The lure of valuable, precious metals is behind a significant increase in catalytic converter thefts in Charlotte, police said.
Thefts of the exhaust system devices had been “pretty uncommon” until the past two years, Major Cecil Brisbon said during CMPD’s weekly news conference Wednesday. Thefts jumped almost 300% last year, with 871 cases compared with 221 in 2019, Brisbon said. In 2021, there have been 438 reported thefts.
CMPD said its Steele Creek and University City divisions are seeing the most thefts.
“We identified this as something that is troubling, that’s impacting the community, and something that we needed to try and get a handle on,” Brisbon said.
Large businesses and car dealerships are affected the most, Brisbon said, but the “nuisance” the thefts create goes beyond the Charlotte area.
“We’re living in a day and time where people are struggling with job loss due to COVID,” he said. “...To also lose the use of your vehicle, that’s a horrendous thing to add on top of that.”
Cata-what? Catalytic converters — a round piece that connects two pipes — are part of a vehicle’s exhaust system that help turn pollutants into less harmful emissions. According to the auto site Edmunds.com, the devices were mandated for all cars and trucks in 1975.
Bandits are drawn to what’s inside the converters: precious metals such as platinum, palladium and rhodium.
From about $500 an ounce five years ago, the price of palladium quintupled to hit a record $2,875 an ounce last year, The New York Times reported in February. Rhodium prices jumped more than 3,000% from about $640 an ounce in 2016 to a record $21,900 an ounce this year, more than 10 times the price of gold, the Times reported.
Drug users appear to be fueling the increase in the heists, Brisbon said.
“They’re using the proceeds from converter thefts to fund their drug habits,” he said.
Three vehicles are popular with converter thieves in Charlotte this year, Brisbon said:
▪ Toyota Prius (146 converter thefts)
▪ Ford Econoline vans (36)
▪ Chevrolet Express trucks (26).
It takes just minutes for thieves to cut the converters from your vehicle, and the cost of repairs could be steep. These are good signs you’ve been victimized, according the home website TheSpruce.com:
▪ A loud rumbling or roaring sound when the engine is turned on. The sound gets louder as you hit the gas.
▪ A rougher drive because the exhaust isn’t working properly, “often with a sense of sputtering as you change speed.”
Want to protect your car? Security devices and welding converters to your vehicle’s frame can help, The Spruce suggests.
▪ Be aware of your surroundings, and lookout for neighbors. Call 911 about suspicious people or noises coming from the area of parked vehicles.
▪ Park your car inside a garage, or in a well-lit area if possible.
▪ Consider buying anti-theft devices from private vendors.