Catalytic converter thefts cost drivers

By Joshua Bailey

Wikimedia Commons: Ballista (license)

You would think your car is safe when you’re out and about doing your daily activities. 

Recently, that hasn’t been the case. Drivers in Pima County have been subject to a string of catalytic converter thefts that could put drivers at risk of receiving an up to $1,000 ticket. 

The high ticket is because your catalytic converter, which corrals toxic fumes emitted by your car, is an important component in reducing pollution.

If your catalytic converter is stolen, you’ll notice your engine roaring and screaming when you start your car, even in its lowest gear. Upon taking it to a mechanic, you’ll likely get the unfortunate news and have to pay up to $1,000 to replace it. 

According to Gary Kasser, a mechanic working for Jiffy Lube in East Tucson, stolen catalytic converters have been a problem in the past few months. Since June, his business has received over 150 complaints about drivers’ catalytic converters being stolen. 

“(The converter) is an important part located on the undercarriage of the vehicle, that filters noxious fumes created as a byproduct of the natural combustion process of the car’s engine,” Kasser said. “Without the catalytic converter, harmful substances like carbon monoxide can’t be converted into water vapor or carbon dioxide and as a result, the emissions can be harsher on the environment.” 

Repairs can take a half a day, as well as cost victims hundreds of dollars in parts and service fees to reinstall. Due to the random nature of the crimes, often police are not able to find the perpetrator and the victim is left to foot the bill.

Lt. Sandra Howell of the Tucson Police Department is familiar with this scenario.

“We have been aware and the department is doing its best to coordinate with local manufacturers while promoting community awareness,” said Howell in a recent phone interview.

“It’s a very difficult crime to deal with after it’s happened, as the perpetrator can steal a part from under the car within minutes,” she added. “The best preventative action students or faculty can take is parking in high-visibility areas with regular traffic.”

The answer has been quite clear for investigators, as the prices of precious metals have soared. There have been sharp increases in palladium and platinum, among which various other expensive compounds are present within these easily accessible parts. These metals cost a humble $100 per ounce in 1991 to over $2,200 an ounce as of 2021, according to the BBC. The converters themselves easily can sell for $300-$500 each, so the parts have become more in demand on the black market.

“Just don’t leave anything of expense lying about in your vehicles,” said Bruce Westberg, Query Compliance Officer at Pima’s West Campus.

“These are crimes of opportunity, something they can do quickly or find it worth their while to take the effort or chance that they might be caught,” he said. “If you leave a computer or purse in your back seat, it increases the risk of being targeted for theft.

“Several months back, I sent a letter to the TPD about locations we’re worried about, “ he said. “The facts indicate campus parking is likely safer than other areas of Tucson regarding parts theft.”