Editorial: Putting brakes on catalytic converter thieves

Part of a motor vehicle’s exhaust system, a catalytic converter, seen here being removed from a motor vehicle, transforms noxious gasses produced by internal combustion engines into harmless carbon dioxide and water vapor.

Part of a motor vehicle’s exhaust system, a catalytic converter, seen here being removed from a motor vehicle, transforms noxious gasses produced by internal combustion engines into harmless carbon dioxide and water vapor.

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Unfortunately, you may need to think like a thief to prevent your catalytic converter from being stolen.

Many people can’t tell the difference between a catalytic converter and a muffler. Even after catalytic converters are stolen, drivers might initially be unsure what is causing that new noise coming from under their car.

But car owners are learning a lot more about parts as the crime spree continues. It happens everywhere, including driveways, but thieves commonly target parking lots with fleets of cars.

Consider the perspective of the thief. It’s easier to rob from a lot without frequent turnover. Sadly, that means crimes have been reported at the likes of day care centers. Earlier this month, 15 were swiped from Easter Seals in Watertown. This is a nonprofit that serves people with disabilities, proof that thieves don’t really care where they get the precious metals.

Hopefully, Connecticut will succeed in fighting back. A new law prohibits recycling and scrap dealers from buying more than one catalytic converter per day from an individual. Additionally, it can no longer be a cash sale.

That could be quite a setback for the bad guys. It also counts on the dealers following the law.

“I’m cautiously optimistic, but I know there are plenty of non-reputable scrap dealers, or they can go out of state or online,” observed Watertown Police Defective Mark Conway, whose department is investigating the Easter Seals case.

It’s a realistic take on the challenges of thwarting this rising crime. The trend is hardly a secret. The number of catalytic converter thefts reported to insurance companies spiked from 1,298 in 2018 to 14,443 in 2020. Yet someone shows up with a boxload of converters and deals go through, no questions asked.

Many car owners are fighting back on their own terms. Installing pricey alarms is one option. A cheaper one is to paint VIN numbers on the converters with fluorescent paint, or etch on license plate numbers.

There is also value in knowing which vehicles are commonly targeted. The Toyota Prius remains at the top of the list, as its converters contain more of the rhodium, palladium and platinum sought by thieves. Trucks and SUVs are just easier to slide under.

The crime doesn’t take long to commit, as the converters can be sliced off in less than one minute with a hand saw. A recent incident in a Target parking lot in Milford was a cautionary tale about not confronting suspects. A witness photographed a man he saw use a Sawzall to steal a converter. The suspect subsequently injured the witness with the tool.

Connecticut lawmakers deserve credit for, well, thinking like thieves. Hopefully, the blowback at honest scrap dealers will make it less profitable for criminals. If it works, other states should follow suit.

We often complain about the hundreds of bills introduced in Hartford that never have a hope of gaining momentum. This is one case where creating a paper trail can do some good.