The Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) says it has seen a 650 percent increase in catalytic converter thefts throughout the past year.
There were 542 converters reported stolen to the OCSD last year, compared to 83 in 2019, department data shows.
“It’s probably due to a lot of people out of work, they need to get money,” Sgt. Dennis Breckner told The Epoch Times. With “COVID, a lot of people lost their jobs. … Obviously when times are tough, people go to drastic measures, and I think this is one of those.”
“The problem is it creates a snowball effect because people that are having their catalytic converters stolen now have to go out and spend $1,200 on replacing a catalytic converter when they themselves might be out of work,” he said.
The main value of the automobile part comes from the precious metals palladium and rhodium, which are used in order to reduce a car’s environmental emissions.
These metals are now worth more than gold. Palladium, which sold for $500 per ounce five years ago, rose to $2,875 per ounce last year. Rhodium, valued at $640 per ounce five years ago, is today worth $21,900 per ounce.
Their skyrocketing values are attributed to increasing vehicle regulations in countries such as China that seek to reduce air pollution.
It only takes about 30 seconds to cut off a converter from a car parked outside, which depending on the type of vehicle can make them an easy target, Breckner said.
After that, crooks can sell them to metal shops to be used on similar cars, or to recycling plants that will extract the precious metals.
Some types of vehicles—including the Honda Element, Toyota Prius, and Ford trucks—are targeted more than others, police said.
One reason for hybrid vehicles’ popularity among criminals relates to their gasoline engine, which is used less than a typical car. Lighter use means the converter has lost less of its precious metals, police said.
Manufacturers have caught onto the trend, and could make it more difficult for thieves to steal the parts in the future, Breckner said.
“I know that there is talk now of vehicle manufacturers welding plates over the catalytic converter, so it’ll make it near impossible to get to the [converter],” he said.
Thieves caught for stealing converters can face charges such as felony vandalism, grand theft, vehicle tampering, and more.
In Tustin, police said they arrested a trio of thieves early Feb. 18 who were stopped after an officer noticed their vehicle acting suspicious near a Tustin Meadows neighborhood.
The car’s occupants were found to be in possession of a converter stolen from a nearby car, a cordless saw, a jack stand, and drugs, police said.