This part on your car is a hot commodity on Calgary’s black market right now

Catalytic converters are worth good money and Calgary Police note an increase in thefts in the city.

By Krista Sylvester | June 7, 2021 |7:00 am

This might not look like much, but catalytic converters bring in a lot of money for thieves and there have been a lot of thefts across the continent, including right here in Calgary.

Photo: Shutterstock

A Catalytic converter takes merely 60 seconds to swipe. If yours is stolen — you’ll know it, because your vehicle will sound like a tractor when you start it and you’re likely about to be out a few hundred dollars — or possibly a couple thousand — to replace it. 

Catalytic converter thefts are on the rise across the continent, including right here in Calgary. Also known simply as a cat converter, this device is attached to the tailpipe on the underbody of your car and works as an exhaust emission control divide that reduces toxic emissions. Though they don’t look expensive, they’re worth a lot of money — and that’s attractive to thieves. 

While there were only 205 catalytic converter thefts reported to police in 2019, that number grew to 300 in 2020. Now, just between January and April of this year, that number has ballooned to 427 with eight months of the year to go, according to Calgary police — and that’s just what’s being reported. 

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“It started out as something that I would say was kind of sporadic, but recently we’ve seen a sharp uptick. Especially this year, we’ve seen it increase quite dramatically,” Sgt. Nick Wilsher of the Crime Prevention unit told Calgary Citizen.

We know it’s happening… but why?

The reason catalytic converter thefts are becoming more common is multi-faceted, says Wilsher. 

“There’s a limit on how much precious metals there are out there. There’s also supply and demand,” he explains, adding because of COVID, many places have shut down production around the world. 

“So, there is a limited amount of catalytic converters and a limited amount of materials that go into them. They’re certainly worth more right now. The values of the metals have gone up dramatically. Even comparing four years ago to 2020 — you’ve seen an astronomical increase.”

That doesn’t mean the average down-on-his-luck thief will see it as a crime of opportunity, and you don’t have to worry about your neighbours. 

But…

“It takes 30 seconds to remove a catalytic converter from most vehicles,” Wilsher says. “A vehicle pulls on the side or in front, somebody gets out and goes underneath the vehicle, gets back in the car and takes off. The whole thing takes about a minute.”  

So how much are they worth?  

Since catalytic converters are made up of precious metals and precious metal prices are skyrocketing, the car part can yield between $750 to $2,000 or more, depending on its size, according to Wilsher. 

The metal rhodium component inside the catalytic converter saw an increase over nine times its value from 2020 to 2021, going from $3,200/ ounce USD In March 2020 to $27,000/ ounce USD in March 2021. And that’s just one of the precious metals cat converters have inside — they also carry platinum and palladium. 

Who is buying these anyways?

Scrap metal companies are usually the ones buying up these pricy parts and while Wilsher says many have legitimate reasons, the buyers don’t always know if they’ve been stolen or not. It’s easy to say they should call the police, but Wilsher says the onus shouldn’t be on scrap metal companies. 

“Because catalytic converters don’t carry a unique identifying number, there’s no way of saying this converter came from this vehicle,” he explains, adding most scrappers are already following guidelines in place including taking identification from sellers.

But… 

“There’s nothing stopping someone who has stolen three or four of these things to visit three or four metal recyclers.”

Bill 25, the Protecting Alberta Industry From Theft Act, came into effect in July 2020, effectively creating new regulations for the scrap metal industry, but Wilsher says there is still work to be done when it comes to a central database system. 

In the meantime — protect yourself! 

Wilsher says people should park in their garages when they can and neighbours should report suspicious activity to the police. A motion-sensitive alarm helps, but because the crime can take place in less than a minute, it might be tough to prevent. 

There are also shield kits people can buy to protect their catalytic converters, but they come at the cost of a few hundred bucks. A small price to pay to avoid the hundreds to thousands it costs if your catalytic converter is stolen. 

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Krista Sylvester

Reporter at Calgary Citizen

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