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December 12, 2022

To curtail catalytic converter thefts, Philly may fine scrapyards that buy stolen car parts

Thieves target converters because they contain precious metals that can be sold for large amounts of money

Philadelphia could impose stiff fines on people who steal catalytic converters, and those who purchase or sell them without required documentation, as part of an effort to curb the spike in thefts. 

A City Council bill would require businesses to obtain proof of origin before purchasing catalytic converters and other precious metal car parts. Anyone who steals a catalytic converter, or engages in an illegitimate sale, could be fined up to $2,000 per car part and face prison time. 

    The bill, introduced by Councilmember Cindy Bass, could be voted on during Thursday's session. 

    There were nearly 3,500 catalytic converter thefts in Philadelphia last year. Thieves steal the parts because they contain valuable metals that can be resold. Bass introduced the bill just weeks after police released surveillance footage of several men stealing 24 catalytic converters from grocery delivery trucks in the parking lot of a Giant Direct warehouse in Southwest Philly. The men left the scene with $31,000 worth of metal parts. 

    In August, a block captain in Germantown was shot in the chest while confronting a group of people stealing a catalytic converter from under a van, NBC10 reported. Neighbors in the area said their converters had been stolen in the weeks prior. The man survived.

    "My objective as my team and I researched and wrote this legislation was to de-incentivize the sale and purchase of not just stolen catalytic converters, but other stolen precious metal auto parts," Bass said. "Too many thieves, scrapyards and other associates were making money off of people's stolen converters. Meanwhile, the victimized vehicle owners were left with empty pockets after having to spend somewhere around $3,000 or more to replace their converters." 

    Catalytic converters — which help cars clean their emissions — can contain several precious metals, including rhodium, palladium and platinum. Because they are located on the exterior of cars, they are easier to steal than other metal car parts, NPR reported. 

    An ounce of rhodium is valued at $20,000; palladium and platinum are valued at $1,000 per ounce, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.The bureau recorded 52,000 catalytic converter thefts in 2021, up from just 1,300 in 2018. 

    "The city of Philadelphia has not been spared the scourge of catalytic converter thefts that has plagued the entire country," Bass said. "I wanted to ensure not another Philadelphian would ever have to get in their vehicle again and here that telltale, throttling roar indicating that someone has taken the time and energy overnight to sneakily scoot underneath it to saw off their catalytic converter." 

    Fuel-powered vehicles built after 1974 have catalytic converters, so there are plenty of cars that appeal to thieves, according to Allstate. Taller vehicles, like pickup trucks and SUVs, often are targeted because people can get underneath them easily to saw out their converters. 

    To prevent the theft of catalytic converters, Allstate recommends people know whether their vehicles are typically targeted, park in well-lit areas overnight, regularly move their cars and paint their converters.