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AARP AARP States Colorado Driver Safety

Catalytic Converter Theft


Catalytic converter theft has become a huge problem in Colorado and throughout the entire country.   According to Colorado State Patrol data, only 151 catalytic converter thefts were reported to Colorado law enforcement agencies in 2019. In 2020, that number jumped to 930. Theft of the emissions-control devices increased by nearly 1,500% statewide in 2021, the largest year-over-year jump among all states.  Nationwide, catalytic converter thefts more than quadrupled in 2021.

A catalytic converter is a key automotive component that reduces harmful emissions. It’s been a mandatory part of all gas-powered cars since the 1975 model year.  Located between the engine and the muffler on the underside of the vehicle, the converter is designed to convert the environmentally hazardous exhaust emitted by an engine into less harmful gasses. To do this, platinum, palladium, and rhodium are used as catalysts in the conversion process.  In recent years, the values of these precious metals have increased significantly.  As of March 2022, rhodium is valued at $21,600 per ounce, palladium at $3,312 per ounce, and platinum is going for $1,157 per ounce. Typically, stolen catalytic converters are sold to recyclers for $50 to $250 per converter.

Any gas-powered car with a catalytic converter can be a target for converter theft but the top vehicles for converter theft tend to be older cars. Technology wasn't as refined for the older cars, so the catalytic converters tend to have more of the precious metals than newer ones. Newer cars, however, can have metals in better condition because the converters haven't been subjected to as much wear and tear. Hybrid manufactured cars can also be a favorite for thieves because their catalytic converters see much less use than standard cars, resulting in metals that are easier to salvage.

Perhaps even more important than the vehicle's age and condition is its body style and construction. Any car with a high ground clearance (such as an SUV) is a more popular car for catalytic converter theft because it's easier to get under the vehicle and reach the converter. The way that the converter is installed can also make a difference. Some automakers install the converter with bolts while others weld it in place. Bolt-on converters are easier to steal, so concerned owners should check to see how their converter is attached.

Recommendations for preventing catalytic converter theft include parking in well lit areas or a garage. Anti-theft devices, alarms and motion sensor lights may also scare off potential thieves.  AAA and Colorado Department of Public Safety’s Auto Theft Prevention Authority have implemented a program to etch a unique 7 digit serial numbers onto catalytic converters. The etching also contains a 24/7 contact telephone number of the International Security Register (ISR).  Once registered with ISR the catalytic converter owner’s identity, ownership and Police National Computer status becomes immediately verifiable with just one phone call.  The concept being that the value of a stolen registered catalytic converter is immediately reduced.  The program is available at AAA approved auto repair facilities.

_Murphy is AARP Colorado Safe Driver State Coordinator

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