Chicago catalytic converter thefts have nearly tripled in 2022; CPD trying neon paint to deter them

Victor Hilitski/for the/Chicago Tribune/TNS
·3 min read

Rising catalytic converter thefts have left drivers with noisy cars and expensive repair bills. Just how much have thefts jumped?

Catalytic converter thefts have nearly tripled this year, data obtained by the Tribune shows. Chicago police reported 3,924 catalytic converter thefts through July, a steep rise from the 1,410 thefts reported in the same time period last year, according to Chicago Police Department data.

Thieves target the automotive exhaust system part because it contains valuable precious metals including rhodium, palladium and platinum, which can fetch hundreds of dollars in resale on the black market.

The increase matches a trend seen across the country, the Tribune reported in August. Folks who lose their catalytic converters gain a whole lot of headache.

Repair bills to replace the emissions-filtering converters can run into the thousands of dollars. Supply chain disruptions mean the wait for replacement parts can take months, leaving drivers with cars that suddenly roar “like a cross between a lawn mower and a race car.”

But authorities across Chicagoland have gotten crafty to respond to the swiped segments. A new Illinois law put into effect this summer requires catalytic converter purchasers to keep records of transactions and report sales to the Internal Revenue Service. Niles police began spray-painting the car part for residents in August.

Chicago police will now follow suit. CPD’s 14th District will host the department’s first catalytic converter marking event at 1711 N. California Ave. on Sunday. The 50 spots available for the event have already filled up, but people who live in the district can still sign up for another theft deterrence event on Sept. 18, Collazo said.

Organizers will spray-paint residents’ catalytic converters with high-resistance neon paint and etch identification codes linked to a national database into the car part.

“Until something is done where they’re less lucrative, we’re trying to do it where this high-resistance neon paint is a deterrent,” 14th District Cmdr. Elizabeth Collazo said.

Half the auto thefts that occur in the district involve catalytic converters, she added. The 14th District includes Wicker Park, Bucktown, Logan Square and parts of Humboldt Park.

Police set up the event in response to residents’ concerns with help from Aldermen Scott Waguespack, 32nd, and Daniel La Spata, 1st, as well as State Farm. The insurance company has paid $62.6 million for 32,265 national catalytic converter theft claims in 2022, a 13-fold increase over two years.

“We’re hoping this is going to be just one of many events,” Collazo said.

More painting and etching events could follow depending on how residents — and catalytic converter thieves — react to the deterrents, said Waguespack, who bought the etching kits that will be used Sunday. He plans to support other deterrence events in his ward soon.

The deterrence is an important step, he said, but more legal efforts are needed to stop the buyers who ultimately profit from the stolen catalytic converters.

“We need federal laws on this, because all of this stuff is being transported across state lines,” Waguespack said. “Somebody is getting those ounces of metals that are very expensive.”

To sign up for the 14th District’s Sept. 18 catalytic converter marking event, email caps.014district@chicagopolie.org. Only district residents may participate.

jsheridan@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @jakesheridan_