Fraser, Troy police report rise in catalytic converter thefts from vehicles

By: Brendan Losinski | C&G Newspapers | Published November 24, 2021

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FRASER/TROY — Many law enforcement agencies across southeast Michigan have seen an uptick in catalytic converters thefts.

A catalytic converter, located underneath a car, is part of a vehicle’s exhaust system that reduces toxic gases and pollutants.

“The catalytic converter is an essential part of any vehicle, designed to reduce the pollutants and toxic gas emissions the engine produces,” explained Sgt. Jason Clark of the Troy Police Department. “Converters use precious metals like platinum, rhodium and palladium to complete this process. People have been stealing catalytic converters off of cars to sell these metals for scraps.”

“We see it just like everybody else,” said Sgt. Ben Hoppe, of the Fraser Department of Public Safety. “We were seeing a lot of these cases in August and September. We had six in October and two so far in November (as of Nov. 19). We’re seeing them in both businesses and apartment complexes, and we’re seeing a lot of them being committed during the day.”

Clark said that the increase in such thefts may be due to the recent economic instability brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“While this has been happening for years, a recent uptick in catalytic converter theft may be motivated by economic turbulence from the pandemic,” he said. “We are learning that thieves are receiving as much as $400-$500 per converter from local scrap yards. Platinum is currently priced at over $1,000 per ounce, while palladium is over $2,000 per ounce. The Michigan Legislature has put laws in place over the years to reduce these thefts and reduce the amount of cash transactions at scrap yards, but the current prices of precious metals have resulted in thieves and buyers working around the cash cap and paper trail requirements.”

Hoppe said it’s a crime that can move in waves as criminals or crews of criminals can hit several cars in a day and then move on to a different community.

“We’re small, so crews hit us and the nearby communities like Clinton Township and Roseville and then move on,” he said. “We’ll get three reports in a day and then not hear about another for another 10 days.”

Authorities say thieves can take a catalytic converter off of a car in under a minute.

“We see a lot of these thefts taking place in the backs of parking lots, sometimes near wooded areas,” said Hoppe. “We see more in the winter months since the thieves can more easily just be out walking around looking for easy targets. … There is an increase in property crimes in general near the holidays. You have more people out of their homes, more cars in parking lots, more potential victims.”

The Troy police also have not been able to put a stop to the recent thefts since the criminals can strike so quickly and then move on to a new target.

“It takes just a few minutes for a thief to saw the catalytic converter out of your car and leave you with thousands of dollars in damage,” Clark remarked.

Certain vehicle models have been commonly targeted, particularly hybrid vehicles.

“Toyotas and Hondas are (often) targeted mostly because they are hybrid vehicles,” said Clark. “These cars have some of the highest quality catalytic converters. Hybrid vehicles contain a higher concentration of the precious metals found inside these devices, and they are usually less corroded than other models. Toyota and Honda converters also have a high resale value because they are the most expensive to replace.”

Clark did add that there are steps people can take to reduce the risk of being targeted; however, some can cost car owners.

“Look into vibration-triggered alarms. Some newer vehicles have a security setting that triggers the alarm when it senses vibrations. The sawing of your catalytic converter will be enough to set off these alarms,” he said. “Install a protective device. Catalytic converter theft has become so prominent that companies have started to sell protective devices. Unfortunately, high-quality devices and their installation will likely run you a few hundred bucks.”

There are steps everyone can take to reduce their risk.

“Be mindful of where you park. When you are at home, you can park in the garage to help avoid catalytic converter theft. Parking under street lights or in brightly lit locations can help deter theft. If the lot or parking garage you are in is seeing a lot of foot traffic, it will be hard for someone to steal your catalytic converter without being caught. Keep an eye out for security cameras in your parking area and try to find a spot visible to the cameras,” Clark said. “Lastly, be aware of your surroundings. Report suspicious activity in any parking lot. If you see someone who is kneeling down in between parked vehicles, please contact us.”

“Always keep your vehicle locked and don’t leave valuables visible out on the seats to give them an extra incentive,” added Hoppe. “They often don’t like making extra noise by breaking a window. Park in lighted areas near buildings whenever possible.”