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Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Theft of catalytic converters is skyrocketing. Why? And what are lawmakers and law enforcement doing about it?

When Alan Bucknam’s daughter introduced a Toyota 4Runner to school, it looked like a Harley Davidson was appearing.

“I thought either the muffler had fallen out or the catalytic converter was taken out,” Bucknam said.

He looked under the vehicle and saw two neat diagonal cuts on each end of the catalytic converter.

“They certainly knew what they were doing,” Bucknam said. “They took what they needed.”

The theft, which occurred a few months ago on a cul de sac in Wheat Ridge, is similar to burglaries in the parking lot of charitable organizations and apartments and even auto-body shops in the surrounding Denver area. Thieves are after precious metals in equipment that convert toxic emissions – hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides – into less harmful byproducts.

As the value of metals has soared, so have crimes in Colorado and across the country. From 2019 to 2021, theft of catalytic converters in Colorado increased by 5,091%, according to the Colorado Auto Theft Prevention Authority at the state’s Department of Public Safety. In 2019, there were 189 reports of converter theft; 1,153 in 2020; and 9,811 in 2021.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau said that claims filed for stolen catalytic converters increased by 325% from 2019 to 2020.

The metals sought in catalytic converters, which look like small mufflers and are about the size of a toaster, are rhodium, palladium, and platinum. According to Kitco Metals, current prices per ounce for the metals are: $980, platinum; $2,114, Palladium; and $15,400, rhodium.

In May 2021, rhodium was going for over $25,000 an ounce.

Law enforcement, auto shops, AAA Colorado and other organizations are getting the word out and offering ways to prevent theft, such as etching the identification number on the converter. Metal recycling businesses can sign up for alerts from law enforcement agencies about theft.

Denver police have warned people that armed searches for burglaries are on the rise.

And the Colorado General Assembly on Wednesday approved bills to make it difficult to sell and buy stolen catalytic converters. A bill would help fund theft victims and theft prevention programs to fund the money raised from the fines. Joan Ginal, a Fort Collins Democrat and co-sponsor of three related bills, said her focus was on the victims.

“This can happen to anyone at any time and can cause major financial problems, disrupting their lives. This has to stop,” Ginal said.

Metal recyclers and other businesses that buy auto parts will need to check a national database to see if a catalytic converter was stolen under Senate Bill 22-009. Sellers must prove that the converters are theirs or are authorized to keep the parts and buyers must include evidence in their records. Law enforcement would have more authority to investigate theft.

Senate Bill 22-179 imposes penalties for tampering with vehicle emissions-control systems. Under House Bill 22-1217, the fines will be used for Colorado State Patrol theft-prevention and tracking programs and to help burglary victims and businesses.

A conference committee was working on differences between the House and Senate over a provision in SB 009 that would allow the latter to be replaced for stolen converters. Regulations, passed in 2021 and drafted in accordance with California regulations, require the original manufacturer’s equipment or a new aftermarket converter to meet California standards.

The Colorado Independent Automobile Dealers Association, in a letter Thursday, asked Governor Jared Polis to support allowing new catalytic converters that meet state emissions standards, even if they are not certified by the California Air Resources Board. The Dealers Association said CARB-certified converters are more expensive and rare due to supply-chain problems.

Aaron Ontiveros, The Denver Post

Geno’s Auto Service Inc. Owner of Steve Horvath puts a sticker on the catalytic converter of a Toyota Tacoma on Thursday, May 5, 2022. Horvath is putting registration stickers on auto assemblies to help deter potential burglars from biting. part of a car. Each label has a unique registration number and is impregnated with a chemical that converts the serial to the metal of the converter, even if it has been tampered with.

high cost of crime

“These are not cheap parts. Repair costs can range between $2,500 and $5,000, depending on the number of catalytic converters in your vehicle and the age of your vehicle,” said AAA Colorado spokeswoman Skyler McKinley.

McKinley said an aftermarket part, not made by the original manufacturer, could cost as little as $500.

Sue Pippenger and her husband learned the hard way how expensive it is to replace a stolen converter. Or, in his case, two converters. First, his 2008 Honda Element, parked in front of his Denver home, was hit in late 2020, before requiring that replacements be original manufacturer parts.

“We still shell out north of $1,000 for parts and labor. Our deductible is too high for an insurance claim to be worth,” Pippenger said in an email.

Pippenger spent $500 to install a shield around the converter, which made it difficult to see. Then, about a month ago, someone disconnected one of the two catalytic converters on her husband’s 2008 Toyota 4Runner. They had engraved an ID number on it.

The retired couple did not report the second theft. “Just too tired,” Pippenger said. “I wish the police did a sting and caught the thieves and those who shopped from them.”

With a grant from the Colorado Auto Theft Prevention Authority, AAA Colorado has teamed up with auto shops to ditch non-removable ID numbers on converters that don’t have serial numbers, and enter them into a database.

“Catalytic converter theft remains a problem and we need to talk about some structural reforms, like the legislature is doing,” McKinley said.

People can obtain the kit to apply themselves ID numbers by email, cdps_catpa@state.co.us, or by phone, 303-239-4560 by contacting the Colorado Auto Theft Prevention Authority. Colorado State Patrol spokesman Sargent said a chemical used to apply the stickers engraves the vehicle’s identification number in the metal. Troy Kessler.

Kessler said thieves can get $50 to $250 per catalytic converter. Hybrid vehicles fetch about $700 on the black market because converters experience less wear, retaining precious metals better.

Kessler said criminals typically take the parts to metal or auto-parts recyclers or advertise them on the Internet for private sale. It is also difficult to connect the converter to the seller or prove that it was stolen, he said.

“We can have a really good idea, especially when someone runs into with multiple converters that they want to recycle. But it all comes down to the evidence and linking that converter to the case where it’s stolen.” There was information,” Kessler said.

Iron & Metals Inc., an industrial scrap recycler in Denver, no longer buys from the general public, only from regular customers, said Scott Dassler, the company’s vice president. He said the seller would have to supply a vehicle identification number, which the company records, to go with the converter.

And Iron & Metals doesn’t accept catalytic converters with saw marks, Dassler said. The company participates in the Scrap Theft Alert System, which allows law enforcement to alert the recycling industry to stolen auto parts, metals, and other items.

“We had an unfortunate lady call and say, ‘Look, someone stole my catalytic converter. Have you seen it?'” Dassler said. “She was a single mother and it cost her $5,300 to repair her car.

“It was a huge deciding factor in the early part of this. We’re not going to contribute to that kind of crap,” Dassler said.

gone in 30 seconds

Geno’s Auto Service in Littleton is one of the stores participating in AAA Colorado’s program to add ID numbers to catalytic converters. And it has been one of the victims of the crime spree.

Zeno Auto owner Steve Horvath...

Aaron Ontiveros, The Denver Post

Steve Horvath, owner of Geno’s Auto Service Inc., puts a sticker on the catalytic converter of a Toyota Tacoma on Thursday, May 5, 2022.

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