A CLOSER LOOK: catalytic converters are a hot ticket item for thieves

A Closer Look

AR law: a buyer of a used "cat," other than a scrap metal recycler, shall file an electronic record of the purchase.

Definition of the word Catalytic converter in a dictionary

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The University of Arkansas Police Department (UAPD) has identified 22 thefts of catalytic converters since January 1, 2020.

All of the cases are active, according to the UAPD website.

UAPD Captain Gary Crain said if arrests are made, “most of these thefts will be felonies depending on the value of the item stolen and damage done in stealing it.”

Crain said the interest in this item is because the value of the metal components has increased in the past year.

“People who are committing the thefts are simply cutting them off. It does not take much time,” said Crain, “but, it does cause a lot of damage [to the vehicle] because it’s not removed correctly.”

Many people won’t notice a missing catalytic converter until they drive their car.

“The sound of the motor … it’s much louder and noticeable,” he said.

There is not a set pattern when the thefts happen.

“Some are happening in the daytime in parking lots, some are happening overnight,” said Crain. He recommended for people to not leave their car parked in one spot for several days.

UAPD is, however, taking a proactive approach and held a free VIN etching event at Grease Pig in Fayetteville. UAPD Corporal Allen Porter said overall more than 100 converter etchings were done Thursday, May 27, 2021.

Other VIN etching participants included police departments from Fayetteville, Farmington, Tontitown, and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.

Another VIN etching will be held Friday, May 28, 2021, at the following locations

  • Grease Pig: 1499 W. MLK Blvd. & 2897 N. College Ave., Fayetteville
  • Razorback Muffler: 245 E. Main St. Farmington
  • Plaza Tire: 953 E. Henri De Tonti Blvd., Springdale

Overall, many local law enforcement agencies in Northwest Arkansas do not track the thefts of catalytic converters, but instead, it’s more likely listed in reports of property thefts.

Fayetteville Police Department Sergeant Anthony Murphy said there has been nearly an 18% increase in property thefts and regarding catalytic converter thefts he said it’s been, “a lot.”

Catalytic converter definition by Merriam-Webster: an automobile exhaust-system component containing a catalyst that causes the conversion of harmful gases (such as carbon monoxide and uncombusted hydrocarbons) into mostly harmless products (such as water and carbon dioxide).

New exhaust system with catalytic converter. Getty Images.

PROPERTY THEFTS/CATALYTIC CONVERTERS — ALL ARE ACTIVE INVESTIGATIONS

  • MAY 4-16: A student reported someone stole his catalytic converter from his vehicle in Lot 99.
  • MAY 5-6: A staff member reported someone stole the catalytic converter off a university vehicle in the Library Annex parking lot.
  • MAY 1: A theft at the Engineering Research Center northeast parking lot.
  • APRIL 26-27: A non-affiliated person reported someone stole the catalytic converter from his vehicle.  
  • APRIL 17: A student reported someone stole the catalytic converter from her vehicle in Lot 72.
  • APRIL 15-21: A staff member reported someone stole the catalytic converter from a university vehicle in Lot 47W.
  • APRIL 11-21: A student reported someone stole the catalytic converter from his vehicle in Lot 72.
  • APRIL 7-13: A student reported someone stole the catalytic converter from his vehicle in Lot 73.
  • APRIL 4-11: A student reported someone stole the catalytic converter from his vehicle in Lot 72.
  • MARCH 23-24: A student reported someone stole the catalytic converter from her vehicle in Lot 40A.
  • MARCH 23-29: A student reported someone stole her catalytic converter from her vehicle in Lot 40A.
  • MARCH 17-24: A student reported her catalytic converter was stolen from her vehicle in Lot 40A.
  • FEBRUARY 7-MARCH 13: A student reported someone stole the catalytic converter from his vehicle in Lot 99.
  • FEBRUARY 1-25: A staff member reported someone stole the catalytic converter from a university vehicle parked in the gravel parking lot east of the Government Avenue Warehouse.
  • DECEMBER 11-19: A student reported someone stole the catalytic converter from his vehicle in Lot 99.
  • DECEMBER 3-4: A student reported someone stole the catalytic converter from her vehicle in Lot 47W.
  • OCTOBER 12-14: A student reported someone stole her catalytic converter from her vehicle while parked in Lot 99.

In the early 1990s, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency amended the Clean Air Act, amending the automotive repair and service industry. This included prohibition of the tampering of an emission control device(s) or the element of design. The item became mandated by the government in 1972.

Essentially, the changes in these guidelines reflect EPA’S position that any pipe used to replace the section of exhaust where the catalytic converter should be, would be considered illegal under the revised Clean Air Act. Therefore, any work in this area of the exhaust system must include proper converter replacement.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C. , 3/13/1991.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) reports that since March 2020, at the start of COVID-19, catalytic converter thefts increased nationally.

“It’s an opportunistic crime. As the value of the precious metals contained within the catalytic converters continues to increase, so do the number of thefts of these devices,” said NICB President and CEO David Glawe. “There is a clear connection between times of crisis, limited resources, and disruption of the supply chain that drives investors towards these precious metals.”

The metals used by manufacturers are platinum, palladium, or rhodium and the value of the metal has increased. Recyclers may pay $50 to $250 per catalytic converter, according to Glawe.

NICB’s Operations, Intelligence and Analytics Study on thefts:

  • 108 catalytic converter thefts per month on average in 2018. 
  • 282 catalytic converter thefts per month on average in 2019.
  • 1,203 catalytic converter thefts per month on average in 2020.
  • In 2020, a continual climb in thefts monthly: January had 652 and December had 2,347.
  • Top 5 states for thefts: CA, TX, MN, NC, IL.

As of February 2021, 18 states, including Arkansas, looked at possible legislative action to reduce catalytic converter thefts, according to the NICB.

On April 28, 2021, Governor Asa Hutchinson signed into law (an amended) Act 1083, which requires buyers of used catalytic converters to maintain records.

HOW TO AVOID BEING VICTIMIZED, NICB RECOMMENDS:

  • Park in a garage or secured parking area.
  • Install a motion sensor light to deter thieves.
  • Park fleet vehicle in secured, alarmed, and well-lit yards.
  • Lock vehicle and set alarm.
  • Install a catalytic converter anti-theft device.

UAPD Captain Crain said thefts should be reported to police whenever it happens. “One or more groups or individuals are involved, but some cases are related and committed by the same people.

For thefts occurring on campus, UAPD should be notified.

Other occurrences should be reported to the city police where the theft occurs, or the sheriff’s office if the theft occurs out in the county.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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