My granddaughter Rachel McLaughlin and her husband Ryan woke up to an unpleasant surprise one morning a couple of weeks back.
When they started up their car, it was making noises they weren’t used to, as if there was no longer a muffler system.
Turned out the muffler system was still there: it just was no longer in place or in use.
It had been cut off by cheeky thieves who had come into their yard overnight and probably, since the car was quite low to the ground, jacked up one side in an attempt to cut off the catalytic converter.
They didn’t succeed in getting it but in butchering the exhaust system in the process in the attempt, the McLaughlins, with a $500 deductible on their insurance, will still be left facing a cost as replacement will run about $1,200.
Apparently the theft of catalytic converters is not something new in the Sault or across the country.
A spokesperson for the Sault Ste. Marie Police Service, Lincoln Louttit, said when I called him that there had been thefts in the Sault but he didn’t know how many. He didn’t get back to me with a total before deadline.
As for figures for across the country, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau thefts of catalytic converters skyrocketed from an average of 108 per month in 2018 to 2,347 in December 2020.
The price of replacement and repairs can be thousands of dollars per vehicle.
“We came to work on Monday morning and our service tech started up the trucks and next thing you know, all the trucks were just making so much noise, ”Rick Oosterveld, owner of Oosterveld Heating and Air Conditioning in Guelph, told Postmedia.
“Somebody stole the catalytic converters off the trucks.”
“We have them on camera and they just crawled under every truck and cut the catalytic converters out, and then ran away,” he said.
Oosterveld is far from the only victim. Waterloo Regional Police reported 131 catalytic converter thefts in the first two months of 2021.
Postmedia also reported that in British Columbia the number of claims submitted to the provincial auto insurer, ICBC, went up 10-fold over five years — doubling between 2018 and 2019, then doubling again in 2020. There were more than 1,500 thefts last year, according to the corporation.
“We’re seeing coast to coast in Canada as well as into the United States and in other parts of the world,” said Bryan Gast, National Director of Investigation Services at the Insurance Bureau of Canada.
Alberta has introduced a bill that will try to shut down the relative ease with which thieves are able to sell to scrap yards. Last year, a 24-year-old man in that province was caught with 462 stolen converters; he’d had a B team of people stealing them for him, and he, in turn, was anticipating a $300,000 payday when he sold them to scrappers. Police intervened
Catalytic converters have been in widespread use in North American vehicles since the 1970s. Their purpose is to make car exhaust from internal combustion engines less toxic, converting substances such as carbon monoxide, nitric oxide, nitrogen oxide and hydrocarbons, into less harmful carbon dioxide and water vapour.
What makes them attractive to thieves is the precious metals contained in them, platinum, rhodium and palladium. A Global News story said over the past five years, the value of these metals has risen significantly and they are being bought and sold like gold and copper.
The story said palladium went from about $200 USD an ounce 12 years ago to nearly $2,300 today. By comparison, the price of gold rose from approximately $1,100 an ounce USD to just over $1,700 in the same period. Rhodium was worth just over $1,100 USD an ounce in early 2009; now it’s valued at more than $26,000 an ounce.
Is there a way to protect yourself against these thefts.
Well, Vehicle Road Safety Solutions (VRSS), a Canadian company , apparently is importing an anti-theft process from the U.K. that is simple, inexpensive, and effective. At a cost of about $30 you get an identification number embedded on a piece of tape. Adhere that to your catalytic converter, swab a chemical over it and that number is now etched on the part. The number can then be placed in a central database.
I would prefer if motor vehicle companies took command, incorporating the catalytic converters into the vehicle itself so that to get at it, say for a replacement, it would have to be taken into a legitimate service shop.
The McLaughlins, although they didn’t lose their catalytic converter which would cost about $2,000, probably will still face considerable costs as they weigh whether to use insurance, and risk their rate going up, or pay themselves the cost of replacing the exhaust system on their vehicle.
For people who don’t have garages, whose vehicles are left in the driveway, it is not a comforting thought to know that there are thieves out there looking for only a piece of their vehicle.
Apparently those who really know what they are doing can be in and our of your yard in about three minutes.
It is much easier for them when the target is an SUV or pickup, which are higher, but they can jack up the side of a lower vehicle and get under it in just about the same time.
I think it is hard for most of us to believe that anyone could have the courage to pull up in front of a house in a residential area, even if it is in the dead of night, and crawl under a vehicle in the driveway and cut off, or attempt to cut off its catalytic converter.
Even video cameras catching the activity probably aren’t going to help since most of the thieves will be masked.
People whose vehicles are left outside would be wise to equip them with alarm devices that react to movement.
But then these jerks would probably find a way around that.