Catalytic converters are part of the exhaust system of a vehicle, required in
The rise in price of those metals, combined with the ease of removing the converters, have caused a rise in their thefts. Thieves remove the metals from the converter and sell them for hundreds of dollars in profits.
Last week, police in
These thefts have strained resources for local law enforcement and left residents annoyed. Local investigators bombarded by the rise in cases say the only way to fix the issue is by changing laws at the state and federal levels.
Since the start of 2021, there have been 400 larceny calls taken by the sheriff’s department, 265 of which were related to converters.
Stealing converters is appealing because it can take less than a minute to cut the apparatus off, and it yields the thief thousands of dollars. It’s hard to investigate the cases, Hatfield said, because you cannot track the converter to the particular vehicle from which it was stolen.
He said converters can sell for up to
An auto dealership just off
“So when you have a normal person taking in three, four converters every two, three days, that puts them as a person of interest for us and we need to make contact with that person,” he said. “But at the same time, if we don’t catch them cutting it, we really can’t trace it.”
From mall parking lots to personal driveways, no vehicle is safe from having its converter cut off, causing an inconvenience for owners, many of whom are living paycheck to paycheck.
“I had blown a tire and had to leave my car on the side of the road down near the hospital,” he said. “I came down the next day and my whole catalytic converter had been taken off.”
Johnson said the assailants lifted his car using a lift jack, cut the converter off and left the jack behind before fleeing.
“My car isn’t nice,” he said. “It’s not something you look at and you’re like, ‘I want to steal something out of that.’”
Even with choosing against purchasing a replacement converter for thousands of dollars, it still cost Johnson a couple hundred dollars to make his vehicle drivable.
At his age, he said, he doesn’t have the emergency funds to put thousands of dollars into a 20-year-old vehicle.
His story is similar to that of hundreds of West Virginians who live in a state where many residents live paycheck to paycheck.
Insurance companies are taking a hit
It’s not just the converter that has to be replaced, Hatfield said. Damage can be done by careless actions and sometimes the entire system needs to be replaced.
Add labor, and the final bill can be in the thousands of dollars. He said he has seen a truck with
According to the
The company said the trend is accelerating, causing it to pay
Hatfield said law enforcement works with the
State government passed laws this year that recycling centers must hold converters for 14 days before selling them to a refinery, but without the ability to track the converters to cars, it is useless, Hatfield said.
For a department already stretched thin, the hours it takes to find video surveillance, interview witnesses and investigate requires a lot of resources for law enforcement.
Those investigations sometimes lead to
“If we don’t get something to lead us in the direction of the (thief), then we have to rely on what we do have in place,” he said. “That leads us to people who take metal in for scrap, and that’s just the ones that are taking them to legal scrap dealers.”
Hatfield said for the most part, recycling centers and similar businesses comply with laws.
He said during an investigation of a single recycling center, they reviewed about
For the most part, it’s illegal businesses causing the issues.
“We have issues with people from out of state coming in and purchasing the converters,” he said. “They’ll put out on, like,
Hatfield estimated nine out-of-state converter buyers have been coming into the state every day to do business.
Looking to lawmakers
Otherwise, everyone is vulnerable.
Hatfield said that is not enough. He thinks West Virginia’s lawmakers should follow other southern states that have made it illegal for a civilian to sell a converter.
“Everything we’ve got in place still isn’t enough. It needs to be more, or it’s going to continue,” he said. “As the price increases, it’s just going to get worse. It’s not going away, not until legislation gets passed.”
If only businesses could sell converters to recycling centers, it would narrow down the places law enforcement officers would need to investigate and the amount of theft in general, Hatfield believes.