The National Insurance Crime Bureau is warning consumers about a nationwide spike in thefts of catalytic converters.
A catalytic converter is a device that uses precious metals such as rhodium, palladium and platinum to turn an engine's environmentally hazardous exhaust into less harmful gases.
A 2021 study conducted by the NICB's operations, intelligence and analytics division found that there was an average of 1,203 catalytic converter thefts reported per month in 2020, compared to an average of 282 thefts reported per month in 2019 and 108 thefts reported per month in 2018.
The NICB attributes the increase in catalytic converter thefts to the rising value of their precious metals. As of Friday, rhodium is valued at $17,400 per ounce, while palladium is valued at $2,720 per ounce and platinum is valued at about $1,072 per ounce, according to KITCO.com.
It also cites the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, including disenfranchised and frustrated young men and juveniles, unemployment, no school, closed outreach centers and public safety resource limitations and withdrawal of proactive policies.
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"As the value of the precious metals contained within the catalytic converters continues to increase, so do the number of thefts of these devices," NICB President and CEO David Glawe told FOX Business. "There is a clear connection between times of crisis, limited resources and disruption of the supply chain that drives investors towards these precious metals."
Thieves typically target larger, high-clearance vehicles due to the ease of getting underneath them and removing the catalytic converter in a matter of seconds. In addition, hybrid vehicles like the Prius offer cleaner and more valuable catalytic converters. Recycling facilities will typically pay thieves $50 to $250 per catalytic converter, according to the NICB.
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The nonprofit estimates that owners can pay anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 to replace stolen catalytic converters, in addition to the lost income associated with missing work and finding and paying for alternate transportation. In some cases, catalytic converter thefts are covered by insurance as damage not caused by an accident. However, vehicle owners will be responsible for paying a deductible.
At the federal level, Indiana Congressman Jim Baird has introduced the Preventing Auto Recycling Thefts (PART) Act, which is intended to reduce catalytic converter thefts by marking identifying information on them, addressing how the parts are purchased and strengthening enforceability for local law enforcement.
To reduce the chances of theft, the NICB recommends vehicle owners install a catalytic converter anti-theft device, park fleet vehicles in enclosed and secured areas that are well lit, locked and alarmed and park personal vehicles in a garage or a driveway with motion sensor security lights.