The student news site of Carlmont High School in Belmont, California.

Scot Scoop News

The student news site of Carlmont High School in Belmont, California.

Scot Scoop News

The student news site of Carlmont High School in Belmont, California.

Scot Scoop News

Thieves drive off with catalytic converters

Catalytic converters are being stolen from cars and sold on the black market
Sienna Reinders
In a car, the catalytic converter sits towards the front of the car, in front of the muffler.

Catalytic converter theft has been taking place in the Bay Area for years, but incidents dramatically surged in the past few years. As the value of the precious metals that make up catalytic converters increases, so does the number of thefts. 

“Thefts of catalytic converters have skyrocketed from an average of 108 per month in 2018 to 2,347 in December 2020,” NBC News reported.

Catalytic converters are a part of a car that helps reduce emissions. They filter exhaust from car engines containing hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxide, and carbon monoxide – emissions that inflict significant damage to the environment — into less harmful byproducts such as water vapor and carbon dioxide. Because of this, they are a crucial and necessary part of a car. 

It takes thieves about one and a half to two minutes to steal a catalytic converter. They take a flashlight and a battery-powered saw, cut the pipes holding it in place, and then run off before police can catch them. 

“Mine was stolen right in front of me at Tpumps in Foster City in February of this year,” said Zoe Groff, a citizen hit by the theft.  “It was a total pain; a man saw it happen, but it happened so fast and there was no time to react.”

It is not the catalytic converter itself that thieves want, but the rare metals it contains. Three to five grams of platinum, palladium, and rhodium make up this part of a car. Rhodium is currently selling for $28,000 an ounce, making it a very valuable commodity. 

The pandemic has decreased the production of these metals, giving them a value 15 times higher than gold. 

While the catalytic converter is only a small part of the car, it costs $3,000 to replace. 

“Thankfully, because I have comprehensive coverage with USAA, I only had to pay my deductible of $500 instead of the estimated $3,000,” Groff said. 

In addition to the price, these thefts have also inconvenienced many citizens by preventing them from using their car (until they have it fixed).

“It was a pain because we were at the time moving and the van was really good to move stuff, and we couldn’t use it when we had to move,” Josh Engberg said.

Toyota Priuses are the top target. Their catalytic converters contain more precious metal compared to other cars of similar size, making them more enticing for thieves. 

Citizens have taken multiple steps to prevent these thefts by installing a shield under the car and engraving their license number on the catalytic converter itself. Some people, however, believe the engraving won’t stop the thieves.

“The police department suggests having your license number engraved on the converter stops people from stealing them,” said Tim Gordon, a citizen of San Carlos who had his catalytic converter stolen.  “However, the people aren’t reselling them, they are removing the precious metals from them. The people that are doing this don’t care if there is a license number on them or not.” 

The shield, however, has proven to be effective. 

“I ended up installing a Cat Security shield for $260, and I have had no issues since,” Groff said. 

It would be convenient if car companies would supply a shield to protect the part before selling. However, they don’t have the incentive to protect your catalytic converter from being stolen.

“I’ve heard car companies could put a [catalytic converter shield] in there. But the car companies, when they sell new catalytic converters, they also make money, and they don’t really have much incentive to put the guards on,” Engberg said.

*The incidents of these crimes continue to rise as the price of the metals stays incredibly high. If hit, file a police report. You can contact the Belmont Police Department by calling (650) 595-7400.

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About the Contributor
Sienna Reinders
Sienna Reinders, Highlander Editor
Sienna Reinders, a senior at Carlmont, is a staff writer for Scot Scoop and an editor for The Highlander. She is a passionate journalist who has also taken her skills to UC Berkeley's Daily Cal newspaper, with internships in the summers of 2022 and 2023. When she is not writing, you can find her running with friends to train for her next cross country or track race. To view her portfolio, click here.

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The student news site of Carlmont High School in Belmont, California.
Thieves drive off with catalytic converters