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Tire Dealers Grapple with Catalytic Converter Theft

'We Have Upped Our Security Strategy'

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“There’s been such an epidemic of people stealing (converters) that it takes you sometimes three to four weeks” to secure a replacement, says Bob Kelly, who oversees Sullivan Tire Co. Inc.'s 75 retail stores.



In addition to inflation, labor shortages, supply problems and other issues, tire dealers are facing another challenge - catalytic converter theft.


Incidents have become so widespread that nearly 20 states are evaluating legislative actions to curb the problem, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).


Bob Kelly, region manager for retail stores for Norwell, Mass.-based Sullivan Tire Co. Inc., says, “We’ve experienced catalytic converter theft in our own distribution centers and on some of our customers' vehicles. 


“At one (Sullivan Tire) location, (thieves) removed six of them” from delivery trucks. “And it cost $2,000 per vehicle to have them replaced. The bigger the truck, the easier it is because they can crawl underneath it.


“All they do is cut the front and back of the cat and they can be gone in minutes. And that’s the problem. It’s a theft that can be hard to control. 


“We’ve upped our security strategy” across Sullivan Tire’s footprint, which include 75 retail stores, plus 15 commercial truck tire centers, three wholesale distribution centers, two retread plants and other locations.


“Our buildings have cameras. We put all vehicles up front, whenever possible, under a lighted area and then bring them into bays, whenever possible. We try to get our customers to pick up their cars when we're open so they’re not left out at night, waiting to be picked up. 


“There’s been such an epidemic of people stealing (converters) that it takes you sometimes three to four weeks” to secure a replacement, says Kelly.  “And there’s not one catalytic converter on all vehicles. A Ford Explorer will have two cats.”


Rich Lucas, owner of Lucas Tire & Autocare, a single-location dealership near downtown Chicago, Ill., says he sees at least one customer who has experienced converter theft each week.


However,  thieves have not stolen converters from vehicles on his store’s lot.


“We lock everything up at night. We have a good alarm system. We have a good camera system. But (thieves) are so good” at what they do. “They can remove (a converter) in 10 minutes.


“They’ll watch cars. They’ll watch to see if a guy parks his car and then gets on a bus to go to work. They do their homework.”


One of Lucas’ customers recently lost three converters. “And it hasn't been easy to get (replacement) converters, either. There are lots of different models. Parts, like anything else, are getting harder to get and pricing has gone up quite a bit.” 


“We’ve been (talking with) more people who have had converters stolen from their residences or their offices,” says Mike Smith, manager at Reno Vulcanizing Auto Care, a three-location dealership based in Reno, Nev.


“I have even had a few people make attempts on some of our vehicles - including a delivery truck at our shop.


“One of my employees… his converter was stolen while he was at work, right behind our building, during business hours.”


Reno Vulcanizing is doing what it can to protect vehicles, but is limited by time and space.


“We attempt to get everything into the shop (overnight),  but we’re so busy we can’t accommodate all the vehicles that are here,” says Smith. “We forewarn our customers to not drive cars in until the day of service.”


The availability of replacement converters has been a problem, he says. “If at all possible, I use factory replacement parts,” which are taking longer than usual to arrive.


Ziegler Tire & Supply Co., which is based in Massillon, Ohio, also has had problems with catalytic converter theft.


John Ziegler Jr., regional sales and operations manager for the company’s Mighty Tire wholesale division, says “we have had issues with converters being ripped off of our delivery trucks, which led us to have a fence (installed) in a large area around our main distribution center for protection.”


Steve Belopotosky, the dealership's director of operations, says thieves have struck customer vehicles at multiple Ziegler Tire locations. “We are trying to prevent this by pulling (vehicles inside) as much as possible if we know they’re going to be left overnight.”


If it isn’t possible to park indoors, Ziegler Tire is moving vehicles closer to its buildings, he adds.


Brandon Johnson, general manager at Eagle Tire Pros, a single-location dealership in Jacksboro, Tenn., says incidents of converter theft in his town “have dropped considerably.”


But theft was “a real problem” not too long ago.


“The state of Tennessee reported that in 2019, there were 282 converter thefts a month. In 2020, Tennessee reported that number had climbed to over 1,200 a month. We were going through some months where we were replacing two a week.”


Johnson adds that thieves have not targeted his dealership. “We take security very seriously and we’re blessed with local law enforcement that patrols frequently.”


However, like other tire dealers, Johnson has experienced delays in securing replacement converters.


“You pair inflation with the supply chain aftermath and it’s a lot more difficult to not only get converters, but also everything else - tires, oil filters, even bulk oil.”


According to the NICB, the increase in theft is being driven by the rising value of precious metals found in catalytic converters.


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