Defense Against Catalytic Converter Theft


Last weekend the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Dept. sponsored a catalytic converter etching event at Two Strike Park. A catalytic converter is the device under a vehicle that looks a little like a muffler. Due to their metal content, thieves are targeting catalytic converters. One defense against theft is etching the catalytic converter with something that is unique to the vehicle or owner, like the VIN.

LASD released a notice of the etching event via Nixle, hoping to get a strong enough response to fill the 24 open spots; the response from vehicle owners was quick and enthusiastic and all available spots were filled within minutes.

“[The event] went very well. We were slated to do 24 cars,” said Sgt. John Gilbert, LASD-Crescenta Valley Station. “The process would take about 10 minutes but once we started going we were able to cut that time [in half]. We were able to do 39 cars instead of 24.”

Due to the response by the community to the etching event, LASD is planning another event on a date yet to be determined.

Throughout the nation catalytic converter thefts have increased. According to a study by the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s (NCIM) Operations, Intelligence and Analytics there were 108 catalytic converter thefts per month, on average, in 2018, 282 average monthly thefts in 2019 and, in 2020, there were 1,203 thefts on average.

The metals used to make catalytic converters include platinum, palladium or rhodium and are of high recyclable value. According to NCIM, as of December 2020 rhodium was valued at $14,500 per ounce, palladium at $2,336 per ounce and platinum $1,061 per ounce. Recyclers will pay $50 to $250 per catalytic converter.

If a catalytic converter is etched a thief may decide to move on to one that isn’t identifiable to a specific owner, Gilbert said. If law enforcement stops someone who has several catalytic converters in their possession and it appears they have been stolen it may be easier to get a conviction, he added.

“If [a suspect] has 30 catalytic converters without a [legitimate] reason the district attorney can’t prosecute,” he said. “The DA cannot prosecute without a victim.”

But if a catalytic converter is etched then a victim can be identified. In addition, a recycler may not want to accept an etched catalytic converter to avoid facing charges of receiving stolen property.