Catalytic Converter Theft on the Rise

July 01, 2021
Carla Hulsey Pate

The University of Texas Police at Houston (UT Police) wants the community to be aware of the increase in catalytic converter theft and know what steps to prevent converter theft.

Catalytic converters are devices that clean vehicle emissions. Thieves target catalytic converters because they contain precious metals that criminals can sell for hundreds of dollars.

Because of the value of the devices, catalytic converter thefts are increasing across the country and locally as well.

In June, there have been three incidents of catalytic converter thefts at UT Housing, 1885 El Paseo Street.

All thefts occurred during daylight hours and took place on the street, in the parking lot in front of Building 17 and in the Phase III parking garage at UT Housing. The thieves targeted one Toyota Tundra and two Toyota Prius vehicles. UT Police investigations on these incidents are ongoing.

“The Toyota Prius line of vehicles are highly targeted because they’re hybrid vehicles,” said Dr. Andrew Dasher, UT Police threat and risk analyst. “Because hybrid vehicles use the converter less often, the precious metals within are more valuable.” For this reason, Dasher said, newer model vehicles are also at-risk.

“Numerous jurisdictions have reported three-man crews: A wheel man, a mechanic, and a lookout,” said Dasher. It doesn’t take the crew much time to steal a catalytic converter, he said.

“A good crew can get a converter off and drive away in under 30 seconds,” Dasher said.

Additionally, criminals often have paper tags on their getaway vehicles, making it difficult to identify and investigate any suspects. Compounding the problem, the getaway vehicles used are typically stolen vehicles, and are abandoned soon after the crime.

According to the Houston Police Department, compared to the first half of 2020, catalytic converter thefts are up 300 percent thus far this year.

While any vehicle model with a catalytic converter is susceptible to theft, HPD released a list of six models that are most often targeted:

  • Toyota Tundra 
  • Toyota Prius 
  • Toyota Tacoma 
  • Ford F-250 
  • Honda Element & CRV

In May, the Auto Theft Crime Task Force with HPD published a YouTube video explaining how to prevent catalytic converter theft, what criminals do with a stolen catalytic converter and how they profit from the thefts.

The video also explains what you can do to avoid becoming a victim of catalytic converter theft:

  • You can help officers nab crooks by etching the last 8 digits of your vehicle identification number (VIN) or license plate number onto the catalytic converter. If it turns up at a scrap yard, police will be able to track it back to the owner.
  • Take high-temperature, bright spray paint and spray with the catalytic converter. If criminals are going to sell your catalytic converter, they’re going to have to scrape all the paint off.
  • Consider installing products like straps or wire cages that make it much more difficult for your converter to be removed.

Repair costs for catalytic converter theft victims can range anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000, according to an HPD news release. Adding to the challenge, back orders for these parts can be more than three months due to the rise in converter thefts across the country.

A new Texas bill going into effect on Sept. 1 will require metal recycling companies to maintain and submit records when they purchase catalytic converters.

The law will require catalytic converter buyers to get a seller’s ID as well as the year, make, model and VIN number from which the catalytic converter was removed. It also requires auto repair-type businesses to keep records of the catalytic converters they remove.

Additionally, the law also requires a copy of the certificate title or ownership documentation.

Recycling companies also must maintain documentation of the sales and keep a copy of the seller’s thumbprints. Sellers would only get $25 cash for regulated metal.

Catalytic converter thefts aren’t, unfortunately, the only concern.

On June 30, UT Police officers responded to four burglary of motor vehicle incidents at the UT Housing Phase III parking garage. Burglars broke car windows to enter the vehicles and steal valuable items. Lexus makes were the main target in this spree.

The investigation into the spree is ongoing.

“We ask the community to be aware of burglary and theft of motor vehicles that are occurring during the daytime areas,” said Redmond at a June virtual town hall with UTHealth employees. “Garages, parking lots and areas along Main Street continue to be a target.”UT Police encourages car owners to participate in their safety and follow these tips to protect your vehicle:

  • Always lock your vehicle and leave valuables out of sight.
  • Park in a well-lit, highly visible areas (near security cameras or near building entrances). Criminals often target vehicles in dark and isolated areas.
  • At home and wherever possible, park your vehicle(s) in your garage.

UT Police asks community members to see something, say something. Please report suspicious behavior to UT Police immediately at (713) 792-2890.

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