Since COVID-19 has forced most of us to shelter at home, businesses have been closed and thefts have shot up. One of the heavily targeted businesses are auto dealers and mechanics, with thieves cutting the catalytic converters off of cars. Targeting these pieces of equipment is nothing new, but according to the LA County Sheriff’s Department, thefts of these items shot up by 400% in 2020 alone.

Why Catalytic Converters?

For most people, they don’t give a second thought to these devices but they’re part of almost every car since the mid 1970s. Various rare metals capture the worst pollutants in a vehicle’s exhaust to reduce emissions and thanks to COVID-19 supply shortages, these metals are now priced higher than gold. The converters are easily accessible and fetch thieves around $500 each depending on the car they come off.

Combatting the Issue

Many sheriff’s departments across the country advise that cars be kept in either a locked garage or well-lit area. However, this isn’t always possible and auto businesses often have too many vehicles to store inside and must leave them out on a lot or the street.

California is recommending that people etch their VIN or license plate number into their catalytic converters to make them easier to trace in the event of theft. They also require photographs or video be taken of whoever is attempting to sell one. Other states are requiring photo ID be presented.

Unfortunately, these measures fail to address the problem itself. It’s possible that if VIN etching becomes standard over the coming years that thieves will move onto other targets, but as of right now, the thefts will most likely continue, costing consumers thousands of dollars to replace their stolen parts.