Catalytic converter thefts rising, costing victims thousands of dollars

A catalytic converter thefts are up in the Miami Valley. The Dayton Police Department has received 136 reports of thefts of motor vehicle parts and accessories this year, which is a 38% increase from last year. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

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A catalytic converter thefts are up in the Miami Valley. The Dayton Police Department has received 136 reports of thefts of motor vehicle parts and accessories this year, which is a 38% increase from last year. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Stolen car exhaust system components can be sold; state legislator hopes pending bill would help solve problem

Catalytic converters are being torn off vehicles all across the Miami Valley, and victims are getting stuck with large repair bills because the auto parts have skyrocketed in value in the last several years.

“These thieves have cost us thousands of dollars,” said Tracey Tomme, president and CEO of the Dayton Society of Natural History, the parent organization of the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery, which has had multiple vehicles damaged by thieves.

Authorities say auto-parts thefts can be a difficult to prevent and solve, but they believe new laws and regulations on the sale and marking of catalytic converters could make a big difference.

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Thieves trying to steal catalytic converters from vehicles parked in a staff parking lot at the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery in June accidentally pulled of their own bumper. CONTRIBUTED

Thieves trying to steal catalytic converters from vehicles parked in a staff parking lot at the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery in June accidentally pulled of their own bumper. CONTRIBUTED

Combined ShapeCaption
Thieves trying to steal catalytic converters from vehicles parked in a staff parking lot at the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery in June accidentally pulled of their own bumper. CONTRIBUTED

A catalytic converter is part of the exhaust system on the undercarriage of a vehicle. It converts engine gases into less-toxic pollutants. Thieves target them because they contain precious metals and can be resold.

The Dayton Police Department has received 136 reports of thefts of motor vehicle parts and accessories this year, which is a 38% increase from last year. Police said that category largely reflects catalytic converter thefts.

Police in Riverside have recorded 27 catalytic converter thefts this year, and Kettering has had about two dozen. Both Oakwood and Centerville have each received four reports of catalytic converter thefts this year.

Oakwood had none in 2021, while Centerville had 24.

But this isn’t just a local concern.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau says it saw a 1,215% increase in insurance claims related to thefts of catalytic converters between 2019 and 2021.

Combined ShapeCaption
A catalytic converter thefts are up in the Miami Valley. The Dayton Police Department has received 136 reports of thefts of motor vehicle parts and accessories this year, which is a 38% increase from last year. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: Jim Noelker

A catalytic converter thefts are up in the Miami Valley. The Dayton Police Department has received 136 reports of thefts of motor vehicle parts and accessories this year, which is a 38% increase from last year. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: Jim Noelker

Combined ShapeCaption
A catalytic converter thefts are up in the Miami Valley. The Dayton Police Department has received 136 reports of thefts of motor vehicle parts and accessories this year, which is a 38% increase from last year. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

The bureau identified 52,200 claims that involved this type of theft last year, which was more than triple the tally in 2020 and 13 times more incidents than in 2019.

Catalytic converter thefts are underreported, and the bureau’s analysis of thefts are based on a sampling of insurance claims.

“Though it is only a sampling, it does indicate the trend of these thefts and that they are continuing to increase dramatically,” said Tully Lehman, senior public affairs manager with the organization.

In Dayton, a thief last month stole catalytic converters off six vehicles in the parking lot of a tire and auto shop in the McCook Field neighborhood.

Multiple community members in Old North Dayton and the Eastern Hills neighborhoods also had catalytic converters cut off their cars.

Three times in the last year, thieves stole or attempted to steal catalytic converters off of vehicles that belong to the Boonshoft Museum, the organization said.

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Two men attempted to steal catalytic converters off of vehicles belonging to the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery but they were scared off by museum staff. CONTRIBUTED

Two men attempted to steal catalytic converters off of vehicles belonging to the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery but they were scared off by museum staff. CONTRIBUTED

Combined ShapeCaption
Two men attempted to steal catalytic converters off of vehicles belonging to the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery but they were scared off by museum staff. CONTRIBUTED

The vehicles were parked in a staff parking lot, and the thefts always occurred at night, said Tomme, with the Dayton Society of Natural History.

The museum had to repair two vehicles and total a third, she said. In addition to repair costs, Boonshoft had to pay to rent a car so it could provide its off-site education programming, and transport animals to veterinary treatments.

“It’s very aggravating and costly,” Tomme said.

Catalytic converter thefts can cost car owners $1,000 to $2,000 for replacement, and some vehicles have two converters, officials said.

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A suspect's vehicle in a catalytic converter theft at the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery's staff parking lot. CONTRIBUTED

A suspect's vehicle in a catalytic converter theft at the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery's staff parking lot. CONTRIBUTED

Combined ShapeCaption
A suspect's vehicle in a catalytic converter theft at the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery's staff parking lot. CONTRIBUTED

Catalytic converter thefts have become increasingly common because the devices contain precious metals including rhodium, which used to sell for $696 an ounce in 2016, but now goes for about $18,000 an ounce, said State Rep. Bob Young (R-Green).

Other metals common in converters include palladium (which can sell at more than $2,300 per ounce) and platinum (more than $1,000 per ounce).

Some recyclers pay $50 to $250 per converter.

Young has proposed new legislation that would classify catalytic converters as “special purchase articles,” which means scrap metal dealers, bulk merchandise dealers or other buyers would have to obtain from the seller proof that they own the items.

Young says this would basically ban the sale of catalytic converters unless the seller is scrapping the entire car.

Catalytic converter thefts impact everyone because they can lead to higher insurance rates, said Dayton police Lt. Col. Eric Henderson, assistant police chief.

Police track where thefts are occurring and try to find patterns, identify suspects and disrupt these activities, Henderson said.

He also said one way to fight this type of crime would be to mark or manufacturer catalytic converters with serial numbers, similar to vehicle identification numbers.

He also said it should raise red flags when someone is selling a large number of converters, and new legislation could help solve this problem.

“It’s good to catch someone after the fact, but it’s better to prevent them from happening at all,” he said.

Police in Riverside said they have encouraged businesses to upgrade their lighting and security cameras to help deter thieves.

Law enforcement also recommends that car owners park in garages, or other well-lit areas, and they also can obtain anti-theft devices as well.

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