Catalytic Converter Theft

Defend Your Vehicles Against this Common Crime

For Vineyard Church of North Phoenix, the day started just like any typical day. That quickly changed as members of the facilities team started one of their trucks used for a mobile food pantry ministry. “As soon as we heard the loud roar, we knew right away what had happened,” said Jim Hummel, director of operations for Vineyard Church of North Phoenix. The roar was the tell-tale sound of a stolen catalytic converter. Even though the ministry parks their vehicles in a well-lit, fenced in area, that didn’t stop the thieves. “They cut right through the fence to get to our vehicles,” said Hummel.

Thieves have recently targeted catalytic converters due to the valuable precious metals inside. Stolen converters can be worth several hundred dollars each, making them an irresistible target for theft. The cost to replace a converter can range from several hundred to potential thousands of dollars. “Although much of the cost may be covered by insurance, there is still the deductible, downtime, and administrative burden. Our vehicles were in the shop for several days,” said Hummel.

Every year, ministries fall victim to this crime, and it’s increasing at an alarming rate. According to a news release by the National Insurance Crime Bureau, there was a significant increase in thefts reported per month in 2020 – from 652 in January to 2,347 in December.*

Gone in a Flash

Sergeant John Perrine with the Indiana State Police said that thieves are always on the lookout for an easy opportunity. “In just a matter of minutes, they can cut a catalytic converter from underneath a vehicle.”  Buses and vans can be especially vulnerable because they are higher off the ground, which makes it easier for thieves to crawl underneath. Larger vehicles also have larger catalytic converters, making them more valuable. Additionally, thieves can damage transmissions or other parts of the vehicle as they hastily attempt to remove the converter.

Thieves target ministry vehicles because they’re often parked in areas that are less visible from the street. Even if someone spots thieves in the act, it’s common to assume they’re working on repairs. Perrine advises that, “rarely, if ever, does a roadside repair require someone to lay on their back and crawl under the vehicle. Most roadside repairs are under the hood or changing a flat tire.”

If you see someone under a vehicle on your ministry’s property, that’s suspicious enough to contact police. When contacting police, try to provide a vehicle description and a description of the individual. “License plate numbers are very valuable, but a general vehicle description, such as a missing headlight or hubcap, a unique decal on the bumper, tinted windows, or anything that distinguishes the suspect vehicle can help police,” offered Perrine.

If you discover a vehicle that’s had the catalytic converter stolen, Perrine offers some additional advice. “Report it to your local police as soon as it’s discovered. Try not to move the vehicle because sometimes thieves will leave their tools or other evidence, which potentially helps law enforcement solve the case.” After you’ve alerted authorities, call Brotherhood Mutual or your insurance agent to start the claims process.

Protect Your Vehicles

If your ministry owns cars, vans, or buses, it’s important to take some steps to help safeguard them against catalytic converter theft.

Vineyard Church of North Phoenix has added several additional layers of security to protect their vehicles. “We installed security cameras and signage alerting people that they’re being monitored. We also installed no trespassing signs, motion detection lighting, and audible alarms. Finally, we asked the local police to increase their patrol presence and spoke with our neighbors, asking them to call police if they notice anyone suspicious,” added Hummel.

To protect your vehicles, Sergeant Perrine recommends the following:

  • Park vehicles inside any available garages or inside gated areas.
  • Make sure the area is well-lit and monitored by video surveillance.
  • Park vehicles near areas that have a lot of traffic driving by, instead of behind the building or in a dark corner of a parking lot.
  • Avoid parking multiple vehicles together to reduce hiding spots and to increase the effort of moving tools from vehicle to vehicle.
  • Have a licensed mechanic mark or etch the converter with your VIN/license plate.  Some local law enforcement departments may offer this service at no charge.
  • Consider after-market or custom cages installed by a licensed mechanic to eliminate easy access to the converter.

“Catalytic converter theft is a crime of opportunity, so the more difficult you can make it or the more you can limit the opportunity, the less likely it will be that someone will target your vehicle,” stated Perrine.

While legislation that controls the sale of used converters has been introduced in several states, it won’t be a quick fix. Ministries shouldn’t wait to take steps to protect their vehicles. Hummel says he was surprised at the boldness of the criminals.  “Now that we know our previous security efforts weren’t enough, we’re confident that our additional security efforts will help protect our vehicles so we can keep our ministry moving forward.”

*Catalytic Converter Theft Skyrocketing Nationwide. National Insurance Crime Bureau. https://www.nicb.org/news/news-releases/catalytic-converter-theft-skyrocketing-nationwide

Additional Resources

Posted June 24, 2021

The information provided in this article is intended to be helpful, but it does not constitute legal advice and is not a substitute for the advice from a licensed attorney in your area. We encourage you to regularly consult with a local attorney as part of your risk management program.