Philly seeks to curb catalytic converter thefts amid nationwide spike
By Stephen Williams
PHILADELPHIA — Nationwide, reports of catalytic converter thefts rose to 52,000 in 2021 from 1,300 in 2018, the latest figures available, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
Philadelphia is no exception.
Last month, the Philadelphia Police Department released surveillance footage of two dozen catalytic converters being stolen in October from a group of delivery vehicles at the Giant Direct warehouse on Island Avenue, in the city’s Southwest section.
City Councilmember Cindy Bass, D-8th District, is doing something about it. Last week, she introduced legislation that would stiffen fines and penalties and make it more difficult to resell stolen catalytic converters or their parts.
“My objective, as my team and I researched and wrote this legislation, was to de-incentivize the sale and purchase of not just stolen catalytic converters, but other stolen precious metal auto parts,” Bass said. “Too many thieves, scrapyards and other associates were making money off of people’s stolen converters. Meanwhile, the victimized vehicle owners were left with empty pockets after having to spend somewhere around three thousands or more to replace their converters.”
Among the key provisions of the legislation: Requiring documented and other proof of the auto part’s catalytic converter origin; prohibiting the sale of partial catalytic converters; and imposing penalties for stealing, buying or selling converters or other precious metal auto parts, including a $2,000 per violation, up to 90 days in jail or both.
“The city of Philadelphia has not been spared the scourge of catalytic converter thefts that have plagued the entire country,” Bass said. “I wanted to ensure not another Philadelphian would ever have to get into a vehicle again and hear that telltale, throttling roar indicating that someone has taken the time and energy overnight to sneakily scoot underneath it to saw off their catalytic converter.”
The bill is scheduled to come up for a vote by the full council on Dec. 15. Bass represents parts of Germantown, Mount Airy, Chestnut Hill, West Oak Lane and North Philadelphia.
Last year, there were about 3,400 reported thefts of catalytic converters in Philadelphia, police said.
Catalytic converters turn harmful pollutants from auto exhaust into harmless gases. The devices are made from valuable precious metals such as platinum, palladium or rhodium.
Rhodium, an ultra-shiny, corrosion-resistant metal, is also used in the jewelry, electrical and chemical industries. It can sell for as much as $13,000 an ounce.
According to Carfax, the top cars targeted by catalytic converter thieves include the Ford F-series, Honda Accord, Jeep Patriot, Ford Econoline, Chevrolet Silverado, Chevrolet Equinox, Honda CR-V, Toyota Camry, Chrysler 200 and Toyota Prius.
Experts say car owners can have their vehicle identification number etched into the converter, or have it painted a bright color as a deterrent to theft. Also, several anti-theft devices are on the market.
Stephen Williams is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.
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