Sheriff: Thieves still interested in what’s under your car

A catalytic converter might look like a dirty piece of pipe to many; however, thieves see green – as in cash – when they cut the part from the underside of a car.

“It’s the precious metals, particularly platinum, that have made catalytic converter thefts something law enforcement around the country have had to tackle,” Lexington County Sheriff Jay Koon said. “People cut them from underneath a car and take them to scrapyards for a quick buck. The scrapyards have the precious metals and the bad guys walk away with an average of about $250 in their pocket.”

A catalytic converter is a device on the underside of a vehicle that reduces environmental emissions. Required on all cars that operate in the U.S. since 1975, catalytic converters contain expensive precious metals such as platinum, palladium and rhodium.

“Deputies took reports on 256 catalytic converter thefts last year,” Koon said. “That number was 236 in 2020. Like almost everywhere else in the country, we’ve seen the numbers trend upward, even with a new law in place.”

A South Carolina law passed last year bars someone from having a detached catalytic converter without proper documentation. Both buyers and sellers must be able to confirm the part’s origin and only secondary metal recyclers are allowed to buy used converters.

“The most likely way to get the numbers going in the right direction is to focus on preventing the thefts,” Koon said. “This helps everyone as the cost of replacing a catalytic converter can cost about $1,000 and take weeks or days as the part is ordered and installed.”

High-profile vehicles such as trucks and SUVs are prime targets because they have more clearance between the exhaust system and the ground, according to Koon.

Koon warned even family sedans and sports cars parked in a driveway aren’t immune to catalytic converter theft and offered the following tips:

· Park where your car will be visible. Park under lights after dark or near windows at a business. Park near security cameras, if possible.

· If your catalytic converter is a “bolt on” model, have the bolts welded shut.

· Ask your mechanic about installing a catalytic converter protection device.

· Etch your converter with your vehicle’s identification number and license plate number in several different locations.

Koon said anyone with tips on catalytic converter thefts or scrapyards illegally processing their trade for cash can share tips anonymously by calling 888-274-6372 or using the Crimestoppers app.