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  • Drew Neckar

Reducing the risk of catalytic converter thefts

We have recently seen a major uptick in catalytic converter thefts from parked vehicles across the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and European Union. The catalytic converter has been a mandatory part of the emissions system for vehicles in many countries since the late 1980’s and makes an attractive target for criminals due to high scrap value of the precious metals used to make them, often $250 up to over $1,000. In addition to the relatively high value that can be obtained catalytic converters are typically easily removed, often taking a thief less than two minutes to slide under the vehicle and cut the exhaust system piping or remove a couple of bolts that hold the converter in place.

There are several factors that make individual vehicles more attractive to a catalytic converter thief, related to the ease of removal or the relative value of the individual vehicle’s catalytic converter. Often SUVs, minivans, pick-up trucks and other vehicles with high ground clearance will be targeted as it is easier for a thief to slip underneath them. Also, vehicles with hybrid, particularly the Toyota Prius, and diesel engines use catalytic converters with larger amounts of precious metals making them more attractive. While the thief may receive as much a few hundred dollars for a stolen catalytic converter the vehicle owner is often stuck with a vehicle that often cannot legally be driven until it is repaired and large repair bill, often totaling $2,500 or more.

Catalytic converter thefts can happen anywhere including your own driveway, but thefts are typically concentrated in locations where numerous vehicles are parked for longer periods of time. These include hospitals, colleges, transit centers, shopping malls, and even restaurants. Unfortunately, due to how quickly these thefts occur it is extremely difficult to catch the perpetrators in the act and even if the business has extensive security camera coverage, police in most jurisdictions are too busy to spend much, if any, time investigating "minor" thefts, so the perpetrators know that there likely will not be consequences.

Security cameras provide little deterrent value and for businesses deploying the number of Security staff necessary to ensure catching someone in the act can be effective yet is often cost prohibitive. That said, there are a number of things that businesses can do to make their parking lots less attractive targets, which while not solving the underlying societal problems may serve to move the crime away from their property to someone else's, but typically the most effective measures make use of crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) to decrease the desirability of that particular lot as a target in the eyes of the potential criminal. Some of the measures that businesses can take are:

  • Ensure appropriate levels of lighting in parking lots to increase the risk of observation to the criminals.

  • Maintain bushes, hedges, grass, and other foliage to ensure clear sight lines.

  • If Security personnel are utilized, ensure that their patrol vehicles are well marked to provide a visible deterrent.

  • If parking attendants or valet staff are utilized, ensure that they are trained in identification of suspicious activity, have a reliable method for quickly contacting Security or Police, and understand that the security of the lot is a part of their job.

  • Limit the number of entrances and exits from the parking are to ensure that all traffic is routed through “chokepoints” where effective video surveillance can be used to ensure identification.

  • Post signage notifying potential thieves that the area is subject to recording by a video surveillance system as well as signage informing legitimate users how to report suspicious activity.

  • Provide extra protection for areas where fleets of busses, semi-trucks, or large construction vehicles are parked overnight.

In addition to crime prevention measures that can be taken by businesses, there are several things that individual drivers can do to lessen their personal risk of having their catalytic converter stolen. These include:

  • If you have a garage, park inside and close the door rather than parking overnight on the street or in your driveway.

  • If you do not have a garage consider installing motion activated lights covering your driveway that will illuminate when someone approaches your vehicle.

  • When parking in a large parking lot, park in the very front, very back, side rows, or near parking attendant booths where activity around your vehicle is visible from the street.

  • When parking at night, park in the best lit parts of the lot.

  • Have you mechanic engrave your car’s VIN number on your catalytic converter so it can be more easily identified if stolen and place a sticker saying that it is marked in your window.

  • If you have a vehicle that is at higher risk of catalytic converter theft and you live in or regularly travel to an area when catalytic converter thefts are common consider having your mechanic install an after-market cage or other theft prevention device on your catalytic converter.

  • Check your insurance policy to ensure that you are covered and what your out-of-pocket deductible will be if you are a victim of catalytic converter theft.


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