Throughout the US, and in Portland, catalytic converter theft has been on a rise. Catalytic converters are an important part of the exhaust system which reduces the car’s carbon emissions and minimizes the greenhouse gasses released into the atmosphere. Reports of stolen catalytic converters nationwide have skyrocketed from 108 per month in 2018, to 2347 in December of 2021 alone, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. A similar trend has been occurring just outside of Portland, in Hillsboro. While only six thefts were reported in January of 2021, the number jumped to 20 in August, with 22 reported through the first 26 days of October, according to the Hillsboro Police Department. Within Washington County alone, the amount of catalytic converters being stolen has risen from 30 reports in 2020 to 175 reports in 2021 by early November, according to Portland Tribune. Toyota Priuses, which are generally higher off the ground, are most commonly targeted due to easily accessible catalytic converters, but any (non-electric) car made after 1974 has a catalytic converter that is at risk of getting stolen.

Catalytic converters contain many different types of metals; palladium and rhodium are just two types that command record high prices. According to The New York Times, within five years, the price of palladium had quadrupled from $500, all the way to $2857 an ounce. The updated price value, as of Feb. 2021, is ranging from $2000-2500 per ounce. Rhodium is the real money maker, valued at roughly 12 times the price of gold, at more than $20,000 per ounce

A local Portlander, Patrick Johnston, recently witnessed an attempted theft of a neighbor’s catalytic converter. Johnston says he heard the thief say to him, “I have a family to feed, and you have car insurance.” With metal prices being so high and the risk of getting caught so low, due to how little time the crime takes to complete, it is an easy way to earn fast cash for individuals needing to make ends meet for one reason or another.

One major sign of a missing catalytic converter is the loud noise that comes out of the car as soon as you turn the engine on. “[It] sounds kinda like an old crappy motorcycle,” says Sarah Heidler, the shop manager and service adviser at Hawthorne Auto Clinic. She explains that the noise is caused by an exhaust leak happening due to the missing catalytic converter, making it loud anytime the car is running.   

If you notice any signs that your catalytic converter has been stolen, it’s important to take your car to the local auto shop for repair. Depending on the damage and the model of car, repairs can cost anywhere from $500 to $6000. Travis Decker, CEO of Atomic Auto, explained how they have seen cars totaled due to all the damage caused by thieves cutting parts to get to the catalytic converter. 

Starting Jan. 1 a new law, Senate Bill 803, was put in place in Oregon, in hopes that it will help deter catalytic converter robberies. The new law “Prohibits scrap metal business from purchasing or receiving catalytic converters, except from commercial seller. Requires scrap metal business to record certain information related to catalytic converter purchased or received by scrap metal business.” This will hopefully make it hard to sell the precious metals, decreasing the temptation to steal converters.

In order to keep your cars protected and lower the risk of theft, there are a few tips and tricks to follow. The first thing to keep in mind is street parking. When at all possible it has been shown to be beneficial to park off of main streets. If that is not an option, Heidler recommends parking in well-lit, populated places. If you have a driveway or garage it is encouraged to park your car there. One other precaution to take is getting a cat shield installed. Cat shields are aluminum plates that are placed over the catalytic converter in hopes of protecting it from theft. Even though cat shields are not hard to remove, it’s an extra step that most thieves don’t want to deal with.

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