Catalytic converter theft has become a popular pastime for criminals looking to make a quick buck in the United States. Instances of stolen units have absolutely exploded in recent years, reaching a point where some law enforcement departments have gone out of their way to specifically target organized groups bent on stealing the devices.
State Farm is reporting that the situation is finally getting better in America. While technically true, theft rates remain staggeringly high across the country.
Implemented during the Malaise Era, when the U.S. regulators seemed absolutely committed to ruining vehicles via the Clean Air Act, catalytic converters would become mandatory hardware on all exhaust systems by 1975. The premise was to use the devices and a lot of heat to convert exhaust gasses like nitrogen dioxide or carbon monoxide into something less harmful by running them through a honeycombed catalyst that changes their chemical makeup.
But the materials used in this process require catalytic converters to be loaded up with precious metals like palladium, rhodium, and platinum. This has always made the units desirable components to pull off a junker. But we hadn’t seen a lot of organized theft of the devices until fairly recently.
In 2020, society was effectively paused as people were told to stay indoors by healthcare officials and the government. As a byproduct, many jobs were lost and certain types of crime skyrocketed. However, we also saw prices spike on all sorts of raw materials, including the precious metals that go into catalytic converts.
According to data from the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), there were just 1,298 reported instances of catalytic converter theft in 2018. But that number jumped up to 3,389 by 2019 and exploded to a whopping 14,433 in 2020. That’s an over 1000-percent increase in just two short years.
It wasn’t long after that when the country started seeing rolling reports about upticks in crime, with car crime being exceptionally popular. Even the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile ended up getting chopped.
State Farm reported that it had received over 45,000 catalytic converter theft claims in 2022 alone. But 2023 seems to be shaping up to be a better year, albeit nowhere near as good as it was before the world was flipped upside down.
The insurance agency has recorded 14,500 claims of catalytic converter theft between January and July 2023. While it suggests the data represented a dramatic decline, that’s only if we’re comparing it to the previous year where the insurer reported a staggering 23,000 thefts within the same time frame.
As victories go, this is a minor one.
We can speculate about what might have contributed to the drop in claims. There has certainly been more enforcement on the matter, especially on the West Coast where instances seem the most concentrated. Stolen catalytic converters used to be the kind of opportunistic crime police rarely bothered solving. However, authorities have since taken action against several organized groups and there’s been a rash of companies offering devices that make catalytic converters harder to steal. Most of these just wrap the exhaust system in reinforced steel cables that would be difficult to run a Sawzall through. But that’s often enough to discourage thieves who are just looking to make quick work of vehicles with enough ground clearance to shimmy under.
If you’re wondering how at-risk your vehicle might be (keeping population density in mind), State Farm released data on which states saw the most reports of theft through the first half of 2023. California was at the tippy top with over 5,400 claims, Texas was next with 1,450 claims, and Illinois was third with 1,300 claims. The rest of the top ten include Colorado, New York, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Minnesota, Florida, and Washington — all of which ranged between 300 and 600 claims.
The company’s recommendations for avoiding having your catalytic converter stolen were pretty basic. State Farm suggested parking inside a garage or in well-lit areas, installing a “sensitive” alarm system, engraving your VIN onto the unit you’re worried about being stolen, and having a security camera pointing at your car 24/7.
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