Catalytic converter theft remains issue in Waco a year after new law

A year-old state law targeting theft of vehicles’ catalytic converters brought a brief dip in the crime, but has by no means eliminated the issue, numbers from Waco police show.

Waco police received 261 reports of catalytic converter theft this year through Sept. 28, compared to 361 reports of catalytic converter theft in all of last year. The thefts started to arise as a significant issue locally in 2020, and police continue to investigate many cases, area law enforcement officials said.

“When we first started seeing these cases in 2020 there were only a few with mostly car dealerships such as Toyota and Ford being targeted,” said Robert James, a detective in the Waco Police Department’s theft unit.

Thieves target catalytic converters, which are pollution control devices on vehicles’ exhaust systems, because they contain valuable metals, including platinum, palladium and rhodium, that can sell for hundreds or thousands of dollars an ounce.

People are also reading…

Lt. Mike Gates with the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office said he has seen video of thieves stealing a single catalytic converter in about a minute.

The state law passed in the most recent legislative session advanced as House Bill 4110 and took effect in September of last year. James said the law creates three requirements for buyers of catalytic converters. He said it requires buyers to have sellers provide the title of the vehicle the converter came from, it requires buyers to keep the title information for a year, and it requires buyers to implement a numbering system allowing them to determine exactly who sold a converter.

When the law took effect, officials saw a dip in cases, but the pace of catalytic converter thefts has bounced back, James said.

M. Lipsitz & Co. Ltd., and Commercial Metals Company in Waco, and Quality Parts Supply Ltd., in Lorena, have cooperated with the sheriff’s office and police departments in their investigations and have effectively left the catalytic converter trade, authorities said.

Joey Harrell, who works at Lipsitz, said Thursday that it has been “quite some time” since the company bought a catalytic converter from an individual.

“When we do, we take their photo, we get a photo of their driver license, we record the VIN number of the car, and we collect other info as well to keep it on file,” Harrell said, referring to requirements under the 2021 law.

Harrell said Lipsitz rarely trades in catalytic converters any longer.

“But most of the ones we get come in still attached to cars that get sold to us to run through our shredder,” Harrell said.

Lipsitz also does not trade much in platinum, palladium or rhodium, he said. The company gets some in very small quantities when they buy the occasional computer or cellphone to recycle it.

Rhodium recently sold at $450.11 a gram, or $14,000 an ounce, James said in an Oct. 12 emails.

“Palladium is $68 a gram or $2,080 an ounce and Platinum is $28.55 a gram and $809.38 an ounce,” the Waco police detective wrote. “An average catalytic converter contains about 3-7 grams of platinum, 2-7 grams of palladium, 1-2 grams of rhodium. Some contain three to five times as much of each.”

A thief can sell each converter for as much as $300 to $1500, James said.

“The biggest problem that we are seeing now is that people are coming from other towns to our city to steal catalytic converters, primarily from the Houston area and often on the weekends,” he said.

catalytic converter

Jeff Hunter Toyota parts manager Ben Maples holds a catalytic converter theft shield.

Jerry Larson, Tribune-Herald

The cost to replace a catalytic converter varies from vehicle to vehicle and case to case. Many vehicles have multiple catalytic converters, and the damage caused by thieves operating power tools in a rush often extends beyond the exhaust system.

“Tundra trucks have four catalytic converters on them, two on the driver’s side and two on the passenger’s,” said Eva Merkel, a service advisor at Jeff Hunter Toyota.

She said insurance pays the replacement cost for most of her customers, but parts and labor will cost around “$4,900 if the only get the converters and oxygen sensors on one side. It will cost around $9,000 if they steal all four and cut the fuel lines or some other part as well.”

Gus Recio, assistant service manager at Jeff Hunter Toyota, said Toyota catalytic converters hardly ever break under normal use.

“Toyota only makes the number of converters they need for each vehicle they build, plus a few for the very low failure rate,” Recio said. “They don’t take into account thefts, so it messes up the logistics system and the parts don’t come in quickly.”

John Layne with Bird-Kultgen Ford said most Fords have one catalytic converter on each side of the vehicle.

The cost to replace a single converter on an F-150 pickup is about $1,200, and the cost to replace two is about $2,050, Layne said.

Sheriff’s Cpl. Mike Hutchinson, a property theft detective who works catalytic converter thefts across McLennan County, said what helps him and his colleagues solve a case is high-resolution video of the thieves.

“Get the highest resolution video security camera the security store will sell you,” Hutchinson said.

Gates, the sheriff’s office lieutenant, said low-resolution cameras produce blurry videos that will identify a suspect. He said high-resolution video will allow clear image capture of a suspect’s face or distinguishing marks or tattoos.

Hutchinson, the Waco police detective, also said welding a mark or initials onto a catalytic converter can help with catching a thief.

Dealers and shops also are able to install plates or bars that block easy access to a vehicle’s catalytic converters.

Related Posts