Police departments in Southern California are raising the alarm on a concerning new trend of thefts targeting semitrucks for their valuable machinery.
According to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, dozens of semitrucks have been targeted by thieves for common powertrain controller modules (CPCs), parts that can be sold for thousands of dollars on the black market.
Police say the theft takes only a few minutes to complete and can cost thousands of dollars for truck drivers and logistics companies to replace. The theft also renders trucks inoperable and delays operations, leading to a large loss in profits for a company.
“It’s pretty widespread in our area,” Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Gloria Huerta said. “Once we realized it was becoming a trend, that’s when we started tracking them.”
Since November, the department has reported 40 stolen CPC units.
CPCs, known as the “brain” of a semitruck, control the engine and powertrain of the vehicle. Generally, the part costs from $1,500 to $2,000, but can fetch up to $3,000 on the black market during a time of high demand.
According to Huerta, thieves are attracted to CPC units for their microchips, especially in view of the global supply chain shortage and the rising price of the hardware.
“Because there is a global shortage of that microchip, it makes it very lucrative and very popular and very attractive on the black market,” Huerta explained.
“Because there’s a global shortage, there’s a huge backlog of that microchip and people are probably desperate to get to work, so they’re willing to pay that money to get that chip in their semis,” she continued.
A spokesperson for Daimler Truck North America (DTNA), a company that manufactures commercial vehicles, agreed with the assessment.
“There’s a lack of availability and many replacements are on backorder. The truck will not run without it. We would describe the current supply chain shortages for microchips as the root of the problem,” the company said.
In San Bernadino, a region with many warehouse centers and cargo trucks (and therefore truck yards and large parking lots), thefts have become increasingly common. So far, no arrests have been made.
In May, DTNA warned of numerous CPC thefts reported in terminals and dealerships nationwide. In one auction yard in Pennsylvania, CPC units were stolen from 24 trucks.
Sergeant Robert Pair of the Bakersfield Police Department said that investigators had not seen any CPC thefts in 2021 until July of that year. During the following two-month period, the department received 27 reports of thefts of CPC modules.
“The majority of those thefts are occurring in lots where there’s no security,” Pair said. “A lot of drivers try to save money by parking in free areas, with no security, or dirt lots.”
In addition to parking in well-lit areas in lots with security personnel or surveillance cameras, Pair also advised drivers to add password protection to their CPC units.
Pair said investigators are also researching the black-market trends to understand the phenomenon.
“It’s one of those things that, on the back end, you have to have someone to sell it to,” Pair said. “Somewhere in the process there’s a disreputable repair operation.”
While the units do have serial numbers that can be traced back to the manufacturer, thieves are known to reprogram the unit to avoid being traced.