LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — More catalytic-converter thefts across the Las Vegas valley and the nation could be solved if the valuable car parts contained identifying information on them tying them back to a car and its owner, the 8 News Now I-Team found.

In 2021, Las Vegas Metro police responded to more than 1,900 catalytic-converter calls. Each call could be for one stolen converter or several. Out of the 1,900-plus calls, 98 were closed, meaning officers made an arrest or issued a citation.

The mechanics at Universal Motorcars see a lot of vehicles.

“Most of them I see without catalytic converters,” owner Victor Botnari said, showing the I-Team what the catalytic converters look like and how they work.

Used catalytic converter that was removed from cars at a salvage yard are piled up in a carton Friday Dec. 17, 2021, in Richmond, Va. Thefts of the emission control devices have jumped over the last two years as prices for the precious metals they contain have skyrocketed. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

“It’s cleaning the exhaust,” Botnari said. The metal tubes do not look like anything special, but inside, they are packed with precious metals, making them a prime target for thieves.

“It’s a phenomenon right now,” LVMPD Lt. Joe Lepore said. It is a phenomenon because it is easy: thieves can cut the part out in seconds.

“How are these people making money from what they’re stealing?” the I-Team’s David Charns asked Lepore.

“One way is through scrap yards,” Lepore said. “There’s also a big black market.”

In 2021, Las Vegas Metro police responded to more than 1,900 catalytic-converter calls. Each call could be for one stolen converter or several. Out of the 1,900-plus calls, 98 were closed, meaning officers made an arrest or issued a citation. (KLAS)

“The big problem seems to be the catalytic converters can’t be identified, right?” Charns asked.

“Correct. That’s something that does hamstring us quite a bit,” Lepore said.

The catalytic converters themselves have no identifier tying them back to the vehicle identification number (VIN) every car is issued. That means there is no way to quickly identify to which car — and to which owner — the part belongs.

“It makes it much more difficult to prove that case,” Lepore said. Instead, red flags, like a repeat offender or someone who tries to pawn off more than one converter at a time, are aiding police in their investigations.

The I-Team wanted to see how difficult it was to sell one converter. I-Team photojournalist Matt Adams visited two scrap yards, looking to trade an aftermarket converter for cash. (KLAS)

The I-Team wanted to see how difficult it was to sell one converter. I-Team photojournalist Matt Adams visited two scrap yards, looking to trade an aftermarket converter for cash.

The first scrap yard turned Adams away, saying they no longer accepted them. On Adams’ second try, he found out selling one was not so easy.

The sale went by the book. Employees required his identification, his vehicle information, even his fingerprints. The total sale was $22.50.

Pieces of a broken catalytic converter, showing the precious metals inside. (Getty Images)

“There is no law on the books right now to prevent this, however, there are scrap yards that do work with us and will report to us if they get people that come in constantly to bring in catalytic converters,” Lepore said.

The I-Team asked some of the top car companies why they do not put identifiers on their converters.

Catalytic converter theft is an industry wide challenge, one we take very seriously. We remain committed to working with all stakeholders to support solutions nationwide to eliminate the impact on vehicle owners. In our view, the most effective approach requires close collaboration between the broader automotive industry and local and state authorities to devise legislative solutions aimed at eliminating the market for these stolen parts.

Aaron Fowles, Toyota Motor North America, Inc.
(Getty Images)

The popularity, durability, and longevity of Honda vehicles means that there are many more of them on the roads of America than most other brands. This sometimes means that they unfortunately also rank high on vehicle and component theft statistics due simply to the number of them around.  

When designing Honda vehicles and their multitude of constituent components, our engineers factor in many different and important things, such as safety, fuel-efficiency, performance, serviceability, cost, and security to provide customers with the best possible vehicle at an affordable price.

I cannot comment on any future products or specifics thereof, but I can say that our engineers and designers always strive to enhance every aspect of our vehicles, including security.

Carl Pulley, Honda Public Relations
This photo provided by the Phoenix Police Department shows stolen catalytic converters that were recovered after detectives served a search warrant at a storage unit in Phoenix on Thursday, May 27, 2022. The bust came amid a national surge in thefts of the pricy auto parts that play a critical in reducing vehicle emissions and has led lawmakers in 36 states and in Washington D.C. to consider new laws to address the problem. (Phoenix Police Department via AP)

Catalytic converter theft is a major problem across the country, with recent spikes occurring due to the increasing value of the precious metals contained in them. Most recently, the problem has been exacerbated by the invasion of Ukraine, where much of this metal is mined. We are working closely with policymakers and law enforcement authorities to increase public awareness and help deter this kind of criminal activity.

Alliance for Automotive Innovation

“How much is on the scrap yard in buying them?” Charns asked Lepore.

“That’s just an internal policy,” he said. “There’s no law to stop them right now.”

The business that bought Adams’ converter did everything police could wish for, but there is no mandatory reporting in Clark County or Nevada. Company leaders asked the I-Team not to identify their business so they can continue to aid police moving forward.

This photo provided by the Phoenix Police Department shows stolen catalytic converters that were recoverd after detectives served a search warrant at a storage unit Phoenix on Thursday, May 27, 2022. (Phoenix Police Department via AP)

The addition of an identifier and added county or state regulation would increase the solvability in these cases, Lepore said.

“That would be a game-changer for our investigations,” he said. “We would be able to tie that catalytic converter to a specific report to a specific victim.” Botnari agreed.

“If there were serial numbers that matched the VIN number, it would probably be way easier to find,” he said.

A catalytic converter is etched with the car’s license plate to prevent thefts at ExperTec Automotive in Huntington Beach on Saturday, November 13, 2021. (Photo by Mindy Schauer/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

Several states have passed laws or are currently passing laws to curb these thefts. In Connecticut, scrap metal processors and junkyard owners must record information about the seller, including his or her license plate number and license. Connecticut law now also limits sellers to one catalytic converter a day per dealer and cash is banned.

The Nevada Legislature reconvenes in January and will likely hear at least one catalytic-converter-related bill.

Metro police have several tips to protect your converter from being stolen or to try to track it back to you if it is stolen. They suggest always parking in a well-lit area and having your license plate or VIN engraved on your converter. If your catalytic converter is stolen, you should file a report immediately.