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Stolen Catalytic Converter Cases Surge

July 19, 2021 David Wylie

Mechanic working under a vehicle

If you’re looking to make a case for managing risk in your schools, math might just be your strongest ally. Consider the creative budgeting forced on Mobile, Alabama schools.

Earlier this year, a thief stole catalytic converters from 10 school buses. The going rate to replace them is about $3,000 each. That’s an eye-popping $30,000 in bus parts. And then there’s the cost of towing the vehicle, which can run hundreds of dollars for school buses.

Closer to home, stolen catalytic converter cases among Fund members with Auto coverage have surged more than 400 percent since 2019. Criminals have targeted yellow and white fleets.

Your schools can avoid unplanned expenses and operational hiccups that come with catalytic converter theft—without investing in high-dollar security equipment.

Catalytic converter basics in 35 words

That muffler-looking part under a vehicle is the catalytic converter. Its job is to change harmful carbon monoxide and other engine exhaust into safer gases. Federal law has required catalytic converters on vehicles since 1981.

What’s in it for thieves?

Catalytic converters are made of precious metals called platinum, palladium, and rhodium. All three are harder to come by during the pandemic because of a mining labor shortage. Shrinking supply has driven asking prices steadily higher.

In January 2020, an ounce of rhodium cost $6,000. Today, the price tag is about $25,000 per ounce.

So, what’s in it for thieves?

“Most likely, these people are selling them for $100 or $200 individually, but that’s a quick bit of money to get [sic] a couple minutes work,” Lufkin Police Detective J.B. Smith told KTRE News.

New bill makes targets buyers and sellers

House Bill 4110, which goes into effect September 1, 2021, requires metal recycling companies that buy catalytic converters to submit the seller’s name and thumbprints to the State.

Other required records include the year, make, model, and vehicle identification number (VIN) the catalytic converter was removed from.

HB 4110 bill also dials up the crime from Class A misdemeanor to felony.

Diagnosing the crime

Catalytic converter theft doesn’t take elaborate planning or precision timing. Criminals simply crawl under a vehicle, usually at night, and saw off the converter. The process takes minutes.

You don’t have to be a trained mechanic to know when a vehicle has been relieved of its catalytic converter. Just look and listen for the red flags:

  • Roaring or rumbling sound that gets louder when you press the gas pedal
  • Spacious gap in the middle of the exhaust system
  • Vehicle drives roughly or sputters
  • Check engine light comes on

How to prevent catalytic converter theft

Fleets make attractive targets because criminals can make off with multiple catalytic converters from a single location.

With five months left in the year, Fund members have already lost more than twice the number of catalytic converters than they lost in 2020.

Use these tips to protect your organization from catalytic converter theft.

Guard your vehicles

  • Park in secure, alarmed, well-lit yards that have video surveillance.
  • Set vehicle alarms to be triggered by vibration.
  • Consider overnight security for additional protection.

Secure your catalytic converters

  • Etch VINs into catalytic converters.
  • Weld catalytic converters to vehicles.
  • Spray-paint catalytic converters with bright, high-temperature automotive exhaust paint. Thieves have to scrape the paint off before they can sell it.
  • Explore catalytic converter anti-theft devices. For example, your transportation department could install protective cages around converters.

Pay special attention to large vehicles

The ground clearance on buses, passenger vans, trucks, and SUVs makes it easy for criminals to crawl underneath and do their work.

What if someone steals your catalytic converters?

Start by calling the police. Fund members with Auto coverage should also report the incident to us online, by email, or by phone at 800.482.7276, x6800.

Don’t let anyone drive the vehicle until your transportation department performs a complete safety check. You can’t be certain thieves didn’t damage other components.

Key takeaways

Stolen catalytic converters compromise more than your budget. They sideline your vehicles and impact your ability to get staff and students from Point A to Point B safely.

HB 4110 is designed to make thefts less attractive. Your schools can help.

Simple measures like etching VINs into catalytic converters and welding them onto vehicles deter crime.

As always, your TASB risk solutions consultant is here to support you. Reach out for guidance on protecting your fleet from theft, vandalism, traffic accidents, and other incidents.

Tagged: Auto, claims, "Risk Trends"