Phoenix police recently landed on a goldmine of stolen catalytic converters while busting a theft ring responsible for distributing the stolen exhaust emission devices.
Investigators with the Phoenix Police Department said that they found more than 1,200 used and detached catalytic converters packed in a storage unit at 37th and Washington after a several months-long operation.
Police initially began targeting a suspect after receiving a tip that the man was storing stolen converters in an industrial area near the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
After months of “diligent police work,” detectives obtained sufficient evidence to trace the stolen car parts to the storage unit. Police believe the majority of converters were stolen due to being cut from cars.
According to police, catalytic converters can fetch a high price due to their composition of valuable metals such as rhodium, palladium and platinum. Police estimate the street value of the converters to total around $195,000. A single converter costs around $100 to $150.
The suspect, a 48-year-old resident of Arizona, was charged with 40 counts of theft and could face further charges for buying and selling the parts.
Catalytic converter theft has been on the rise across the country since 2020 due to the increase in the market price of metals caused by the economic strain of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The process of stealing a converter is relatively simple and can take as little as a few minutes. Thieves simply crawl underneath a vehicle with a small hand-held power saw that they use to remove the converter, which can be carried off easily.
Such cases are difficult to solve for police, as converters are not marked with serial numbers.
A BeenVerified study found that over 14,000 converters were stolen in 2020. That number rose to 26,000 in the first five months of 2021, leading to significant attention from law enforcement and the public.
Experts say that thieves like to target newer vehicles because the metals the part contains degrade over time. Repairing and installing a new converter can cost as much as $3,000.
To avoid being a victim of catalytic converter theft, police suggest parking in well-lit areas and parking in a closed garage if possible. Another trick is to etch one’s VIN or license plate number on the converter to tie ownership of the part to your car, which makes it harder to sell.
There are also devices on the market, such as the CatClamp, that makes it more difficult and time-consuming for thieves to remove the part, thus making you less of a target.
Lawmakers have begun to address the problem in several states, including in Arizona. Governor Doug Ducey recently signed a bill this month that makes possessing a stolen catalytic converter a crime, and requires the scrap dealers who buy the used devices to maintain detailed reporting to verify the owner’s identity, including marking the item with the seller’s car serial number. The bill also requires dealers to keep the converter for at least a week in its original condition.