AUSTIN, Texas - Austin police are warning of an increase in thefts of catalytic converters, a problem that is surfacing nationwide.
In 2019, APD investigated 27 cases of catalytic converter theft. That number jumped to 584 in 2020.
"It’s increased significantly, to the point even where if your catalytic converter disappears it takes us a few weeks just to get you another one because there’s a national shortage," said Jonathan Tutt, manager of Leonard’s Garage in South Austin.
Tutt said a couple of years ago, they would probably fix two to three cars a year with missing catalytic converters. Currently, they’re fixing about two to six cars a month.
Catalytic converters act as a filter for a vehicle’s exhaust and are required in order to pass emissions tests. However, it doesn’t take much to remove one. "45 seconds and a saw," said Tutt. "Then you as a thief have made a few hundred bucks and cost someone up to three weeks without a car and a lot of money."
The reason the thefts have increased is because of what’s inside. Catalytic converters are made up of precious metals like palladium and rhodium which have increased substantially in value over the last five years.
Tutt said it usually only takes a few hours to replace a catalytic converter. However, because of the increase in thefts, there is a shortage of parts. Tutt had one truck in his shop that had been there for two and a half weeks. "We’re actually losing money because the vehicle is here and we can’t service other vehicles," he said. "You just can’t keep up, it’s like trying to get a mask a year ago."
Austin resident and Toyota Prius owner David Rosenblad had his catalytic converter stolen last month. He went out to this car and noticed a concrete block in front of the tire.
"I started it up, and it’s a Prius so it was running on electricity for a minute," he said. "Then it kicks on...I said that’s got to be the catalytic converter or muffler ripped out."
Thankfully in his case, insurance covered it. "Now I’m going to start parking right in front of the security camera," he said.
According to the Washington Post, 80% of the world’s rhodium comes from South Africa - a byproduct of platinum. As demand for platinum went down during the 2008 recession and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, South African mines continued to produce platinum which resulted in a surplus.
Because of the surplus, companies don’t see the need to mine more platinum, the only way to get rhodium. Meanwhile, demand for rhodium has gone up. As some countries raise emissions standards, new vehicles are expected to have more rhodium in their exhaust filters.
According to the Washington Post report, mining representatives expect rhodium shortages to last through at least 2025.
The Toyota Prius is the top model being targeted for catalytic converter thefts, according to APD. The other top models are the Honda Element, Ford Econoline, Chevrolet Express, and Toyota Tundra.
The APD Commercial Burglary Unit encourages vehicle owners to take the following steps to prevent theft:
- Park in areas that are heavily trafficked and well lit when feasible
- If you have a garage with sufficient space, park inside and be mindful about closing the garage door
- Weld the catalytic converter to the vehicle’s frame to make it more difficult to steal
- Engrave the vehicle identification number (VIN) on the catalytic converter to make it easier to identify the owner
- Calibrate your car alarm to sound if there is vibration detected
If you do become a victim of catalytic converter theft, file a report online or through Austin 311.