Imagine how aggravating it was for the owner of Ultimate Lawn Care Services in Grimes, Iowa to watch a thief on surveillance video taking a catalytic converter from one of his pickups.
The suspect, dressed in dark clothing, can be seen walking casually on an early Friday morning this month towards one of Dave Voyna’s Ram 2500 trucks. Not long after the thief emerges with a diesel catalytic converter that contains valuable platinum, palladium and rhodium.
“They are going after pick up and cube vans because the vehicles are higher and they don’t need to lift them to get underneath them,” Voyna said.
He’s exactly right.
“Any vehicle is vulnerable, but high ground clearance types—pickups, SUVs, etc.—are favorites because the thief doesn’t need to jack the vehicle up to get under it,” said Frank Scafidi, director of public affairs at the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
In its most recent report on catalytic converter thefts the NICB reports that converters usually bring in between $20 to $240 at metal recycling yards.
“At the highest price point for precious metals, a catalytic converter that came from a diesel vehicle may have garnered a black market price of around $640,” the report states.
Replacement costs vary between $500 to $2,300 depending on the vehicle and the damage done during removal. Shipping company fleets and dealerships are targeted the most, according to the 2016 report.
Nearly 26,000 converters were reported stolen in the U.S. between 2008 and 2015, with 80 percent of those thefts occurring on personal vehicles while commercial vehicles account for the remaining 20 percent. Cats can be quickly removed by a battery-powered saw or even unbolted in some cases.
California easily claimed the top spot with 8,072 reported converter thefts during that seven year period. Texas was second with 1,705 and Illinois third with 1,605. Iowa didn’t make the top-10 list, though the Polk County Sheriff’s Department, which is handling Voyna’s case, reports seeing a sharp rise there in thefts. Arrests have been difficult.
“It’s really hard to track these because these pieces don’t have serial numbers on them,” Lt. Rich Blaylock told kcci.com.
The NICB reports that some municipalities will offer free etching services. Converters etched with the vehicle’s license plate number help reduce theft.
Anti-theft devices built particularly for catalytic converters are also available. For instance, Catstrap.net sells a wire-infused exhaust wrap that is bonded permanently to the converter and the adjoining pipes. The wire, if cut, will activate an alarm.