By Tate Davis
Reports of a rash of catalytic converter thefts have the Laurel community on edge. Catalytic converters contain platinum, rhodium, and palladium. These valuable rare metals can entice illicit scrappers.
With skyrocketing thefts nationwide, authorities have taken notice.
A new Tennessee law that took effect on July 1 requires, “Any person engaged in the business of buying and/or selling scrap metal including unattached catalytic converters as a single item and not as part of a scrapped motor vehicle shall give written notification to the chief of police and sheriff in each city and county in which the activity occurs.”
The same law restricts purchases of used, detached catalytic converters to registered scrap metal dealers. In turn, registered scrap metal dealers are required to maintain documentation on the source of the catalytic converter, including a copy of the seller’s photo identification.
A release from the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance cited National Insurance Crime Bureau data stating thefts of catalytic converters rose from 282 a month in 2019 to 1,203 a month in 2020.
Hybrid vehicles feature converters containing more rare metals and are at especially high risk for theft. SUVs and trucks are often targets due to their higher ground clearance. Accessing the converter typically requires sliding underneath the center of the vehicle. People working under a vehicle without a jack should attract immediate suspicion. Thieves often use battery-powered reciprocating saws or grinders. These tools usually create noise and sparks. Residents should investigate unexpected sawing or grinding noises and report suspicious people carrying these tools. A skilled thief can easily steal a catalytic converter in less than two minutes.
Converter thefts immediately put victims in a bind. Travis Wilson of C&W Automotive in Laurel Bloomery says, “It’s not a cheap fix. Newer vehicles may start and idle, but you won’t be able to drive. Most people hear that terrible noise, and it scares them, so they just shut it off.” Wilson says repairs can run up to $4,000 for some vehicles, especially diesel trucks.
To prevent theft of catalytic converters, try to park in secure, well-lit places. Parking in high visibility, highly trafficked public places may help, as brazen thieves have targeted parking lots.
Adding identification marks to converters can deter thieves. Various aftermarket anti-theft devices are also available.
Anyone who is not a registered dealer buying or selling unattached catalytic converters should report the information to law enforcement for investigation.
The thefts in Laurel Community likely lead to a black-market operator buying
catalytic converters at a
tiny fraction of the thousands of dollars a replacement
can cost victims. Black market resellers typically net thousands of dollars while their criminal underlings generally get less than $200 off each theft.