This article has been corrected to state that catalytic converter thefts were up 268 per cent in 2021 compared to the previous year.
Catalytic converters are being stolen at the rate of more than one a day in Ottawa, nearly quadrupling in number from 2020.
Ottawa police have recorded 357 thefts of the precious-metal laden devices between Jan. 1 and Dec. 16. That’s a 268 per cent jump from 2020 when just 97 thefts were reported.
Catalytic converters, part of a vehicle’s exhaust system, contain precious metals such as platinum, palladium and rhodium and are being targeted by thieves who sell them on the scrap metal market.
“ It’s a big thing. And there’s big money in it. Some of these converters they’ll get up to $1,200 for,” said mechanic Ken Wagorn, who said he’s seeing a steady flow of customers coming into his Raven Avenue garage with damaged vehicles.
Two recent thefts occurred at about 3 a.m. on cars parked on Howe Street in Britannia Village. Last week, Gatineau police released surveillance camera images of two suspects who stole the device from a vehicle parked in a business on Maloney Boulevard East.
Most often, the thieves scoot in under a target vehicle and use a cordless reciprocating saw to cut through the exhaust pipe on both sides of the catalytic converter. It takes less than a minute.
Wagorn knows of one car dealer that had six vehicles hit in one night and another linen supply company that had six of its trucks stripped of their catalytic converters. One of Wagorn’s customers had her Honda CRV targeted in Craig Henry, one of several vehicles hit in the same lot overnight.
“The big ticket are the Hondas,” he said. “Hyundais are a favourite too. They like the big SUVs because they’re high enough off the ground that they can get in underneath. Then they just cut it off with a Sawzall. But in doing so, they usually cut the pipe in front and behind the converter and you end up with a situation where you could get your car written off for its exhaust system.
“Pretty much anything that’s high enough off the ground to get under and cut it, that’s what they’ll go for. They really like those trucks with the lift kits because it’s so easy. There’s lots of room for their saw.”
Hybrid and low emission vehicles are also frequent targets because their catalytic converters contain more of the precious metals.
It cost $3,500 to fix the woman’s Honda, Wagorn said.
“And that was with after market parts. If you go OEM (original equipment manufacturer) it can be double that.”
Insurance will pay for the repair, “but you’ve still got the deductible and that’s usually around $500 or $1,000 and that’s out of your pocket.”
Even if you can’t see if your vehicles been targeted, you’ll know as soon as you start the engine.
“As soon as you start it, it’s going to sound like a race car and your engine is going to run like dirt. Then your check engine light will come on because the O2 sensor is affected.”
Police in the U.S. have reported numerous cases of thieves crushed to death while jacking up cars to get to the exhaust system. Last week, police in Georgia said a couple died of carbon monoxide poisoning after driving their vehicle with the catalytic converter removed. In that case, police say the couple sold their own device for money to fuel a drug habit.
So how do you protect your vehicle? Police suggest parking in a locked garage if possible or in a well-lit area, preferably in vie of security cameras. You can also have your licence etched onto the catalytic converter to help police identify it as stolen. Theft prevention kits are also available that encase the catalytic converter in a shield or with steel to make the exhaust pipe more difficult to cut.
“If you go on Amazon you can buy a kit you can put on to protect it,” Wagorn said. “If they’e selling paraphernalia like that, you know there’s a problem.”