Ease of sale of catalytic converters amid wave of theft, says Chehalis automotive expert


By Emily Fitzgerald / [email protected]

Law enforcement officials described catalytic converter theft, a crime that exploded last year due to soaring precious metal prices, as a “crime of expediency.”

This philosophy continues throughout the transaction, from theft itself to the sale.

While catalytic converters – a standard part of a vehicle’s exhaust system – typically do not have specific part numbers, scrap yards and demolition yards that purchase catalytic converters in Washington state must retain a registration of the make, model, year and vehicle identification. number (VIN) of the original vehicle of the catalytic converter.

The idea is that if the catalytic converter were stolen, the seller would not have this information.

But in a predominantly cash-based industry, it’s not uncommon for companies or individual employees to purchase a stolen catalytic converter under the table for a lower price.

“A lot of places need this documentation, but a lot of them will say ‘you know what, come here at 5pm, we can take care of it’,” said Maximilian Macdonald, owner of Maximilian Motorsports, a workshop in car repair. located in Chehalis and specializing in European special cars, hybrids and electric vehicles. Macdonald said he’s required to keep a paper trail of every catalytic converter he handles on the job, whether it’s replacing a car’s catalytic converter with a new one or taking the vehicle apart.

“Any catalytic converter that we remove and replace on a vehicle… we have the documentation where it came from. We can show proof that we have been replaced by him. There is a paper trail for it, ”Macdonald said.

A working catalytic converter with all the necessary documentation will typically sell for around $ 1,200, Macdonald said.

But Macdonald said it was not uncommon for others in his industry, whether they were individual junkyard employees or business owners themselves, to enter into “contracts. parallels’ by purchasing catalytic converters without the necessary documentation at a lower price to earn extra money.

“Well, if you’ve got something that you have barely any net worth in and they say ‘you know what, I’m only going to give you $ 600 for that,’ what are you going to do? These are stolen goods, ”he said.

And once the stolen catalytic converter has passed that selling point, the part is usually added to a large volume of other catalytic converters for processing and it is easy for that specific part to be lost in the system.

“Once they get into the sea of ​​catalytic converters, they’re then processed, and not all steps are checked,” Macdonald said. “The law is there, but it’s so easy to get out of it because it’s a money-based industry and there’s no ripple effect of the paperwork to find whatever it would be. “

Washington State Patrol Soldiers routinely monitor junkyards and demolition sites across the state for suspicious activity.

If the soldiers have probable reason to suspect that a person is stealing and selling catalytic converters, the state patrol can open an investigation.

“We have quite a few topics that we watch, although they are sporadic and jump from place to place,” Private Michael Wells told The Chronicle.

There have been recent successes in tackling catalytic converter theft in Washington state: Last month, a Kent Police Department detectives unit recovered 800 stolen catalytic converters, seized about $ 40,000 in cash and arrested several suspects following a lengthy investigation.

But that bust has only recovered a fraction of the estimated 4,000 catalytic converters stolen from the Kent region since January 2020, according to data from the Kent Police Department.

One of the biggest obstacles to identifying and prosecuting those responsible for the catalytic converter thefts in Washington, Wells said, is that many of the reported catalytic converters stolen in Washington are sold out of state.

“We’re doing our due diligence in Washington, but the other states just aren’t aware of the regulation of major vehicle components,” Wells said. “Oregon doesn’t regulate as well as we do and that’s where a lot of these catalytic converters go.”

Oregon Governor Kate Brown recently signed legislation to strengthen state regulation of catalytic converters. Effective January 1, 2022, Oregon scrap metal companies will no longer be permitted to purchase catalytic converters from anyone other than a commercial seller or the original vehicle owner of the catalytic converter.

It will be some time after Oregon law comes into effect to see if the stricter regulations affect catalytic converter thefts in Washington.

Hybrid vehicles, especially the Toyota Prius, are currently the most commonly targeted vehicles for their catalytic converters because their catalytic converters require a higher concentration of precious metals to meet emission standards.

Companies such as MillerCAT manufacture catalytic converter guards specifically for the Prius that are designed to make it more difficult for a potential thief to access the catalytic converter.

“Think of it as an iron maiden that fits around so that it can’t be easily cut and removed from the vehicle,” Macdonald said.

Other options include aftermarket alarms that activate when they sense vibrations or sense the vehicle is being lifted.

Local police departments recommend that drivers park their vehicles in indoor garages or in well-lit areas to deter potential thieves.

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