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'It can happen to anyone': Missouri lawmaker hopes to combat catalytic converter thefts

Around the country, these thefts have jumped more than 1,200 percent since 2019, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

ST. LOUIS — Our team has been covering this problem for years, record numbers of catalytic converters stolen from cars. But what's being done about it? 

Thieves have it down to a science. Someone parks, goes underneath a car and does the cutting. In under a minute, the thief is back on the road with a stolen catalytic converter. The device helps with emissions. It contains valuable metals that can be melted down and sold for thousands of dollars.

Around the country, these thefts have jumped more than 1,200 percent since 2019, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, based on a sampling of insurance claims.

"If you get caught with a car full of drugs, you're going to jail for a long time. If you get caught with a car full of catalytic converters, nothing might happen to you," said Jason Gallahue, the owner of Fairway Automotive, an auto shop in Crestwood. Gallahue said he’s replacing at least three catalytic converters a week. It’s a record high. 

"I mean, yeah, it can happen to anyone," said Gallahue.

Police in Phoenix, Arizona, recently arrested a man after a sting operation that led them to about 1,300 converters worth nearly $200,000.

Phoenix police tell the I-Team they made the arrest only because of a new state law, House Bill 2652. It allows them to arrest someone if they have a used, detached catalytic converter unless they're a licensed business.

Before the law was passed, Phoenix Police Detective Adam Popelier told our sister station 12News that it's extremely hard to prove the crime. As a result, stolen converters flood the market, and law enforcement can’t keep track.  

"We honestly don't know where they are going… A majority are leaving the county, and the majority of those are leaving the state," Popelier told 12News in March

Victims continue to shell out thousands of dollars in repairs. Replacing one can cost a driver up to $3,000, not to mention months of waiting for a fix because of high demand and short supply, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

It's why this year alone, 150 catalytic converter bills have been introduced, including 15 in Missouri and Illinois. Illinois is one of 19 states to pass legislation. Many of them enforce harsher penalties on people who steal and limit where people can sell. 

States with catalytic converter legislation, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, are Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Iowa, Connecticut, Maryland, Oklahoma, Arizona, Delaware, Maine, Mississippi, Virginia, Kentucky, Washington, South Dakota, Utah, Wisconsin, Alabama, and Indiana.

Missouri State Representative Don Mayhew wants Missouri to follow.

"Do you think this legislation, if it's passed, is going to be the solution?" asked the I-Team's Paula Vasan.

"It will help put some accountability into the system because right now there are none," said Mayhew.

Mayhew's legislation would force sellers to give buyers the make, model and serial number of the car a catalytic converter came from. It would also require sellers to sign a legal document saying it wasn't stolen. It would let police conduct search warrants more easily.

"We've tried it two years in a row where it got to a Senate hearing, which is a big step. We expect it to go farther next year and perhaps we can get it passed next year," he said. 

Right now, Mayhew said he plans to add parts of Arizona's recent law as he tries to get a new law passed. He said the only person who testified against his bill was a lobbyist representing salvage yards in our area. We've reached out to that lobbyist to find out what he and salvage yards believe needs to change to prevent this crime. We'll let you know what they say. 

RESOURCES:

Catalytic Converter Theft Prevention Tips

To reduce the chances of theft, the NICB recommends vehicle owners:

  • Install a catalytic converter anti-theft device. These are available from various manufacturers and can provide a level of security from theft.

  • Consider having your catalytic converter etched with the VIN as well as painted with a bright orange, high-heat spray paint.

  • Park fleet vehicles in an enclosed and secured area that is well lit, locked, and alarmed.

  • Park personal vehicles in a garage. If not possible and vehicles must be parked in a driveway, consider installing motion sensor security lights. While lights may not provide complete security, it may make some thieves think twice, making them leave the area and your vehicle untouched.

  • Call local law enforcement and your insurer should you become the victim of a catalytic converter theft. 

Source: National Insurance Crime Bureau

The number of insurance claims for catalytic converter thefts are also rising:

  • In 2019, State Farm paid $12,500 for catalytic converter theft claims in Missouri. 
  • In 2020, State Farm paid $370,000 for catalytic converter theft claims in Missouri. 
  • In 2021, State Farm paid $1.2M for catalytic converter theft claims in Missouri. 
  • In 2022, State Farm has paid $700,000 so far this year for catalytic converter theft claims in Missouri.

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