As Illinois catalytic converter thefts increase, here's how to protect your vehicle, and your wallet.
JASON KNOWLES: A drastic increase in catalytic converter thefts, the surge in numbers making Illinois the fifth most targeted state in the nation according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. Now the ITeam is finding out what you can do to stop criminals from targeting your car.
JERROLD BURKE: As soon as I started it, I heard the loud sound. And I go, oh something's wrong. We're not going anywhere.
JASON KNOWLES: Jerrold Burke says thieves stopped him in his tracks.
JERROLD BURKE: I thought the engine's going to blow up or something.
JASON KNOWLES: After stealing his catalytic converter.
JERROLD BURKE: I was so sad. And I go, why me?
JASON KNOWLES: His Prius, parked in an outdoor apartment lot in unincorporated Des Plaines.
JERROLD BURKE: I guess the thieves just jack it up in about this area right here. Because then they have to cut it off right out the engine and cut it off right about here.
JASON KNOWLES: After Burke filed this Cook County Sheriff's police report, he found out he wasn't alone. The detective told you that this is happening a lot now.
JERROLD BURKE: This is happening a lot now. Him personally is working on 12 cases in this area alone.
JASON KNOWLES: Data from the National Insurance Crime Bureau says the thefts are skyrocketing nationwide. In 2019, there were 3,389 reported catalytic converter thefts. But in 2020, there were 14,433, Illinois ranking fifth in the nation.
LEO SCHMITZ: I think you can tie that probably to the COVID pandemic. And people will need money.
JASON KNOWLES: The Cook County Sheriff's Office chief of public safety says numbers in unincorporated Cook County show a similar pattern. Last year at this time, there were only eight catalytic converter thefts. This year, there's already 25. Chicago police recently issued alerts about several thefts on the near North side. Why is this such a popular crime?
LEO SCHMITZ: It can be done in less than two minutes. They get under a vehicle, they can cut it out, take it, and they're going to get money for the metals, the precious metals, that are in there.
JASON KNOWLES: He says you should try to park your car in a lit area. If you have an alarm, see if you can set it to go off if the car shakes. You can also engrave your VIN number into your converter and spray paint it to deter thieves. You can also add a metal cover.
LEO SCHMITZ: It goes over the catalytic converter and has steel wires, stainless steel wires, and things of that nature.
KIMBERLY PALMER: And if a thief sees it, they might just keep walking and look for the next car.
JASON KNOWLES: Kimberly Palmer, a personal finance expert at NerdWallet, recommends the covers.
KIMBERLY PALMER: They can be pricey. We usually see a range of about $200 all the way up to $800. But because if your catalytic converter is stolen, it is very pricey to replace. Typically around $3,000 is the price that we see. It's worth protecting it.
JASON KNOWLES: Burke bought a cover for $150.
JERROLD BURKE: So it looks like that.
JASON KNOWLES: And his replacement catalytic converter was a little bit cheaper than the average one, $900.
JERROLD BURKE: And I said, isn't that wonderful?
JASON KNOWLES: He does think the extra money will save him in the long run.
JERROLD BURKE: They can spend an extra 20 minutes to cut the shield possibly, but they don't want to do that. They want to be in and out in three minutes.
JASON KNOWLES: The problem is so bad, legislation has been introduced across 23 states to combat the rise of catalytic converter thefts. In Illinois, there is a pending bill, which would require buyers of converters, like mechanics, to get personal information, including a driver's license from people who are trying to sell them off.