LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — An explosion in catalytic converter thefts across the valley has police busy and vehicle owners streaming to repair shops.
Metro police say 784 thefts have been reported this year as of April 8 — far above the pace last year, when 425 thefts had been reported.
Repair shops have a parade of customers daily and there’s no sign the thefts will stop anytime soon. Thieves are stealing the parts by crawling under cars and sawing off the catalytic converters to sell to recyclers, who are paying big money for some brands that contain precious metals — jewelry-grade platinum, palladium and rhodium.
Repairs can run anywhere from $1,000 all the way up to $4,000 if more than one catalytic converter is stolen, according to a manager at one North Las Vegas repair shop.
The Toyota Prius is among the most commonly targeted vehicles, according to repair shops. Others are the Toyota Sequoia, the Honda CRV, the Honda Element and the Hyundai Tucson. But in the end, it’s any vehicle with enough clearance to crawl under.
Dan DeMello, who runs Best Muffler Shop near Fremont Street and Eastern Avenue, said he’s seeing three to five customers every day who need help — and five to 10 on a busy day.
In North Las Vegas, two neighboring shops near Ann Road and Simmons Street are seeing an increase in thefts, too. Mark Almazan of AA Auto Care said the shop is seeing eight to nine jobs per week, and JoJo Crickon of Dynamic Exhaust Fabrication says he’s doing about 20 jobs every month.
Metro police have made arrests, but only 37 of the 784 theft cases have been solved thus far.
Shop owners say the only real defense is being aware of what’s going on around you. There are products on the market to stop thieves, but all they can do is slow thieves down. Installing plates to cover the catalytic converters doesn’t help much because they can be cut by the same tools used to steal the part in the first place.
Stories range from a catalytic converter being stolen off a motor home while someone slept inside to a case in which the “cat” as they are commonly called was stolen off the same vehicle repeatedly.
“We have done one Prius job three times with all OEM parts. It’s unbelievable,” said DeMello of Best Muffler. “Their insurance paid out, they got the car fixed. Even with a theft-deterrent device on there, one of the cat shields, they still cut through it, they still took the stuff, and it happened three times total
DeMello said some better products use cables that can’t be cut by saws, but nothing is stopping thieves. He has worked with businesses that have been hit by thieves who steal cats in bunches, hitting parking lots overnight.
“A fence doesn’t matter it seems like. We see ’em on video just hopping the fence, looking at the camera, waving and doing it anyway,” DeMello said.
AA Auto Care manager Hank Villa said thieves can’t make much money stealing after-market catalytic converters. But not all cars can use them. They’re a key part of the emissions system and your check engine light will come on if they’re not a match for your car. That means you probably won’t pass inspection.
Villa also said catalytic converters that can be mounted on the manifold are much more difficult for thieves to get to.
Crickon of Dynamic Exhaust Fabrication said he is thinking about offering to engrave Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs) on catalytic converters as a service to customers. He thinks having VINs on original equipment would go a long way to stopping thefts.
DeMello echoed that, saying VINs on the converters would stop the problem by making the thefts traceable and making recyclers accountable.