects the national trend, and Reno is taking steps to curb the activity.
When a thief steals a converter, they take it to a business that recycles metals. There are several such businesses in the region, and Reno PD is scrutinizing them.
In conjunction with the Business Compliance Division of the City of Reno, Reno Police have been conducting audits of secondhand converter dealers and scrap metal purchasers. The stated goal of these audits is to identify businesses which are not adhering to statutory reporting requirements, and in the process may be purchasing stolen catalytic convertors.
On June 8th of this year, a Reno business was cited for both failing to acquire the necessary information on a scrap purchase, and on failing to report transactions as required by state law.
According to Sergeant Bradley, businesses that fail to follow the reporting requirements may incur fines and other penalties and could ultimately lose their business license.
The NICB recommendations for vehicle owners:
Install a catalytic converter anti-theft device. These are available from various manufacturers and can provide a level of security from theft.
Park fleet vehicles in an enclosed and secured area that is well lit, locked, and alarmed.
Park personal vehicles in a garage. If not possible and vehicles must be parked in a driveway, consider installing motion sensor security lights. While lights may not provide complete security, it may make some thieves think twice, making them leave the area and your vehicle untouched.
Call local law enforcement and your insurer should you become the victim of a catalytic converter theft.