Millroy: Catalytic Converter Theft Is A Wide Spread Problem

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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.

7 COMMENTS

  1. First of all, penalties for this kind of theft aren’t harsh enough. Secondly , if you see someone crawling under your vehicle, you should be able to shoot first and ask questions afterwards, seeing as police will never get there in time

    • Hi Fred,

      In Canada you can only make a citizen’s arrest for an indictable offence.

      Catalytic converter theft (i.e. Theft Under $5000) is a, “Crown elect/hybrid indictable (felony) offence [, which means a citizen can make a citizen’s arrest, and] which carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison. If the Crown proceeds summarily (misdemeanor) [, which means a citizen cannot make a citizen’s arrest] the maximum punishment is 6 months in a provincial jail. Getting a criminal record for theft under $5000 is a major problem as it renders most people unemployable, can lead to problems with immigration status and IRCC applications, and prevent them from travelling to the U.S. for the rest of their lives.” ( https://www.accused.ca/theft-under-5000.htm )

      Those punishments are harsh Fred, and catalytic converter thieves, when they get caught, will likely see the maximum sentence for their crimes.

      It’s not like they’re shoplifting. They’re only under your car to do one thing… steal to make fast cash.

      Even though it is extremely likely that the Crown will proceed with all catalytic converter thefts as felonies (i.e. indictable) it is best not to make a citizen’s arrest unless you feel certain you can survive the arrest. The thief may have a knife or other lethal weapon after all.

      Shooting any catalytic converter thief (felon) is an indictable crime too Fred, and will definitely see you getting charged, convicted and going to jail/prison.

      Just call the police, and keep your distance. It is likely to produce the best result.

      Sincerely,
      Mark Brown

  2. Good morning Soo Guy,

    If what you mean by “political ambitions” is caring about thieves, AND everyone who is stolen from, then, yes, go ahead and call me politically ambitious Soo Guy.

    I’m not exactly sure how this article about the massive increase in the number of stolen catalytic converters in the Sault somehow turned into a focus on me Soo Guy?

    Like you did here, Soo Guy, I used to change the subject of Mr. Millroy’s articles many times in the distant past, but it is disrespectful of the significant effort that Mr. Millroy puts into these excellent op-eds so I will not be doing that ever again.

    I urge you to do the same; Be respectful of Mr. Millroy and other writers on this site that is.

    Catalytic converter thefts have massively increased here in the Sault. I wonder what the root cause of that is?

    Any ideas Soo Guy?

    Sincerely,
    Mark Brown

    Sincerely,
    Mark Brown

  3. It is time the auto manufacturers come up with a plan to secure these devices so they cannot be easily stolen. It is pretty sad when you cannot feel your vehicle is secure in your own driveway.

  4. Good morning Mr. Millroy,

    There’s one surefire way of not getting your catalytic converter stolen; Don’t have one.

    Here in the Sault it is a lot easier to get rid of your car, than in say Toronto, without it drastically affecting your life.

    We can bike, walk, or use the bus to get to places we need to get to quite easily here in the Sault, thus making our lives more healthy (bike and walk), less expensive (no gas, insurance, or stolen catalytic converter payments) , and helping our community to get closer to our net-zero goals while just plain slowing down and getting to know our neighbours better 🙂

    Of course these so-called “jerks” (your words, not mine Mr. Millroy) would likely then have to turn to purse snatching, and pocket-picking to make enough money to put food on the table, and make ends meet for their families.

    Never mind the price of palladium, Mr. Millroy, have you seen the price of food, auto mechanics, gasoline and insurance lately???

    Sheesh.

    Thanks for the article Mr. Millroy. I’m sorry to hear about the expensive stolen catalytic converter troubles your granddaughter and her husband, and far too many others in our community have had to deal with.

    Every cent matters these day, and most especially for the our young ones who are just starting out.

    Sincerely,
    Mark Brown

    • Mark, do you really think that characterizing the thieves as the injured party who are doing good for the community by reducing ICE use is going to gain you support for your political ambitions? Talk about out of touch.

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