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Watch Out For Catalytic Converter Theft

Are You Protecting Your Vehicles and Customers' Cars?

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Nearly 20 states are looking at legislation to curb catalytic converter theft.

| Photo Credit: Getty

Inflation. Labor shortages. Price increases. Supply slowdowns. A pandemic that just won’t go away. The litany of problems facing tire dealers is long and seemingly endless. Just when you don’t need another headache, here’s a new one - catalytic converter theft.

Maybe you’ve already experienced this at your store. Maybe you haven’t. But it’s a problem that’s affecting more and more of your peers. And your dealership could be next.

Catalytic converter theft has become so widespread that close to 20 states are crafting laws to help curb the problem, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, which says the crime is being driven by the rising value of precious metals palladium, platinum and rhodium. As you know, these substances are key components of catalytic converters. And all three are trading at sky-high prices. (More on that later.)

Many of your fellow dealers are taking action to address the problem. In one case, members of the Ohio Tire & Automotive Association (OTAA) recently voted to endorse Ohio House Bill 408, which would require people selling catalytic converters to provide extra proof of ownership.

In testimony before the Ohio House Criminal Justice Committee, OTAA board member John Marshall, vice president of Dayton, Ohio-based Grismer Tire Co., called this provision “a common sense approach. “Simply by requiring this proof of ownership, which reputable businesses are happy to provide, we can dramatically curtail the ability of criminals to access quick cash,” he said.

The problem isn’t isolated to one state or region. Bob Kelly, who oversees Sullivan Tire Co. Inc.’s 75-plus retail stores in New England, recently told me that the Norwell, Mass.- based dealership has “experienced catalytic converter theft in our own distribution centers.”

At one location, thieves stole converters from six delivery trucks. “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.”

Kelly said Sullivan Tire has since “upped” its security. “Our buildings have cameras. We put all vehicles up front under a lighted area and 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.”

Rich Lucas, owner of Lucas Tire & Automotive, a singlelocation dealership in Chicago, Ill., has been luckier. He hasn’t lost a converter at his store. But thieves have struck some of his customers’ cars.

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

 “We’ve been talking with more people who have had converters stolen from their residences or their offices,” Mike Smith, manager at Reno Vulcanizing Auto Care, a three-location dealership in Reno, Nev., told me.  “I have even had a few people make attempts on some of our vehicles, including a delivery truck. One of my employees … his converter was stolen while he was at work, right behind our building, during business hours.”

Smith said the dealership is doing what it can to protect vehicles, but is limited by space. “We attempt to get everything into the shop overnight, but we’re so busy that we can’t accommodate all the vehicles that are here. We forewarn our customers to not drive cars here until the day of service.”

Brandon Johnson, general manager at Eagle Tire Pros, a single-store dealership in Jacksboro, Tenn., told me thieves have not targeted his outlet. “We take security very seriously and we’re blessed with local law enforcement that patrols frequently.”

But catalytic converter theft was “a real problem” in his area not that long ago. “We were going through some months where we were replacing two a week” on customers’ vehicles.

Catalytic converter theft is not a flashy news story. But with platinum selling at $988 per ounce and palladium going for roughly $2,000 an ounce as of this writing, it’s a problem that isn’t going away anytime soon. (Did I mention rhodium is currently valued at $16,000 per ounce? That’s more than I paid for my car several years ago.)

It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Make sure you’re doing everything you can to protect your vehicles and your customers’ vehicles. This will help prevent another problem you don’t need right now.

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