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As 2-state catalytic converter thefts surge, a crackdown is in the works

Published: Mar. 20, 2021 at 12:47 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. - The South Carolina House has approved a bill that would make buying or selling stolen catalytic converters a separate crime that could bring up to three years in prison.

The bill that passed 94-0 on Thursday was prompted by a rash of thefts of the emission control systems in vehicles that can cost thousands of dollars to fix. The bill now heads to the state Senate.

Catalytic converters have several precious metals in them.

Unscrupulous scrap metal deals pay hundreds of dollars for the converters.

In the last six months of 2020, Lexington County deputies reported about 150 catalytic converter thefts, about triple the number from the same six months the year before.

“What the crooks are doing, they’re getting up under cars, they make two quick slices and take the catalytic converter with them,” Capt. Adam Myrick from the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department said.

Officials say in mere moments, a thief could slide under your vehicle steal the catalytic converter, and head over to scrapyard to swap it out for up to about $200.

“You can easily remove it,” Myrick said. “And because it’s easily transportable, it then means that they can go somewhere and get some very quick cash because of the valuable metals in that car part.”

A few weeks ago, one Lexington man was arrested, and deputies say he’s been accused of stealing more than 80 catalytic converters. But officials tell us, this isn’t a problem unique to our area. It’s happening across the country.

“In terms of numbers, they show us that over the course of the last six months of 2020, there was an upward trend, for sure, as compared to the last six months of 2019,” Myrick said.

So, how will you know if your catalytic converter gets stolen? Myrick says things are most likely going to get loud.

“The car experts say it might sound like a race car, it’s going to be certainly louder than it ever is,” he said. “If that doesn’t clue you in, which sometimes it might not depending on the car, it certainly will when you go to drive it. It’s going to ride rougher.”

When it comes to target vehicles or areas, officials say these criminals aren’t picky.

“We’re seeing it on low riding sports vehicles, we’re seeing it on minivans in driveways,” Myrick said. “We’re seeing it on work trucks, work vans, company vehicles in an office parking lot, protected by a fence.”

Here are some tips from law enforcement to help keep your catalytic converter safe from thieves:

  • Try parking by a window to keep an eye on your vehicle.
  • Etch an identifier or unique marking on the catalytic converter so that it can be returned to you in the event it is stolen.
  • Ask your mechanic if they can possibly make your connection more secure.

From reports by WIS and The Associated Press