Catalytic converter thefts continue to rise; what NC lawmakers are doing to fight back

Samantha Kummerer Image
Monday, July 25, 2022
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Catalytic converter thefts continue to happen more and more often in North Carolina and across the country.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- When Durham resident Yulia Lukina-Kuranova stepped outside of her apartment and found a brick under her car tire, she was confused.

"The car wasn't broken in. I was a bit worried so I went to the parking lot and started the car and for a few seconds it was OK, and then it was a sound you know the sound when it's like, yeah, super loud," Lukina-Kuranova remembered.

She quickly figured out the sound was caused by the lack of a catalytic converter.

Catalytic converter thefts have been on the rise over the past year.

Durham Police Department reported a 136% increase in thefts between 2021 and 2020. So far this year 74 reports are connected with catalytic converter thefts.

Similarly, Raleigh Police Department has already responded to 161 reports this year. Last year, officers reported 201 incidents, a 415% uptick since 2020.

The ABC11 I-Team also uncovered this crime is impacting state-owned vehicles and costing North Carolina taxpayers. Over the past five years, catalytic converter thefts have cost state agencies $187,763 with 80% of the losses occurring in 2021.

Nationwide, the National Insurance Crime Bureau reported a 1,215% increase in catalytic converter thefts between 2019 and 2021.

The huge uptick in this crime is partially due to a sharp rise in the value of the metals in the converters. Experts report criminals can make $25-$300 off a standard converter and hybrid vehicles' converters can sell for up to $1,400.

Lukina-Kuranova said she didn't have insurance so the theft cost her more than $1,000 to replace the part.

Tiffany Wright, the director of public affairs for AAA-Carolinas, said replacements can cost drivers $1,000 to $3,000.

Carfax reported the most common cars thieves are targeting include Ford F-Series pickup trucks (1985-2021), Honda Accords (1989-2020), Jeep Patriots (2007-17), Ford Econoline vans (1990-2022) and Chevrolet Silverado pickup trucks (1999-2021). View the full list here.

Earlier this month, state lawmakers passed a bill in an effort to combat the rise of these thefts. Senate Bill 201 makes it a Class 1 felony to possess a catalytic converter that has been removed from a car.

North Carolina joins more than 20 other states who have recently enacted catalytic converter theft bills, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Since the state just passed this law, it's still too soon to see if it will deter criminals.

"I think the biggest problem is they need to stop being able to accept these catalytic converters. People need to not be able to sell them to anybody. If you can't sell them to anybody, they don't do any good," said Joey Menditto, one of the founders and lead technician at Benchmark Autoworks in downtown Raleigh.

He said while the law might help, he thinks that a system more like a pawn shop would help.

"I think this should be a system that you can register your part number, your seal number off your Xbox or whatever it is. And that way if somebody with a different name shows up with it at any one of those stores, they should be able to say: that's not you," he said.

Menditto said he gets calls weekly from people from out of state trying to buy the converters he has in bulk.

"I get calls all the time to buy my catalytic converters. I have a local guy that takes care of it responsibly; the way it's supposed to be. He doesn't take stolen catalytic converters. He won't. He has to write them all down, he has to keep track of them. I have a system that keeps track of the ones who've taken off and then they go to him," he explained.

Converters don't have vehicle identification numbers (VIN) so it is hard for police to trace the part back when they are stolen.

"The hard thing about catalytic converters is the tracking. So when they do in fact get stolen, there's not really a way to track a catalytic converter and that's why it's so hard," Wright explained.

Lukina-Kuranova said she did file a report with the police but there wasn't much they could do for her.

In the meantime, experts continue to advise drivers to park in well-lit areas and park in garages if possible.

Wright also suggested drivers have a muffler shop etch the VIN onto the converter to help officers track it if it does get stolen. She also said attaching locks to the converter, calibrating your car's alarm to go off when it detects vibration, buying a converter protection device and welding the converter onto the car's frame can also help prevent theft.

"One thing to keep in mind is to check your insurance policy. This is a great time to check your insurance policy. A lot of times we're talking about catalytic converters that your insurance policy might not cover it. So you want to make sure that you have a comprehensive insurance policy," Wright said.

Lukina-Kuranova said after her car had its catalytic converted stolen she purchased a protection shield that would make it harder for someone to steal the new converter, which gives her more peace of mind.

"We are in the same area in the same apartment complex and I am concerned a little bit of course, but I think it's just not as easy and not as fast to take it out from my car now," she said.

She said looking back she wished she would have known about the uptick in incidents earlier.

"To put the shield on is not really that expensive if you think about how expensive is to actually have a new converter. So maybe if we had more information we could have had more resources to make our cars safer," Lukina-Kuranova said. "It's just like very sad."