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Watch your cars: ICBC numbers show catalytic converter thefts way up, along with costs

More catalytic converter thefts
WATCH: Another warning about the new epidemic of theft from auto.

A growing problem for vehicle owners in the Lower Mainland — catalytic converter thefts — is expected to cost taxpayers nearly $1 million this year.

Numbers obtained by Global News show ICBC has paid out $906,105 in insurance coverage for replacements and repairs between Jan. 1 and Nov. 30 this year. That’s close to double what the insurer paid out in all of 2018, at $472,404.

In 2019, 298 thefts have been reported, ICBC said. More than half of those thefts took place in Surrey, which saw 152 converters stolen.

READ MORE: Coquitlam RCMP reports massive spike in catalytic converter thefts

ICBC spokesperson Joanna Linsangan said the rise in thefts can be pinned on the value of materials found inside the converters, including platinum, rhodium and palladium.

“It’s a crime of opportunity,” she said. “It also happens very quickly. For a thief to saw off a catalytic converter, sometimes it can be less than a minute.”

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Catalytic converters work to filter harmful pollution from vehicle exhaust and can range in price from several hundred to more than $1,000 in certain cases.

Police say thieves usually target trucks and commercial vehicles, using cordless grinders to cut the parts away and sell them for scrap.

Attempted catalytic converter theft in PoCo leads to vehicle fire
Attempted catalytic converter theft in PoCo leads to vehicle fire

Police agencies have been sounding the alarm about a rise in catalytic converter thefts for months now. In Coquitlam, RCMP announced it saw 44 reports between August and November — a 335 per cent increase in thefts year-to-date.

In September, Surrey RCMP found four stolen converters in the back of a rental truck.

The practice can also be dangerous. Last July, two cars burst into flames in Port Coquitlam after an attempt to steal a catalytic converter.

READ MORE: Suspicious PoCo car fires likely started by botched catalytic converter theft: police

The converters can often be found in scrap yards around the Lower Mainland. Joss Brothers Recycling in Surrey lists them for up to $800 each.

Cpl. Michael Kalanj with the Burnaby RCMP says scrap dealers are contributing to the problem by not checking whether the converters being brought in are stolen or not.

“If you don’t know, or if the individual can’t tell you the origins of the catalytic converter, don’t buy it,” he said.

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“I think if demand for the converters goes down, so will the supply.”

Surrey man says car stolen in key switch theft
Surrey man says car stolen in key switch theft

ICBC’s numbers show 29 converters have been replaced in Coquitlam between January and November, but say their numbers differ from police, since not all claims are reported to police, and vice versa.

The insurer says Burnaby saw 83 stolen converters replaced this year, while Vancouver has seen 34.

READ MORE: Lose a catalytic converter? Surrey RCMP might have it

ICBC says catalytic converters are covered under comprehensive insurance coverage, but still advises drivers to try to protect their vehicles from theft as much as possible.

“If you have an alarm system, sometimes you can change the settings to detect vibrations, as in the vibrations of a saw,” Linsangan said. “That’s something you can do to ensure you’re aware.”

Linsangan added drivers should try to park their vehicles in well-lit areas, and to call police if they see anyone underneath a vehicle.

While converters are covered, drivers and business owners are still forced to pay deductibles out of their own pockets.

For delivery drivers like Mark MacDonald, who lost his converter last month, it’s hurting his bottom line.

“My truck’s been down for three days,” he said. “I can’t pick up or make deliveries. It’s a business I’m trying to run here.”

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—With files from Aaron McArthur