Catalytic converter theft, a crime that has been happening for decades, is surging as thieves take advantage of a spike in the prices of rare metals contained within the automotive devices.
Before the pandemic, catalytic converter thefts had become pretty rare, averaging only 108 a month in 2018, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, a nonprofit that combats fraud on behalf of the insurance industry.
That figure rose to 282 a month in 2019 and spiked to 1,203 in 2020, increasing steadily as the year went on and reaching 2,347 in December.
Thieves stole nearly 26,000 from January through May 2021, research firm BeenVerified estimated based on an assessment of the insurance crime bureau's data and Google search reports. That would translate into a monthly average of more than 5,000.
How to avoid catalytic converter theft
Catalytic converter theft can happen anywhere, but thieves tend to target vehicles parked in driveways, on the street or in poorly lit parking lots.
Experts say the best way to protect yourself is to:
• Park your vehicle in a secure garage if you have access to one.
• If you don’t have access to a garage, park in a well-lit area or an area with a lot of people around.
“Secure parking is great, but you want to definitely park in a well-lit area or on a street that has high traffic,” said Sgt. Mark Ponegalek, a public information officer at the police department in Torrance, California, which has been hit hard by catalytic converter thefts. “They're looking for streets where there isn't a lot of foot traffic so they can get in and out.”
• Consider buying an aftermarket device best described as a metal cage that can be installed to cover the catalytic converter, much like the Club device hooked into a steering wheel makes it harder to steal a car.
Despite the steps people can take to protect themselves, Chicago resident Sam Horvath said she still feels pretty helpless to avoid it. Thieves have stolen the catalytic converter from her street-parked 2004 Honda CR-V twice during the pandemic, including in July 2021.
She said renting an indoor parking space is not financially sensible for her, and aftermarket devices would cost about as much as her deductible.
“I don’t know exactly what to do.”
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: How to avoid catalytic converter theft: Tips on protecting your car