By Andrew Torgan for Promontory Insight
There’s a modern-day gold rush going on outside shopping centers, in parking garages, and on auto dealership lots across the country. But instead of shovels and pickaxes, these opportunistic miners are using cordless power tools to cut catalytic converters out from underneath cars and pickup trucks in less than two minutes. And the victims won’t even know they have been hit until they start up their engines and hear the unmistakable roar of an unchecked exhaust system that’s now spewing harmful toxins into the air.
According to the data scientists at BeenVerified, catalytic converter thefts have skyrocketed nationwide since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the first five months of this year alone, there were nearly 26,000 thefts — an 80% increase overall of 2020 — with California, Texas, Washington, Minnesota, and Colorado seeing the biggest spikes.
But why exactly are catalytic converters such a hot item? The answer lies inside.
A catalytic converter is an emissions control device that transforms toxic pollutants in engine exhaust gasses into carbon dioxide and water vapor. That’s why you sometimes see water dripping out of the tailpipe of the car in front of you at a traffic light.
Catalytic converters have been required by law on all vehicles in the U.S. since 1975, and they’re mounted under a vehicle close to the engine — before the muffler and tailpipe. Inside the catalytic converter is a honeycomb structure that the dirty engine exhaust passes through, and that structure is coated with precious metals like gold, platinum, palladium, and rhodium that catalyze a chemical reaction that converts the toxic gasses into less-harmful pollutants.
It’s those precious metals on the inside that the thieves are after. Yes, we are talking about very small amounts of metal, but when you consider that gold is trading at around $1,700 per ounce, palladium at $2,600 per ounce, and rhodium at a whopping $17,000 per ounce, you can see why catalytic converter theft is soaring. Furthermore, all you need to steal a catalytic converter is a cordless power saw or pipe cutter and a jack.
Pickup trucks are the most inviting targets because they are high off the ground. A thief can just roll under a truck in a mall parking lot and cut out a converter in 90 seconds. Three of the top five vehicle models that thieves love are pickup trucks (Toyota Tundra, Toyota Tacoma, and Ford F-250) not just because they offer easy access — they have two, three, and even four converters per vehicle. The Toyota Prius tops the list of passenger cars because it has two converters that have an unusually high concentration of palladium and rhodium.
Once criminals have collected enough converters, it’s off to the scrapyard, where unscrupulous metal recyclers pay between $150-$250 per unit. Raids conducted by law enforcement in Southern California in March netted hundreds of stolen converters worth an estimated $750,000.
In Texas, a representative from Toyota’s biggest parts supplier in the state testified before a senate committee earlier this year that thieves east of Houston hid the bushes and watched new Toyotas being unloaded off a trailer at a local dealership.
“After the vehicles were parked, they came out of the bushes and took the catalytic converters off them. It’s that crazy,” he said.
Individual victims of catalytic converter theft are looking at a repair bill of between $1,000 and $3,000 for a car and thousands more for a truck — and that’s if you can get the parts, which are currently in short supply. Making matters worse, it’s illegal to operate a vehicle without a catalytic converter, so even if you could put up with the noise, you’d be risking a hefty fine in some states and you’d never pass an emissions test.
For car and truck dealerships, the cost could be astronomical. An experienced crew of catalytic converter thieves could clean out a dealer’s entire lot in under 30 minutes, leaving behind $100,000 or more in damages to vehicles.
Catalytic converter theft is a huge problem for automotive dealerships nationwide. All those rows of shiny new vehicles parked close together allow thieves to move virtually undetected even in well-lit lots. Security cameras may be able to provide evidence of a crime after the fact, but don’t serve as much of a deterrent. Thieves might trigger motion sensors on your property that set off a burglar alarm — but so will a stray cat or a hungry raccoon digging through the trash. Either way, police are unlikely to respond in time to make an arrest.
The only way to stop catalytic converter theft is to prevent it before it happens, and that’s where Promontory Insight comes in.
Using cutting-edge Artificial Intelligence and analytics, Promontory Insight provides a complete end-to-end video surveillance solution designed to prevent crime before it happens. With real-time notifications sent to our Interactive Surveillance Operations Center (ISOC) centrally located in Dallas to provide nationwide coverage, Promontory Insight monitors and protects your dealership 24/7/365.
Our specially trained ISOC professionals are former military personnel and law enforcement officers who not only respond to video alarms but also perform a detailed threat analysis, ensuring an immediate response to any incident. We identify intruders on your property before a crime is committed, notifying local law enforcement backed up with video verification that guarantees a priority response. We can also issue audible warnings from our ISOC over on-site loudspeakers that deter crooks by making them aware that our security professionals are watching and recording their every move, and that the police have been notified and are on the way.
The result is consistent: prevent the crisis or make an arrest.
Are you ready to proactively protect your dealership and your valuable inventory?